Tag Archives: willingness vs. willfulness

Why We Relapse: Desperate for Peace in a World of Emotional Turmoil

I responded today to a LinkedIn discussion started by Elisabeth Davies, MC of Bright Alternatives, Inc.  and the author of “Good Things, Emotional Healing Journal: Addiction.”  The discussion topic was, “Is relapsing with unhealthy substances an attempt to get more peace of mind? Being so passionate about this recovery topic, here’s my long-winded response!

“For many, yes. Many use substances as a coping behavior to help bring their emotional level to a more tolerable or comfortable level. Also, returning to such a behavior reduces the extreme tension of wanting to do it and not allowing ourselves to…thus, the experience of immediate relief or peace in-the-moment. To help us to feel better about relapsing, we’ve probably come up with all types of reasons (emotion-driven lies) as to why it is okay to do and would help us…and how we can also quit again when life settles down, etc…unless of course, it is a major emotional reflex to an immediate stressor and we do it VERY impulsively…without giving it much thought.

Relapsing on substances is little different than wolfing down a big bag of cookies or scoops n’ scoops of ice cream, or starting to smoke again, a “forbidden” sexual encounter….whatever. I think these types of behaviors have to do with attempts to bring an “out-of-control” emotional mind into control…so that we feel better and more comfortable in the emotional moment. It is all about being desperate for relief and doing what brings us relief, often immediate relief. It’s a desperate way to experience a sense of emotional, psychological, and physical peace IN-THE-MOMENT…although we’ll have hell to pay when we come to (when the emotional moment passes and rational mind picks up strength).

When we come to and realize what just happened and are faced with the consequences of our behavior…and the unresolved problem…we feel bad again…and then we may continue destructive coping….chasing “peace in the moment”…When we use destructive coping behaviors to deal with our pain and problems, we enter the Cycle of Suffering. Our problems multiply and intensity and we go through a period of increased pain and suffering as a result.

I believe most people use destructive coping behaviors to some degree (e.g., overworking, oversleeping, physical aggression, yelling, throwing fits, being rude and ugly, ‘always speaking our mind”, lying, gambling, obsessive exercise, cheating, sleeping around, codependency, procrastination, smoking, prescription meds, alcohol, overeating or eating the desired “poison foods” for us, being hyperreligious, narcissistic….and the list goes on and on.) I actually tell my patients that it’s “normal” to be “abnormal” and entirely abnormal to be so perfectly normal and in control of ourselves. We all do some destructive coping behaviors and the healthier or more in recovery we are…the less we do these things…and the more we work VERY hard to stay in control of our emotions, behaviors, and our addictions of choice….and the more we choose life-enhancing coping behaviors instead.

I’m obviously very passionate about this…it’s one of those, “been there, done that, still doing that…having to fight for recovery at times to stay in control…and not to get too far out of control” type of things for me. I believe that when we are in recovery…we remain “works in progress.” Sometimes it’s a daily battle and sometimes, an occasional battle. We’re emotional critters and creatures of habit…and when we hurt or are feeling desperate and “out-of-control”…we tend to fall back into old patterns of relief-seeking behaviors…or to certainly think about doing them!

We’re emotional critters and creatures of habit…and when we hurt or are feeling desperate and “out-of-control”…we tend to fall back into old patterns of relief-seeking behavior…or to certainly think about doing them!”

And you know the more we think about doing them…the more likely we are to finally do them. That’s because the tension is building…we want…and we won’t allow ourselves to have…and we want…we tell ourselves “NO”…and we want…and we’re tired of the pain, problems, tension, and frustration…and we become desperate for relief and peace…that we finally do what we keep trying not to do…and we relapse. Have you “been there, done that?” Have you been through this struggle? It’s a battle of the minds, Emotional Mind vs. Rational Mind and Wise Mind. It’s a battle of wills…willingness vs. willfulness. Which recovery skills do you use to get through the “fixing to relapse” moment? Do you still have these moments?

I believe that one of our major recovery tasks is to learn ways to keep our Emotional Mind in control and to tame our Emotional Mind when it is getting out-of-control. That’s my biggest recovery task…and it’s always a battle of the mind states and a battle of will. Sometimes, I grow tired of the battle and dealing with my emotional, willful self. At those tired, weak moments, I remind myself….”Mel, what do you want…peace and stability or chaos and pain?” Isn’t it horrible that you have to parent yourself even when you’re a grown-up!?

Link to the LinkedIn discussion

Link to Elisabeth’s book:  “Good Things, Emotional Healing Journal: Addiction on Amazon

Link to Elisabeth’s blog


Question: Is Spirituality A Major Component Of Your Work – Response: The Role Of Spirituality In The Development Of The DBT-CBT Therapy Workbook

Spirituality IS a major component of my work because it is a major part of who I am as a person and a major driving force for how I live my life.  The DBT-CBT recovery workbook that I wrote was initially written as a Christian DBT-CBT workbook; however, due to the biblical focus, I was not able to use it in the therapy group I conduct at the state hospital.   At the hospital, I was using packets of information (handouts) that summarized the major DBT-CBT concepts without spiritual references.  The patients continually asked for more information to study outside of group, to work on at home when discharged, and to share with their families…while all my time and energy was being spent on developing the Christian workbook.   The pressure mounted and I felt I had to leave the Christian project and develop a secular workbook for use with my patients.  Believe it or not, I feel God blessed that endeavor and guided the writing of the secular workbook.

Here’s the brief story.  While working on the Christian workbook, I became pregnant at the ripe age of 43 and naturally lost the energy and focus on the workbook.  I ended up losing the baby and did not immediately resume work on the workbook after physically recovering.  Within months, the internal (and external) pressure to write a workbook for patient use was mounting and by the following January, I was absolutely tormented by it…I had no peace.  I was so burdened by my lack of focus on the workbook that I had to complete a Wise Mind Worksheet to deal with it!  Of course, the end result was to set a date to re-engage in the writing process, but to abandon the Christian workbook to focus on a secular one.  I finally said, “Okay God, I’ll do it…I’ll start on January…” and I specified the date.

Amazingly, at that moment of submission of my will, I lost that pressure…that tormenting burden…and I finally felt “at peace.”  Oddly enough, as I write this now, I realize the date set  was the time period when the baby was due…towards the end of January that year…pretty cool synchronicity!

When the agreed upon start date came, I got back into the workbook as I agreed to do.  I took out all the biblical references and began writing it for a secular audience.  I remained insanely focused on the project for the following 23 months…until I “got ‘er done!”  That was 23 months of near “24-7” focus on the workbook during non-hospital job waking hours!  Everywhere I went, the workbook went…kid sport practices, rodeos, traveling even 45 miles from home, “vacations,” and even to Six Flags!  I said it was an “insane” focus!

Once the book was in print, I’d flip through it…and would be stunned at the amount of work and time that went into it.  It is astounding.  I’ve often said of myself that “I was born to work” and I’ve recently decided that my degree of task energy and persistence is a God given quality…because it is soooo unnatural…and if I had it my way, I’d play and entertain myself instead!  I whole-heartedly believe that God is the driving force that has enabled me the capacity to pull off the projects I have pulled off in my life!  Without the hand of God in my life, I really don’t think I would have made it through all the life experiences I have been through…the good ones and the bad ones.

All in all, spirituality is a major driving force in my life…something that defines my life…and thus flows into all aspects of my work…and not just in the form of “works”…but also in how I choose to interact with the people that are a part of my life…including the patients I serve!

What about you?  How does your spirituality affect your work?