I’m pleased to introduce, Holli Kenley, author of Mountain Air, Relapsing and Finding the Way Back…One Breath at a Time. Holly is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Today she shares her insights on relapse and how to get back on track.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Holli!
What sets a person up for relapse?
I believe that there are several factors that come into play when an individual enters into relapse. First of all, there is an over-reliance on one’s self. The slippery slope into a downhill spiral starts when a person believes that he no longer needs to answer to a higher power or embrace the healing tenets that have kept him tethered to his recovering process or program.
There is an attitude of….”I can do it myself. .. I don’t need that. This one little thing can’t hurt…I am stronger now. I can handle it and get back on track”.
This posture of over-confidence couched in denial feeds right into the second factor – a battle between the personality of lies and the personality of truth. Once an addict has made the decision to compromise his recovering, he finds himself waging a war between a voice that screams for a return to the addiction and a voice that fights back defending the healthy self.
The personality of lies fills the mind with messages such as…”You are nothing…go ahead and use…who cares? You will never be anything but an addict…so stop fighting it! One hit or drink, or both, won’t hurt…you deserve it! You’ve been clean six weeks…go for it. And besides, no one really wants anything to do with you anymore!”
The personality of truth attempts a comeback as it sends out its forces…
Don’t do it…you’ve worked so hard and stayed clean…don’t go back now. Remember what you’ve lost…what you will lose? Are you ready to give that all up, again? Call your sponsor…go to a meeting…reach out, now!
In attempt to silence this waging war, the third factor comes into play. This is really important. While in a weakened and vulnerable state, the individual either choses to place himself in a healthy environment or a betrayal environment. If the personality of lies is winning out, the addict will choose the people, places, and things that fuel and feed the lies. And, once in a bar or back alley surrounded by the forces that will betray recovery – relapse sets in, takes over, and pronounces victory.
What is the connection between shame, denial and relapse?
I think most of us familiar with relapse will probably be aware of the obvious connection, but it is worthy of further mention. When an individual denies his healing process or turns away from his recovering path, there are consequences. They might be minor at first – missing a family dinner; showing up late- drunk and/or high; forgetting a work obligation; standing up friends, again. With these behaviors, shame starts to step in accompanied with guilt and self-blame.
Quickly, however, denial regroups and comes back in force minimizing any of the consequences and places blame on outside forces or people. As the cycle continues and the relapse takes further hold, the individual feels increased shame and must pretend that everything is fine. Tremendous energy goes into not only disguising the shame but into fabricating more lies. As the lies are uncovered and friends and family are hurt, disgusted, and angry, more shame fills the addict and fuels the relapse.
Before long, the individual is in a full relapse episode and has detached himself from the healthy world, the outside world. In his solitary place, the drugs or alcohol can feed the disease and flood out the shame. Denial re-emerges, blame resurfaces, and the cycle of craziness continues.
In working with many clients over the years with substance or alcohol abuse/dependence, I have found another vitally important connection between shame, denial, and relapse. As the clients and I were working together on their recovering and pealing back the layers of shame, often there were unresolved deeply embedded issues of injury or injustice that had been left unattended, and thus were buried in an inner core of shame.
In some cases, denial had served as a protector – waiting for the right time, place, and person to help the individual navigate through the violation with much needed professional guidance or counsel. Sadly, as is the case for many individuals, denial and its relationship with substance abuse/dependence (self-medication and repression) had robbed the individual of the opportunity to root out the core injury and unravel the built up scar tissue of shame.
And, it has been my experience that for individuals who continue to carry around these internal wounds and who are unknowingly being triggered by a myriad of forces and by the unconscious or conscious awareness of shame that dwells deep within them, relapse is inevitable.
What can relapse teach us that we didn’t know before?
At the beginning of Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way Back…One Breath at a Time, I write, “Don’t stay too long in the shame-filled grounds of relapse. Fertile soil awaits your return and your recovering.” I believe, know and trust – without question – that each experience or encounter we have in life either protects us from something, or prepares us for something, or propels us into something. Relapse has a relationship with all three.
The obvious connection is that relapse can propel the addict into a life of turmoil and self-destruction, frequently and tragically ending in death. On the other hand, when the addict ’hits bottom’, faces his near-death experience head on, and uses it as a wake-up call or an opportunity to begin again, relapse – in a sense – can protect the individual from its inevitable outcome.
What I often think that is missed with relapse is the connection with preparing us for what is ahead. It is easy to get lost in the pool of shame that surrounds a relapse episode. It is painstaking difficult to surface from it and begin to breathe in the hope of recovering again. This is a critical juncture – and it is a time to be still.
