Fearsome Floods of Addiction Relapse


Houston had enough flooding last spring to give anyone chronic ombrophobia (fear of rain). While the high waters have long since receded, periodic “flash flood watches” continue—as do nervous glances at the afternoon sky. Will we relapse into fear of rain?

The Storms of Life Are Out to Get Me

“At least Houston doesn’t have to worry about blizzards” is poor comfort to anyone who finally cleaned up the flood damage from Memorial Day 2015, only to see April 2016 immediately undo all that work. “There’s a reason for it” is poor comfort to anyone who’s been knocked down by any disaster, collapse, or catastrophe—especially for the second, third, or fifth time in rapid succession.

It’s difficult to say which is the harder philosophy in hard times–the conviction that everything happens by blind chance and the odds are in favor of everyone’s having a run of bad luck sooner or later–or the traditional drug-rehab approach of trusting that a Higher Power is in control. Either way, we take our “bad luck” personally. We look for something or someone to vent our frustration on. Either way, we feel like victims of something stronger than ourselves, which, if it isn’t sadistically throwing all this at us, could certainly be doing more to prevent it.

The temptation to relapse into drug abuse runs high. Sure, we know it’s bad for us, but why worry about that when it seems nobody cares what happens to us anyway?

The Relapse Emergency-Plan Principle

Even if everything seems fine right now, keep a relapse-prevention plan ready for such times. The key phrase is “keep ready.” Any rarely-used precautionary equipment is vulnerable to being put on the back shelf and forgotten—then, when needed, being found with corroded batteries, expired “use by” dates, or never-read-and-now-misplaced instructions. Invariably when time for major adjustments is in extremely short supply.

Take a hint from the fire department and schedule periodic checks of your relapse “equipment”:

Your support network. The most important element of sober living and relapse prevention is being able to reach at least one support person immediately when needed. You may attend your AA meetings faithfully, but do you keep in one-on-one touch with your sponsors and close contacts? Are you sure their contact information is current in your records? Do you have two or three people on the list, or are you relying on just one? No one person can be on call at all times, and if you desperately need to talk to your only option and a voice mail answers, it will only intensify self-pity and the temptation to reach for chemical comfort.

A hotline number. Even with multiple contact people, it’s still possible to find yourself in a crisis situation and unable to reach any of them in case of imminent relapse. If that happens, your best alternative is a hotline, which guarantees a quick sympathetic ear 24/7. Don’t wait until time of emergency to look up a number; do advance research to make sure the one you choose is reputable, and is experienced with your particular problem. And re-verify the number every couple of months; even hotlines go out of service occasionally.

A speed-dial phone. It should go without saying, but preprogram all the above numbers into your phone. Even if you know them by heart, anyone is capable of forgetting her own name under intense stress.

A long-term action plan. Once the immediate crisis is past, you’ll need to keep living sober until rebuilding is finished. Post-traumatic stress is no time for trying to think out next steps. Have a Plan A and a Plan B already prepared, noting who in your support network will get semi-weekly updates, what you will do to ensure extra self-care and rest, and where you keep your extra savings and important documents. (Be detailed, but not too detailed. The last thing you need in times of crisis is extra frustration over things not going as planned, or with yourself for not being able to anticipate everything.) Review and update your plan every six months.

The Bend-Like-the-Willow Principle

Of course, not all threats to sober living come from major or repeat trauma. Many a veteran of Houston flood days can testify to the “appeal” of hair-tearing or worse when a much-anticipated event is rained out—especially when the flood has caused you no bigger problems than that. The apex of foolishness is refusing to accept that when plans are ruined, they’re ruined. Although as a slogan it’s trademarked by the National Weather Service, “Turn Around Don’t Drown” has been so quoted in South Houston this year that it’s beginning to feel like the city motto. And “It’s not that deep” could be our official Famous Last Words.

A classic fable of flexibility involves a reed that survived storm and flood while strong-but-stiff trees were ripped in two. Martial-arts philosophy applies the same principle in reference to the willow tree: if you refuse to bend, you’re liable to break. Roll with the punch, swim with the flow: however you phrase it, it pays to know when going down is the least painful option. Whoever refuses to accept that is in danger of turning to chemical means of deadening anger and self-pity.

Whether or not you’re in a high-risk period for drug relapse, practice preventive medicine by keeping in mind that some things aren’t worth getting upset over.

In the Eye of the Storm

For the past couple of months, the weather in South Houston has been typical summer: hot and uncomfortable but largely quiet; only scattered thunderstorms and occasional brief high water; no new problems blowing in with hurricane season.

Nonetheless, we know there will be other floods to deal with. For that matter, even after fifteen months of one major-to-minor flood problem after another, the “I never want to see another raindrop again” resolve never seems to outlast three weeks of Houston summer. The daytime high soars over 100 Fahrenheit. The humidity climbs to near 100 percent, and even the twice- and thrice-flooded start to notice their dying lawns and to feel the heat in more ways than one. Rain: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

“Into every life some rain will fall,” in the form of “storms” of problems. Are you prepared to deal with yours by responsible, sober means?

Relapse Prevention with Kemah Palms

It’s one thing to find recovery in rehab, but it’s another to make it last in the long run. Kemah Palms’ centers its substance abuse treatment programs around relapse prevention to ensure you make the most out of your recovery. To learn how you can become the best version of you, call Kemah Palms at 855-568-0218 today for more information.