In recovery, romanticizing your drug and alcohol use is a precursor to relapse. Romanticizing is a triggering behavior. It can occur days, weeks or months ahead of the actual use of mind-altering substances. You need to refocus as soon as you start participating in the euphoric recall of your use. There is nothing in that life that you should be thinking back on fondly.
Society and media both romanticize and vilify addiction. Movies depict drugs almost as social status, a plaything of the rich and famous. Alternatively, the drug addict is depicted as the sickest and most morally corrupt despot in the world. And of course, the alcoholic is homeless and begging. Shock value and gritty content sell product and primetime tv.
Addiction is not a black and white issue. Addicts will display the same or similar behaviors once immersed in the culture. How you got there, why you remain there, who you are, your family, your history, your hopes and dreams, wins and losses…. are all as individual as you are. Addiction has taken your ability to reason or to actively participate in your own life.
The truth of addiction is somewhere in the middle. Not everyone who drinks alcohol or uses drugs becomes dependent or addicted to them. Stigma is firmly attached to the label of “addict,” or “alcoholic.” The stigma of this label prevents many from seeking help. It is easier for people to believe the worst because they don’t want to spend time thinking about ‘those’ people.
Alcohol has long been considered a social lubricant and remains a legal drug that is both affordable and widely available. Alcohol is advertised widely in all media channels and floods social media feeds.
Alcohol in one form or another has been around for thousands of years. Throughout the centuries, from ancient societies through the middle ages and into the 21st century, societies have had problems with overindulgence in their populations.
DRUGS: A MEDICINAL BEGINNING
Plant-based drug use is recorded as far back as 10,000 years ago. Mind-altering substances were predominantly used for medicinal or ritualistic purposes. Entering the 19th Century and beyond, chemically altered and synthetically derived substances entered the fray. Importation of illegal substances and pharmaceutical grade synthetics precipitated the war on drugs into the 21st century.
Depending on the decade, drug use has been considered a rite of passage. Drugs became socially acceptable during the 60’s and beyond. Although the war on drugs has been waged for years, it appears to be a losing battle.
DECRIMINALIZING AND LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA
With the decriminalization/legalization of marijuana and CBD products, there is a resurgence of popularity. Arguments abound over whether this is a gateway drug or not.
Each State and often County has been allowed to develop its own policies on legalization of cannabis and associated derivatives for medicinal and/or recreational use. This fairly new industry is highly regulated but very popular. Tax revenue for the industry is streaming into local government.
The major caveat is while individual States and Counties may allow purchase, possession, growth, and use, this industry remains illegal at Federal level.
Prescription drugs, predominantly opioids, are one of the leading causes of overdose death in the U.S.; yet pharmaceutical companies market their products everywhere. Doctors are now placed in a quandary, continuing to cautiously prescribe to pain patients, while others still engage in pill mill behavior. A raging black market, the dark web and street corner dealers continue to peddle.
It does not matter what the substance is. You can die the first time you sample a drug or drink to excess. Any and all mind-altering substance can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. Unintentional deaths frequently occur when drugs and alcohol are mixed.
It’s literally a game of roulette. Live or die.
EARLY DAYS IN RECOVERY
A few weeks or months into recovery, you have had time to go through detox and gain some clean and sober days. This is a time where a new reality comes into focus. It is still too early to fully grasp what life without substances will look like for you.
You have begun to physically heal. Your mind is clearer, you eat regularly, you are getting enough sleep and your body is feeling stronger.
If you are in treatment, you have begun a new routine. Your days will be filled with education and information about drugs and alcohol. You will begin to address behavioral and emotional issues. You will be introduced to how a support group works and concepts like coping skills, triggers, toxic people, meetings, sponsors, gender group, exercise and nutrition.
You will have therapy and a treatment plan, and for that time, little to worry about other than maintaining your clean and sober days. New coping skills and a personal ‘toolbox’ for success is a priority.
The unfortunate thing about the rehab or early recovery cocoon is you have almost forgotten how bad it was out there. You brush off how sick you were. The days or weeks of detox, and feeling sick, and weak, and confused and irritated, angry and resentful, have kind of faded into the background.
Your mind has probably sugar-coated your negative experiences as you face forward and not back. You’ve employed every kind of denial tactic to excuse running amok.
You’re feeling pretty good. Amazing what a few weeks can do away from your substance of choice, dysfunctional relationships, and unhealthy living conditions. The rose colored glasses are firmly attached.
The romanticizing phenomenon will kick in and you will look back at your drinking and using with fond memories.
