In the course of most recovery coaching assignments, there is a relapse. The client often 30–60 days into their sobriety becomes confident that they have this “recovery” thing down pat. They may conclude that their problems are over, and that there is no need to do anything more to maintain their sobriety. They feel good and can now handle the world.

The pink cloud of recovery can sustain some or it can allow others to slide down that slippery slope. It depends on the client and how they react to various triggers. Perhaps, there is a bit too much euphoric recall on how the drug or drink made them feel, sparked by a bottle of Xanax found in the luggage, or a whiff of scotch while enjoying a dinner out.

Relapse is inevitable. I know a relapse has happened when a coaching call is missed or, say, a commitment to a homework assignment is not kept. The usual reason a relapse occurs is that the individual stops putting enough effort into staying free of addiction. They start ignoring their problems and stop asking for help.

In fact, as a coach I am prepared for relapse to happen. Once identified, the beginning of a relapse-prevention plan can be put into place. Such a plan allows for introspection, the looking inside oneself and trying to figure out “why I picked up.” A focus is placed on the healthy fear of the consequences of a relapse and is pivotal to a client’s understanding of why they “slipped.” Indeed, my own personal fear of the pain of withdrawal kept me sober for years. A relapse early in recovery for clients can be devastating, with such results as an angry spouse, mandatory discharge from an Inpatient/Outpatient Program (IOP), a night in jail or a visit to the detox. These consequences can be positive influences on the client’s recovery process.

I look for the signs that the client has obtained a small level of humility. As a result of the relapse, does the client recognize they are neither God, nor the son or daughter of God? They are human, with the basic frailties and insecurities that every alcoholic/addict has. The first slip is a good time to examine who this client is. Is there still an air of superiority, the “I can beat this addiction” mentality? Or has a spiritual component started to appear in their conversations, such as “Higher Power” or “Your will not mine?”

Post-relapse is the best time to write a relapse-prevention plan. Ensuring the client has a week or two sober, I pull out the book by Mary Ellen Copeland, WRAP-Wellness Recovery Action Plan, or print out the template on the NAMI website[i] and hand it to my client. During the next week, the client uses the experience of a relapse to create their relapse-prevention plan. The following week, we both meet and review their plan, and discuss how to integrate it into their overall recovery plan and their life.

[1] The pdf version of the WRAP plan with authorization by Ms Copeland to reprint. Blank WRAP Forms


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