Relapse is at the top of a nine step ladder of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The lowest rung is called happy memories. "Happy memories" means that you are thinking about the good times you had while you were using. The next rung up is called "I wasn't that bad." This occurs when you tell yourself you weren't really that bad, that your addiction was someone else's fault, that your problem was caused by anything except your disease. The next rung higher is stopping treatment. This means that you cease going to meetings, you stop practicing the steps, you don't have time to see your therapist, you stop talking to your sponsor, you don't do your daily meditation. When you stop treatment, you pretend that you can stay sober by doing nothing. The fourth rung is called high risk situations. Examples are you return to the bar that you used to frequent, you begin hanging out with your old using friends, you spend long periods of time isolating in the basement where you used to drink vodka. You put yourself in these situations not thinking that you will use there, but just to experience the feeling of being there again. The fifth rung is called, emotional imbalance. During emotional imbalance, something causes you to get really angry, irritated or otherwise emotional and you remember how your drug, drink or behavior took away the pain of the emotion. You may even get really happy and you remember how you always drank to celebrate. Now you are really getting higher on the ladder, and like any ladder, the higher you go, the more dangerous the climb. Also, the higher you go, the more committed you are to reaching the top. The sixth rung is fantasizing. Now, you are spending increasing periods of your day thinking about using for no apparent reason. Fantasizing leads to the seventh rung, getting ready to use. This means you intend to use and you plan how you are going to relapse. You tell yourself that tonight when my husband is asleep, I am going to sneak out to the Bar. You make arrangements to buy drugs. You return to the internet porn site. You get dressed to go to the casino. You think through the exact steps of where you are going to go to get your drugs, drink, or act out. On the next rung, you actually get the drugs or order the drink. You acquire the tools of relapse. On this rung, you may feel a terrible panic, and unless you reach out to someone (which is now incredibly difficult to do because you are so committed to reaching the top), you step up to the final and ninth rung which is Relapse. As you know, the Relapse rung has a crack in it and cannot bear your weight. So you come crashing down. Sometimes the crash happens immediately. Sometimes, the crack worsens over time. But since there is a crack, you will fall. If you survive the fall, you will feel guilt at having relapsed. You will resolve to stop using. And unless you get treatment, you will start the terrible climb back up the relapse ladder beginning with the first rung which is…..
If you are on the Relapse Ladder, you need to get off on the lowest rung possible BY TELLING ON YOUR DISEASE! Remember there are two parties involved in a relapse. There is you and there is your disease. If you tell someone that you may be on the Relapse Ladder, you are telling on your disease, not you. So, ask yourself if you are on any of the nine rungs. If so, say to yourself, "I must get off the ladder now" five times to yourself with increasing emphasis. Then pick up the phone and tell your trusted friend, confidant, therapist, or mentor which rung of the ladder you are on and that you want to get off. (Leaving a voicemail message also works). If you can’t connect with someone, read your recovery literature, pray to your Higher Power, write down which rung you are on and list the consequences which made you want to get sober in the first place. Do something recovery oriented and don't substitute your drug of choice with another drug or bad behavior lest you start a new addiction. Then try to connect with a supportive person as soon as possible. This process works regardless of your philosophical or religious beliefs. Remember, sharing with another doesn’t mean that you only reach out when you have a recognizable craving or urge to use. Sharing means that you reach out and discuss where you may be on the Relapse Ladder.