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Handling Relapse-Inducing Factors

Chapter 13: Handling Relapse–Inducing Factors

Section 3: SEA's Tools for Recovery Lifestyle 
Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous -

The SEA's Program of Recovery
By James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Handling Relapse–Inducing Factors


What events, sites, activities or factors lead to relapse from a recovered lifestyle?

The following factors can upset the balance in a recovered lifestyle and lead to relapse:

  • Vacations.
  • Business trips.
  • Social events, e.g., cocktail parties, receptions, etc.
  • Visiting someone else's home.
  • Entertaining at your home.
  • Going out to restaurants, dinner parties.
  • Holidays (especially between October 31 and January 10).
  • Stressful work environment.
  • Stressful home life.
  • Unexpected events or life crises.

What general principles are involved in maintaining balance and recovery in the midst of a relapse‑inducing factor of life?

  • Remember your goal: to maintain recovery in your life. Keep your priorities in mind as you face any unbalancing factor.
  • Rehearse in your mind how you would handle each of these relapse‑inducing factors. This will help you control your compulsive behaviors and maintain a balance to the best of your ability.
  • Develop a set of reinforcements for yourself to be used if any of the unbalancing factors should arise. This should help you maintain your balance if you slip into relapse.
  • Set up a list of guidelines or rules to be followed when any of these unbalancing factors arise and lead to relapse.
  • Set up a plan of action in advance to handle life's special events, while maintaining your balance and changed behavior without a relapse.
  • Always be aware of the emotional cues brought on by these factors, cues that lead you back to your old, compulsive ways. Be prepared for alternative behavioral responses to these cues.
  • Be aware of the chain of behavior that has or could have occurred in the past for every unbalancing factor. Decide now on the alternative activities you can call into play to break these behavior chains in the future so as to reduce the risk of relapse.
  • Remember, it is imperative to restructure the way you think, feel, and react to stimuli that encouraged your old, compulsive, unhealthy behavior in the past.
  • Never give yourself an opportunity to use these factors as an excuse not to work your recovery program.
  • Redefine the purpose, rationale, and goals of these unbalancing factors so that they lose their power over you. Set them into perspective. Remember what is most important: your health and recovery.

What specific strategies can be used to keep the relapse factors in perspective?



Remember: Vacations are high on the list of stress‑inducing events in people's lives because they include a change in normal work and activity routine.


  • Keep your journal responding and recovery reading active.
  • Plan in aerobic exercise daily.
  • Order no alcoholic drinks before or after any meals. Stick with low‑calorie beverages.
  • Do not relax your vigilance over your compulsive behavior traits.
  • Limit your shopping excursions and bring small amounts of money with you; leave your credit cards, travelers cheques, and checkbook locked in a safe place.
  • When flying on airplanes, eat sparingly; accept no alcoholic beverages or high‑fat snacks.
  • Encourage the people around you to be your support as you continue to maintain your recovery program.


Business trips

Remember: Use these trips to challenge your ingenuity and creativity. Use the hotel work‑out room or pool. Find a peer who will work out with you.


  • Use the strategies from vacations here, too.
  • Remember you are on business and the business should be the focus at all meals, cocktail parties, and receptions.
  • Do not snack or drink alcoholic beverages when offered; ask for low‑calorie drinks.
  • Stay at a hotel or motel with a health club and use their equipment for your exercise; substitute other forms of aerobic activity, e.g., walking, swimming, jumping jacks, sit ups, jumping rope.
  • Drink a full glass of water after exercise and before each meal.
  • Avoid unhealthy activities with your business associates. Substitute a sightseeing excursion or offer to talk business at night. Maybe you could finish early and leave early.


Social events

Remember: Cocktail parties, receptions, dances, and dinners are social events meant to mix people together to meet, network, and converse, not to simply smoke, drink, and eat to excess. If the stated purpose of the event is to eat or drink to excess, then avoid the event.


  • Drink a full glass of water on arrival.
  • Always carry a low‑calorie beverage in your hand; this allows those who are drinking and eating to stay at ease.
  • Eat from the appetizer or hors d'oeuvres trays only those foods acceptable to your diet. It is possible to have an acceptable, healthy meal on only appetizers so be sure you have balanced your calories to allow for this.
  • If a meal follows the reception, save your calories for the meal; avoid the appetizers.
  • Avoid smokers and those who drink and eat to excess. They feel better if you are doing the same. Recognize their behavior as a killer, which should encourage you to stick with a recovery lifestyle.
  • You are there to be social, so emphasize your social networking behavior.


Visiting someone else's home

Remember: Some hosts and hostesses have an unspoken belief that giving or receiving food, drink, or drugs is the same as giving or receiving love, that every social event must involve food, drink, and drugs and that refusing an offer of food, drink, or drugs is somehow insulting to them.


  • Use the strategies from social events here, too.
  • Accept a drink if offered, always asking for a low‑calorie beverage.
  • Accept food in portions fitting your needs.
  • Refuse any type of drugs.
  • Eat the allowed amount and leave the rest. Hostesses are sometimes more insulted by a refusal to eat than by food left on a plate.
  • Try to remember the goal of the visit; keep it on a social level, and not on the food, drinks, or drugs available.
  • Stay alert; watch for emotional cues that arise from feeling deprived; reward yourself mentally for maintaining your balance and control.


Entertaining at your home

Remember: People are on your turf now. Many remember the ``old'' you and will be expecting the ``out of balance'' behavior. This is a time to entertain by role model and example.