You will recall all of the good things about your use. The fun you had, the feelings you had, the good times. You will focus on the people, places, and things that are part of your addiction and forget all of the bad things associated with them.
You may even feel a little euphoric as you recall the ‘fun’ times. Hence, the term euphoric recall. It’s all good.
There could be triggering events for these thoughts. It could be a movie, a song, a phrase, or a place, a person, or situation. It doesn’t take much to set you off on a tangent.
In AA/NA when someone shares about their times using it is called a “drunkalogue” or a “drugalogue.” On and on about using and drinking while seated in a meeting, where the topic is certainly not a biography of your use.
Romanticizing tosses out all of the negative aspects and replaces them with nothing but positive recall.
WHAT IT MEANS
Warm fuzzy recall about using is far from reality. This is a trick of the mind. A defense mechanism gone awry.
Your thoughts, feelings, and emotions dictate your actions. The more you recall the positive aspects of substance use, the more likely you are to go and do it. Subconsciously you will begin to formulate a plan to create a situation for relapse.
There are a number of questions to ask yourself. Why are you reverting to recalling your addiction in a positive light? What are you really overcompensating for or covering up? What has you so uncomfortable about your current recovery? Why would you ever want to go back to that?
Romanticizing drugs and alcohol while in recovery is a sure sign of impending relapse. It is a high-risk thought situation for you. If you don’t get a handle on it, you are going to go out.
RELAPSE IS NOT SPONTANEOUS
Once you start on the euphoric recall path you are not hearing anything about recovery. Even in treatment, you will check out and be plotting your next use. You will straddle the line until you create the perfect storm of relapse.
A lot of people think that relapse is spontaneous. It is not. There is a lot of thought and planning that goes into the act of picking up a drink or drug. The relapse process starts days, weeks, or months prior to the actual substance use.
Romanticizing is just one red flag. It can be the beginning of giving yourself permission to act out emotionally, physically or spiritually.
WHAT TO DO
Get focused on your recovery. Put your feet on the ground and stay in the present moment. Figure out what is going on in your head. Find the trigger. Identify what it is that you believe you are missing out on.
If you are in treatment you will have lists of how unmanageable your life is while you were using. A reminder of where you could end up is often enough to clear the mind up. Or play the tape through to get clear on what you have to lose if you go out.
If the thoughts are truly pervasive, pull out your relapse prevention plan and implement what is on it. Get involved with an accountability partner.
Get a handle on the feelings and emotions that are coming up. Are you lonely, bored, frustrated, not feeling well, pissed off at someone, angry at yourself, suffering from shame and guilt that you don’t know what to do with? What is it that you crave to fill a void?
Make sure you are in constant contact with your support group. For as long as the thoughts go on, you need to be super-duper vigilant about your recovery. Go to extra meetings, have more therapy sessions, do MORE. Double down until the danger is over.
You have to practice self-awareness. Catching thoughts before you act on them. A firm understanding of the relapse process and the behaviors associated with it will provide a compass for you. If you notice any of the listed behaviors you need to take action.
Keep a journal or notes about situations that throw you off balance. See if there are patterns. Is it a certain time of the month? Are there people who simply set you off? When do strong emotions come up?
Your ability to drink or use responsibly is nonexistent, no matter what you think right now. Just having one drink or one hit is not even part of your vocabulary. You cannot safely drink or use. Your control is an illusion.
STAY GROUNDED IN REALITY
The reality of relapse is you will NOT feel better is you go back out. It will not make your fears go away. It will not take away uncomfortable thoughts, overwhelm, strong emotion, or solve any of your problems. In fact, drinking or using is just going to make it worse.
There is nothing positive about a relapse. Relapse is a bomb waiting to go off.
A relapse can and will demolish everything you have regained in recovery.
Don’t go there.
RECOVERY RESOURCES FOR YOU:
- 11 EARLY RECOVERY LESSONS. DO YOURSELF A HUGE FAVOR AND STICK TO THE FACTS.
- YOU ARE NOT POWERLESS IN RECOVERY. YOU ARE A WARRIOR WHO CAN OVERCOME YOUR ADDICTION.
- UNLEASH YOUR STRENGTHS. EMBRACE YOUR UNIQUENESS. DISCOVER THE KEY TO YOUR SUCCESS IN RECOVERY.
- A.A. MEETINGS, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. MAKE AN INFORMED CHOICE.
RESOURCES FROM THE WEB:
- Article from the Globe and Mail: //www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/we-need-to-stop-romanticizing-alcohol/article35463213/
- Psychology Today: //www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-many-faces-addiction/200910/the-triggering-effect-part-2-romanticizing-the-behaviors
- Overdose statistics: //www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates