Relapse Prevention

Relapse Prevention

During a recent training, a colleague mentioned “The FASTER Scale” as a tool for supporting recovery. The technical name is “The FASTER Awareness Scale,” created by Michael Dye. Michael and his wife Cathy, both certified addiction counselors, are the founders of the Genesis Process. The Dye’s gained considerable addiction experience by opening their own treatment center and being program directors of a large one-year residential treatment center in California. Michael is also a researcher and trainer of the Genesis Counseling skills.

There are many ways and words to define addiction. I particularly like one of the simple ways Dye explains addiction, as a temporary self -gratification that is also self-destructive and/or self-defeating. Nonetheless, addictive behaviors are used to meet the needs of a traumatized limbic system. The addiction process pushes thoughts, feelings and memories out of one’s conscience. Addiction requires isolation while avoiding fear; whereas recovery requires learning to allow fear, memories, and thoughts to be exposed so they can be dealt with. This process is the healing process of recovery and we cannot do this process alone (Dye, 2015). I will repeat this, we cannot heal alone.

While experts in the field of addiction may disagree on some definitions and nuances to describe addiction; they all agree that we were created for healthy relationships and we heal in a supportive community. Holistic and integrative addiction recovery experts uphold the theory that restoration of broken lives and long-lasting healing is best achieved by treating the mind and the heart, using both neurochemical and biblical understandings of trauma, addiction, and healing.

It is important to understand the difference between sobriety and recovery. Sobriety is a state of abstaining from the substances or behaviors used to cope. In sobriety, a person has not necessarily changed their core beliefs or began living from a state of healing and self-awareness. They have stopped a particular way of coping. Sobriety is important and required for recovery; alone it is not sustainable or sufficient for healthy living. Sobriety without recovery is often referred to as “white knuckling it.” Recovery is returning to a normal healthy state or returning to the person we once were before the trauma occurred and the coping behaviors began (Dye, 2015). Think about that, recovery is reclaiming who we are at our core being, who we were created to be, before our life experiences altered the way we interact with ourselves and the world. God is calling us back to this state, as he created us!

Most addiction patterns are set up in early childhood, specifically the first two years of life. Today, we have the informative data explaining adverse childhood experiences (toxic stress), also known as ACE’s, contribute to major health consequences, including depression, chronic anxiety, and addiction. Addressing risk factors, major stressors and dysfunctional family dynamics during a child’s infancy, is an opportunity to change lives. I have worked with mothers and infants coordinating early interventions for the sake of protecting this extremely critical phase of development. During this early window in life, a baby’s brain and body will decide if the world is safe or dangerous based on that baby’s experience to this point. Chronic stress, caused by neglect, abuse, a parent or caretaker’s distractions or inability to attune and adequately meet the child’s needs, require the child to develop coping mechanisms to survive. These coping mechanisms are the best options children had to utilize during an intolerable situation. Unfortunately, unhealthy situations often create unhealthy coping mechanisms. Thus, Dye’s earlier explanation of addiction as “not having our needs met through healthy relationships, we learn to meet our own needs through self-gratification. The thing that I need the most is the thing that messed me up the most. Relationships have messed us up and ironically, relationships will heal us” (Dye, 2015).

When we have a trauma experience, we develop a survival belief system. The mind and body hold will on to this belief and continue to replay it. This is a person’s core wound or the wounding that led to the coping. PTSD creates a trauma response belief system. We need to process this trauma through a new and safe experience. This is where God, community, recovery groups, 12- step, professional coaching, and new therapies, such as EMDR can help bring us safely back to the original memory stored in the body. The memory can be processed, creating the “feel, deal and heal” scenario that leads to a new belief system, offering healthier ways to engage with the world and ultimately freedom.

The Faster Relapse Awareness Scale provides insight to the regressive step process from recovery to relapse. This scale demonstrates how the steps towards relapse are related and often progressive; thus, each step in the scale moving someone further away from recovery and closer to relapse. People do not just suddenly relapse, there is a process or pattern that leads to this state. Think of relapse as a set of unhealthy behaviors left unaddressed that continue to weaken and deteriorate the mind and heart. Relapse is preventable! It is not a surprise or sneak attack. A dedicated God centered recovery plan, with trauma and attachment healing, and healthy relationships and a supportive community can be a secure fortress to relapse prevention. As they say at the end of some 12- step meetings, “it works if you work it!”

I have included the link to Michael Dye’s Genesis Process hand out on The Faster Recovery Awareness Scale. His thoughtful and helpful work has been generously shared on-line.

Written by Ellen Drews