  • Use strategies from social events here, too.
  • Create opportunities that are exercise‑oriented rather than food, drink, or drug‑oriented to have company, e.g., tennis match, volleyball game, or swim party.
  • Always have plenty of fresh water available.
  • Offer non‑alcoholic or low‑calorie beverages.
  • Offer "safe'' food appetizers, e.g., fresh vegetables with low‑fat dip.
  • Offer well‑balanced, appealing, attractively presented meals, appetizing yet nutritious and low in calories and fat.
  • Keep the focus of the entertainment social by trying to keep the discussion on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Plan an attractive area outside (porch or patio) for smokers and clearly label it as such.
  • Plan games that involve everyone, like charades, Win, Lose or Draw, or Trivial Pursuit.


Going out to restaurants, dinner parties

Remember: The reasons for going out to restaurants include convenience, change in atmosphere, opportunity for social interaction, new and different kinds of food. The actual eating and drinking are a small part of the overall picture.


  • Select restaurants that are noted for their atmosphere and that offer small portions to those who want them.
  • Avoid "all you can eat'' buffets.
  • Request that inappropriate food be left off your plate, e.g., french fries, chips.
  • Drink a full glass of water before the meal.
  • Order diet drinks, iced tea, or coffee while you wait for your meal to be served.
  • Order salads with dressing to be served on the side.
  • Pre‑plan your food exchanges.
  • Increase your exercise schedule before and/or the day you plan to go out to eat.
  • Order an appetizer as an entree.
  • Eat slowly; swallow each bite before you take another.
  • Enjoy the atmosphere and social context of the meal.
  • Keep the focus of the conversation on social events and off food and drink.



Remember: The holiday season from Halloween (October 31) until Valentine's Day (February 14) is a time of increased stress due to the popular conception on TV, radio, in the press, and in our society that this is a time to be happy, indulge to excess, and to eat, drink, and be merry. Conversely, it can also be a time when people experience the strongest feelings of depression, sadness and loss.


  • Set aside time in your holiday schedule to unwind from the seasonal pressures; pace yourself.
  • Recognize that depression and feeling "let down'' are common reactions to emotion‑laden events.
  • Recognize that there is nothing wrong with you if you feel depressed occasionally.
  • Recognize that the depression is due to unrealistic expectations; remember to go into situations with realistic expectations.
  • Emphasize the true meaning of the holiday for you; de‑emphasize the role of food, drinks, parties, and gift giving.
  • Enjoying traditional symbols and rituals; place emphasis on historical, cultural, and the religious meanings of the different holidays.
  • Follow the strategies for social events, entertaining at your home, and in the homes of others.
  • Make the holidays work for you; don't simply work for the holidays. Learn to delegate. Relax and enjoy!


Stressful work environment

Remember: If you are under continuous stress on the job, you have a greater likelihood of reverting to the emotional cues that trigger problem, compulsive behavior. It is important to be on the alert for behavior chains of habit and ill health. Try to interrupt the chains before they are in full force.


  • Identify the sources of stress in your work site, e.g., too much work, deadline pressures, your travel schedule, personality clashes.
  • Identify stress that comes from the people in your work site, e.g., pushy, demanding, not enough rewarding or acknowledging, no reinforcing, compulsive eaters, smokers, drinkers.
  • Recognize that your life, health, and self‑esteem is on the line if you allow the stress of the work site to lead you back to your old behavioral patterns.
  • Use time management to eliminate the "time stealers'' in your work day.
  • Use stress‑reduction activities at the work site to help you relax, two or three times a day if necessary.


Stressful home life

Remember: You didn't bloom into a person with low self‑esteem and compulsive habits overnight. The most common breeding ground for learning such habits is at home and in family life. If you were married and/or had a family before you began to work on changing your lifestyle, the home life is probably one of stress. The stress will increase because of your desire to change and because of the changes you have already implemented. The others in your life may be feeling threatened or insecure because of your healthy changes.


  • Try to relax and keep your important issues in the forefront of your mind. Teach the others in your life the advantages of a recovery lifestyle by example, not lecture.
  • Encourage those in your home life to be your social support in your changed life style.
  • Recognize that they have a vested interest in you not changing so that they don't have to change their habitual ways of responding to you.
  • Encourage yourself to identify your number one priority: to maintain your wellness. You deserve to be healthy physically and emotionally, with high self‑esteem.
  • Do not preach, teach or demand that others change or imitate you. Use your role model of commitment to encourage others to want to change.
  • Do not punish yourself for any guilt you may feel for the troubled behavior in your home. You are not solely responsible for the others' behavior.
  • If the problems become unworkable, seek out professional help for your stressful home life.


Unexpected events or life crises

Remember: This could be a positive event (marriage, birth, first communion, or baptism, new house, graduation, anniversary) or a negative event (hospitalization, illness, death, divorce, a disability, the problems of adolescence, a natural disaster, victim of crime, losing a job, or midlife crisis). No one can plan in advance how to feel when crisis or unexpected events come up. Flexibility is the name of the game, but it is hard to develop. Keep in mind that stress from a crisis can be so powerful that your life could be thrown off track and a major remedial effort (perhaps including professional help) may be in order.


  • Allow yourself to experience all stages of grieving the loss involved in a negative event crisis.
  • Allow your emotions to be released; try not to repress your feelings.
  • Recognize that these feelings are emotional cues for your old compulsive behavior traits so use alternative, healthy ways to deal with the emotions.
  • Watch for the old behavioral chains; break the link early on.
  • Seek support from your SEA's social support sources.
  • Seek out professional help if you find the stress too difficult to handle on your own.