Most of our distressful and dysfunctional behavioral issues are never cured. They are MANAGED! We learn to recognize triggers for the onset of these distressful behaviors. We become cognizant of faulty thinking and feelings as they well up inside us. We remember to breathe, to stay in the present and manage ourselves through these moments, for our own sake and for the people in our world who may be directly or indirectly affected by our behaviors. Successful management of distressful behaviors become badges of courage and empowerment, as we recognize our ability to cope, change and grow into the positive, authentic creatures we all are.
However, we live with the knowledge that these dysfunctional behaviors still hold an enormous power for us and sometimes, over us. They are like actors waiting in the wings, always eager to get on stage. This is why a strong relapse plan should always accompany management for a distressful behavior.
I was reminded of the relapse part of the program when I slipped this morning. What happened? I panicked in the face of new relationship, experience and opportunity. This is a very old distressful behavior of mine that has cost me dearly through the years, as I found a way to avoid, destroy or simply run away from opportunities that flowed to me in a most natural way.
Before becoming a professional psychologist, I was a musician -- a singer/ songwriter, recording artist and performer, to be specific. It's not something that ever really leaves you. Last week I was in Nashville, where I had the opportunity to record a tune of mine. It was a recording triumph, accompanied by teary-eyed wonderment... for when I'd look through the glass from the studio to the control room, I would see my son, Truman, who was the engineer for the session. I have since played the tune for anyone and everyone. I am that proud of it!
This morning, a friend, a very successful builder and entrepreneur, came into my coffee spot. He sat down and told me he was there for a meeting with a record producer he was working with, a big talent whose name I recognized immediately. My friend and I talked for a while and I told him about my great new tune and my time in Nashville. I asked if I could send him the song. He said: "Of course!" We laughed and drank our coffee.
By now, you can probably guess what could have or should have happened next, and what did occur. The powerful producer came into the café, sat down, we were introduced and I was my occasionally charming self. We shared some war stories, I told him about my great new tune and he asked for a copy. I said: "Of course!" We laughed, then I excused myself so that they could get on with their meeting.
That is what could have happened. Instead, I was triggered. In an instant, my managed, distressful behavior of the past became unmanageable, and then.... relapse. I panicked! I stopped breathing, lost sense of the present and resorted to a familiar, dysfunctional pattern. I met the producer, uttered a polite hello, got up from the table and left. I stopped the flow and lost the opportunity for new relationship and experience, harming both myself and those in my world in the process.
Dealing with relapse in the management of dysfunction is so very important to our continued well-being; whether it be social or relational behaviors, behaviors regarding substance abuse or of a sexual nature or any other behaviors that cause impairment in our daily lives. We come to understand that certain distressful and dysfunctional behaviors are so powerful that it may take years, or even a lifetime, to get them under control and that, despite our good hearts and intentions, sometimes these behaviors get the best of us.
In any good relapse plan, we repair what damage we can, take responsibility for any pain we have caused ourselves and others and we begin again. Slowly, we rebuild the confidence that we can recognize and regulate these moments, when unwanted behaviors can cloud our mind and distort our emotions. More and more, we successfully recognize triggers as we learn what is required to get these behaviors under control. We may even succeed to such an extent that they lose all power for us, and over us. That may be as close to a cure as we ever get.
Understanding the role of relapse in the management of distressful behaviors is just one more tool in our toolbox for disassembling old patterns that do not work and for building new skyscrapers of behavior with authentic and magnificent views of who we want to be and where we want to go.
And by the way, that tune? I really am that proud of it, so here it is.