Last Updated on April 23, 2021
Even people with the best intentions can slip up during recovery. Making a permanent change in your relationship with alcohol is a long process—with many pitfalls, both obvious and subtle. I know from experience how easy it can be to convince yourself to break the rules just once, or to get overwhelmed and fall back on old patterns.
But it’s crucial that you don’t do this. While it can take years to establish new habits, it only takes one mistake to break them and have to start all over again. It’s worth it to stay diligent, compliant, and self-aware. That said, it isn’t always easy. Whether you’re on the Sinclair Method (TSM), or practicing abstinence, here’s what to look out for:
Subconscious Drinking Urges
Medications for alcoholism, such as naltrexone or acamprosate, can go a long way to controlling cravings and keeping you on track. But this approach comes with its own challenge: staying compliant with your medication.
Whereas those practicing abstinence through traditional models like AA or 12 steps might battle the urge to drink, people on naltrexone may feel a similar urge to skip doses.
This is an especially big risk further into recovery. It’s natural to get used to success, and begin to get less diligent. You may feel so confident in your recovery that you stop waiting the full hour after taking your medication before drinking. Or you may forget to bring it with you on a night out, trusting you’ll be able to control yourself, and find yourself having ”just one beer.”
Don’t do this. While it may seem like these lapses are coming from a place of confidence in your recovery, they are actually coming from that same old “lizard” in your mind that kept you drinking in the first place—the remains of the addict in you.
Learn to recognize that lizard. Separate yourself from it. Talk back to it. This might feel strange at first (and you may want to avoid doing it in public). But as you learn to identify that part of yourself, and learn to push back, you’ll watch it get smaller and smaller. It will get easier to ignore it, and to notice when it’s up to its tricks.
If you feel funny doing this, remember: That lizard has been the one to sabotage you in the past. We need to speak louder than that creep. If you’re abstinent, practice mindfulness around your cravings. And if you’re on TSM, or any other medication-based treatment, don’t let anything convince you to skip your medication. Keep an eye out for that lizard, and be ready to shut it down!
Caring For Your Emotions
As you drink less, be prepared to start feeling more. The less you numb yourself with alcohol, the more you will feel emotions, both positive and negative. This is actually a wonderful thing! You are slowly shedding all those layers of protection you had from using a substance to stomp down your emotions, and unveiling the true you.
This can be a hard adjustment, however. At its scariest, confronting your feelings can send you running for shelter before you’re even aware of it. And if you’re used to drinking to manage your emotions, you may find yourself facing intense cravings, and struggling to stay compliant with your medication.
As difficult as it can feel in the moment, I implore you not to have a knee-jerk reaction. Instead, sit with your feelings. Ask yourself, “do I really need a drink, or can I just sit here, breathe for a minute, and let this pass?” If you’re on TSM, and the cravings feel too strong, take a pill and wait an hour. If it’s hard to wait, remind yourself of the consequences of drinking without your medication. As difficult as this moment is, is it really worth putting yourself through all that?
You may find that it’s easier than you think. And once the urge passes, you will be ready to face the day or evening without the numbing effect of alcohol, and with the knowledge that you did not let the lizard make the decision for you!
Try not to fear emotion. Emotion is what makes us human. We need to feel, to be moved, to laugh and cry with abandon, and to experience compassion, disappointment, and fear. This is all normal, and beautiful. It can be harder if you have trauma in your past, and you may have moments when you revert to feeling the same age as when that trauma occurred. But this too is normal. Treat your younger self with kindness and love. Take the time to let them heal, and get them the care they need.
Without the effects of alcohol, we regain the opportunity to feel and live fully. For all of the pain that this can involve, it really is a gift. Remember this, commit to self-care, and don’t give up when the going gets tough!
Ways To Stay On Track
Of course, managing the urge to drink in difficult moments is only part of the picture. There’s also the question of day-to-day life, and the rituals you choose for sticking with recovery.
I often suggest keeping a drink log or diary, for starters. Having a clear record of how much alcohol you’re consuming helps you stay accountable to yourself. It can also show you how much progress you’re making when you’re feeling discouraged.
I have also seen tremendous results from people who have accountability partners—like Ria’s terrific recovery coaches, or a personal therapist. Having experienced advice makes a huge difference. Peer support can also help, although I caution people not to take medical advice in this situation, or compare their recovery too closely with other people’s.
Set yourself up with a community that supports your choices. This may mean eliminating some unhealthy friendships, which can be difficult. But it’s important not to spend time around people who don’t respect your recovery, or who may hinder your progress. Make conscious decisions about who you spend time with, and try to choose support and health.
Otherwise, try setting alarm reminders to take your medication, introduce new routines that support your health (such as a daily walk or trip to the gym), and make a daily commitment to respect, love, and forgive yourself.
In summary, avoiding setbacks and slip-ups is about staying focused. It’s imperative that you treat your recovery as the most important thing you are working on in your life, and make it your number one priority. Remember to think of your medication the way a diabetic thinks of their insulin, and go nowhere without it. It’s quite literally there to save your life.
This is your recovery. Make it the best, healthiest time you can. Make decisions based on your long-term health and well-being, and keep the big picture in mind. Take good care of yourself—you deserve it!
Claudia Christian is a successful film and television actress. She is also founder of the C Three Foundation, and a passionate advocate for the Sinclair Method to treat alcohol dependence. Christian is currently a member of Ria Health‘s Advisory Board.