Relapse has much to teach each of us – about the chain of events that led to the downward spiral, about triggers (emotional, physical, psychological, and environmental), about weak links in our recovery programs and processes, and about additional embedded injuries that need tending to, and other factors – all which cannot be addressed if we do not quiet the voices in our heads. This is important. Just as the body requires time to rest, recuperate, and rejuvenate after a period of trauma or sickness, so do the mind and the spirit.
During this period of stillness, it is paramount to acknowledge the ‘power of addiction over ourselves’- and to stay in that mindset, quietly and intimately. It is in this stillness that relapse can position us in a posture of awareness and of awakening. And through being still, we can be patient with our recovering. We can be at peace with the process of recovering – that there is no rushing it as the pieces that we have discarded need to time to reattach and regrow.
However, I do understand that being still does not come easily or naturally. As I write in Mountain Air…, “I had to work hard at being still. I reminded myself that being still allowed me to reframe the three previous years (of relapse) and to utilize their reference as a tool for future navigation. Hours and hours of solitude made room for peace to weave its way through every fabric of my soul….With each day and week that passed, an appreciation for the promises of staying in the present took hold, and I felt myself start to reclaim my way of being.”
Relapse has much to teach us – to prepare us for what is ahead. We must learn to be still in order to navigate the fertile soil awaiting us.
What inspired you to write Mountain Air?
There are three reasons that motivated me to write Mountain Air.
The first one is very personal. After experiencing over 25 years of my own recovering journey, I made the decision to return to my betrayal environment – the environment of my youth. I did so for all the right reasons, and I felt I had ‘enough healing under my belt’ to deal with any challenges. However, after just a few weeks upon my return, I descended into a period of relapse and of regression into a pattern of behaviors that were destructive to my well way of being. Two years passed before I sought out additional counsel and began my journey back to recovering. Because writing has always been an important healing tool, I sat down to write Mountain Air solely as part of my process. As I wrote each word, I began to reclaim my truths…and myself.
Secondly, although I did not intend this book for publication, as I wrote about relapse I couldn’t help thinking about the stigma and secrecy that surrounds it. Yes, we talk about it in therapy, in 12 step programs, and in most recovery centers and processes. And yet, in general, we avoid the topic – it is uncomfortable for us. I wanted to change that.
I also realized, in my experience with relapse, that it has many applications and it doesn’t discriminate – it touches almost all of us or of someone we know or love. It claims individuals who have abandoned their authentic ways of being for a life of personal neglect, indulgence, and self-destruction. Relapse takes residence within individuals who have betrayed their healing tenets – the addict who has lost his sobriety, the abused who has returned to her abuser, or the codependent who continues to rescue the uncontrollable.
No one is immune; relapse touches anyone who has maintained a life of stability and wellness, but who is eroding over time – and losing their sense of self and of spirit. I wrote Mountain Air so that you and I could start an open and honest conversation about relapse. Relapse is a universal experience – let’s share our truths about it and let’s embrace recovery from it together.
Thirdly, but perhaps most importantly, because relapse is smothered in shame, the last thing any reader – especially one in relapse – needs from an author is more judgment or criticism. We’ve piled enough of that on ourselves! Without condemnation but with passion and purpose, I wrote Mountain Air to invite you, the reader, to take a journey with me.
I want to share time-tested lessons that have served me well in my recovering journey, and I want to provide you with thoughtful and accountable exercises with each chapter that will guide you through your work. At the same time, I do want to challenge you – I want you to do the hard work. I want you to remember this about relapse…
Deep down inside each of us knows our truths. It is forgivable to lose them; it is unforgivable not to reclaim them.
I wrote Mountain Air to share my healing journey with you – to give you hope – and to guide you in your process of reclaiming and sustaining your truths – one breath at a time.
Holli Kenley, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, currently works in the field of psychology as an author, educator, and workshop presenter. Formerly from the Southern California area, she practiced for ten years in a counseling center before moving into private practice. Spending much of her time working in the areas of abuse, trauma, betrayal, and cyber bullying,
Holli is the author of five books including Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within; and an e-single Betrayal-Proof Your Relationship: What Couples Need To Know & Do. Holli Kenley is an ongoing contributing author for Recovering The Self :A Journal of Hope and Healing, and she has had several articles published on cyber bullying, including an e-single entitled cyber bullying no more: Parenting A High Tech Generation.
Holli’s next full-length publication Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way Back…One Breath at a Time was just released April 2013. Prior to and during her career as a therapist, Holli taught for thirty years in public education.
What are your feelings about relapse? What helped you get back on track?
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