Ask an Expert: I Am Afraid My Breakup Could Cause Me to Relapse

By Jay Westbrook 02/19/15
Today's question is on how to avoid relapsing during an emotionally trying time like a breakup.
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I have been in recovery (from cocaine and booze) for 12 years with just one six-months relapse after a breakup eight years ago. Now I am just beginning with another breakup and while I am stronger, I am on the shit end of this one again and feeling very bad. I am not a 12-stepper and didn't relate when I tried it. I'm concerned about how bad the pain will get and whether I will relapse. Any thoughts on how best to fortify my sobriety? I can get some small amount of counseling via my health insurance, but not much, and I am not sure counseling is the answer anyway.- Carlton

 

Jay Westbrook: I applaud you for recognizing the magnitude of your feelings, and the behaviors in which you might engage to avoid feeling them, and for reaching out for help.  

Break-ups are never easy, even when they are the best choice. We may realize, intellectually, that the relationship is not providing joy for either partner. We may also be aware that the only way to find another person with whom we can share joy is to end the joyless relationship. That being said, we will still experience grief (the normal and natural reaction to loss), hurt, loss of identity, a wounded ego, and possibly anger, bitterness, or regret. None of these are easy to deal with, and they are made more difficult when we are alone.

The first thing I would do, if I found myself in your situation, would be to reach out to my friends in recovery and tell them that I really want to stay clean and sober through this difficult time. I would then ask for their help – hang out with me, keep a watchful eye on me, call me on any BS thinking or behavior you observe in me, and don’t offer me any mind-altering substances.

You stated that you were not a 12-stepper, but that you were in recovery. I’m not sure what that means. Are you clean and sober on your own, or are you part of a non-12-step program?  If you are part of a program, tell them what’s going on and that you’re worried about your recovery being at risk. If not, you may want to go, temporarily, to some 12-step meetings (either Cocaine Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous), stand up and ask if anyone in the room has experience with staying clean and sober through a romantic breakup. I’m sure those that do will share their experience with you.

As long as you have insurance, why not see a counselor for whatever number of visits the insurance covers? Tell the counselor you want to explore coping strategies for staying clean and sober through a romantic breakup, and make that the focus of your sessions together. I can’t imagine anything bad coming out of that.

Finally, I was taught two important things about recovery: 1) there is no situation so good, that it can’t be destroyed by getting loaded, and 2) there is no situation so bad, that it can’t be made worse by getting loaded. You will get through this much faster if you’re clean and sober, and you are far more likely to find a new partner with whom you can build a joyful relationship if you are clean and sober. I wish you well Carlton.

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G Jay Westbrook, M.S-Gerontology., R.N, is a multiple award-winning clinician (Nurse of the Year), Visiting Faculty Scholar at Harvard Medical School, speaker and author who specializes in both substance abuse recovery and End-of-Life care and is an expert in Grief Recovery©. He has both consulted to and served as a clinician in multiple treatment centers and hospitals, guiding clients through their grief, and working with them and their families on healing broken relationships. His lectures to physicians and nurses include trainings in When Your Patient is a Substance Abuser: Currently or Historically. He can be reached at [email protected].    Full Bio.

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