Relapse Recovery Plan

Whether we’re quitting smoking, getting sober or recovering from any other addiction, a relapse can feel like the worst thing in the world. Before we know it, a single lapse in judgement at a pivotal moment becomes the enormous stick we use to continually beat ourselves up with. We tell ourselves we’re BAD, we’re STUPID, we’re WEAK, or we’re a FAILURE, driving this big, RELAPSE-shaped stick crashing down over own heads as though to painfully punctuate every cruel word.

It’s time we stopped this.

If our child or someone we love made an unhelpful decision, we wouldn’t use words like that. We wouldn’t tell them they’re bad, or stupid, or that they’re a weak failure. We’d tell them look:

It’s OK. Like Thomas Edison with his famous thousand lightbulb experiments, you haven’t failed, you’ve simply found a way that doesn’t work.

This Relapse Recovery Plan is designed to help you find a way that DOES work.

As I’ve said before, a relapse can be a very powerful tool that empowers you to enjoy long-term freedom from your addiction. By looking not only at the circumstances, thoughts and feelings surrounding your relapse but also at everything you got right up to that point (and trust me, you will have gotten some stuff right) you gain a better understanding of what you need to do differently in order to succeed next time.

Yet this isn’t just about identifying behaviours and making a mental note to be mindful of them in future.

The Relapse Recovery Plan encourages you to take actionable steps and play a proactive part in finding your own freedom.

Before we dive into it, there are two things you should know:

  • I’m still developing, tweaking and fine-tuning this plan, so I’d love to hear your feedback.
  • I was thinking about people quitting smoking when I put this plan together, so I’ll talk about terms like “quitting” rather than “recovering” or “getting sober,” but I honestly feel this plan could be applicable to an addiction.

Below, I’m going to ask you a series of questions about your relapse as well as the over-all quit. To get the most benefit out of this it pays to write your answers down. You can do this in a journal or on a document on your computer. However, to make life easier, I’ve put together a worksheet that will guide you through the process and includes space to write your answers.

You can download this as a .docx file which you can edit on your computer, or as a .PDF that you can download and print off.

Here’s how it works.

1: Look back at your last quit. What went well?

If you had any amount of time free from smoking, alcohol, drugs or any other addiction, then at some point you were doing something right.

What did you do on your last quit that genuinely helped you?

For example, it could be that you used a certain Nicotine Replacement Therapy or that you kept a journal. It might just be that the one thing you did well on your quit was that you got through some challenging events or trigger situations that you didn’t think you’d be able to manage.

Whatever it is, write it down. This reinforces the idea that yes, you can do this. It also gives you the chance to identify the positive steps you took last time that are worth repeating.

2: Think about the withdrawal symptoms you suffered. Which were the worst ones?

Perhaps you struggled with low energy, irritability or quitter’s flu. Look back at the worst of those symptoms and jot them down.

3: What three actionable steps can you take to help relieve or reduce those symptoms?

If you’re not sure, my video on withdrawal symptoms may give you some ideas.

I have also have specific videos on:

These steps should be clear, specific, well-defined and actionable.

For example, “I will try to control my mood when I’m feeling angry,” is vague and doesn’t give you an actual plan of action that you can take when that anger arises.

Instead, try something like:

“I will begin practising grounding techniques and breathing exercises to take myself out of my anger state. That way, I can make a better decision about how to deal with the source of my anger without smoking.”

4: Think about your relapse. What was the event/situation/circumstances that triggered it?

Perhaps it was a specific, one-off event that blind-sided you or a series of smaller events that eventually built up and pushed you over the edge.

If you’ve ever watched a horror movie and found yourself yelling at the screen, begging the frightened girl not to run into the dark woods where the murderer is clearly waiting, then this part of the Relapse Recovery Plan may feel familiar to you.

You go back and you replay the movie of your relapse and, if you replay it in enough vivid detail, you can see the moment you went off course, the moment you ran into the dark woods when you would have been better staying put, taking a deep breath, and making a good decision.

5: What can I do to prevent this situation from producing the same reaction (a relapse) next time?

First of all, ask yourself honestly:

Was/is this situation something I can control, influence or manage?

If, for example, you tend to relapse after a big fight with your partner, then this is something you can hopefully have some control over. Sitting down with your partner to discuss the root cause of all these fights are going to do you far more long-term good than if you simply opted for a quick fix solution like breathing exercises.

On the other hand, it might be a situation that you can’t control such as terrible traffic or a terrible, angry boss. However, even in situations that you can’t control, you can always control your reaction to it.

So, in this step, ask yourself first if you can prevent the situation from happening again.

If so, how? If not, ask yourself what clear, specific, actionable steps you can take to ensure you respond to the situation differently next time.

6: What thoughts/feelings/emotions came up for you in your trigger situation?

You can come up with a thousand amazing strategies for dealing with a specific situation but that doesn’t stop a different situation from occurring which produces the same feelings and, ultimately, the same relapse reaction.

So it makes sense to tackle the thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounding a trigger situation separately from the situation itself.

Did you feel sad? Mad? Bored? Desperate?

What story were you telling yourself in your mind? That a cigarette/drink/drug would make it better? That nothing would make it better so f- it, you might as well smoke anyway?

Identify those thoughts, feelings and emotions that contributed to your relapse and write them down.

7: What actionable things can you do the next time you experience these thoughts/feelings/emotions?

Remember – clear, specific, well-defined.

This could be that instead of smoking on anger or sadness, you break out your journal or speak to a supportive friend to locate the root of those emotions and move towards healing them.

Or it could be that if you get caught up in the story that a relapse would make you feel better, you use a grounding technique to bring you out of that future projection and back into the reality of the present moment. In the here and now, you’ll be able to tell yourself a more truthful story, which is that no matter how much you smoke, drink or use, your trigger situation isn’t going to change.

8: What is the next actionable step you can take today to get back on your journey to freedom?

This isn’t the kind of exercise you do once then forget about forever. This is a living, breathing plan of action for getting you back on track.

By now, you’ve made a list of all the actions you can take but for now, I just want you to focus on one thing. What is the one thing you can do right now -or at least before you go to bed tonight- that you can take to get your relapse recovery underway?

It might be calling your doctor for smoking cessation support or joining the Finding Freedom Support Group on Facebook. It might be stocking up on healthy foods and plenty of water to help you through those withdrawals.

Whatever it is, get to the end of this plan and then go and do it now! The sooner you take action, the sooner that freedom can be yours!

9: What are the three biggest reasons you have for quitting smoking

Finally, finish this exercise by closing your eyes and visualising what your life will be like once you’ve achieved these three things. See what you’ll see, hear what you’ll hear. Feel how good you’ll feel once you’ve achieved all the health, happiness and joy you deserve.

You might find my video on getting motivated to quit smoking helpful for this last step.

Did you know that I now offer one-on-one support and mentoring sessions via Skype? Suitable for anyone quitting smoking, getting sober or dealing with other life challenges.