Let’s face it., life isn’t always easy. We all have hard days, feel stressed or sad or just plain blah. Life in sobriety is no different, in most respects. There is one distinct challenge we have, though, especially in early sobriety….euphoric recall. It is a sneaky condition we experience that can seem harmless at first, but can lead to disaster if unchecked.
What is euphoric recall? Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Simply put, euphoric recall is when we recall only the fun and happy times we had back when we were using drugs or drinking. Here’s an example: Say you’ve had a tough day. You are tired and cranky. You go to a restaurant with a friend for dinner where there is a bar. People are sitting at the bar, sipping wine. Laughing. They are flirting and taking selfies. The lights are twinkling and it all looks so fun. Harmless. You think to yourself, “These people are having a nice time. They look stress-free and happy. I remember when I was like that. Maybe one drink won’t hurt…..”
STOP RIGHT THERE! This is the first sign of Euphoric Recall.
Euphoric recall is called “memory bias.” This memory bias happens most frequently when the present circumstances are difficult. In stressful or challenging situations we tend to romanticize and exaggerate the good things that happened in our past. For addicts, this can be fatal. We remember the fun, calm, carefree feelings we had when we drank or did drugs. We may even convince ourselves that we need substances to perform better, write better, be better. With each memory we embellish the positive parts until they only loosely reflect reality. We forget to include THE REST OF THE STORY.
What is the rest of the story? Well, if it included drugs and alcohol, it probably isn’t pretty.
Can we remember the embarrassment, the pain and dangerous situations we put ourselves in? Can we remember the depression and self-pity of the next day? Can we see the consequences of the bad choices we made while using? How we harmed others? If you cannot, you are in Euphoric Recall and may be in danger of relapse.
Euphoric recall begins with one tiny thought. It’s a thought that isn’t true, but if it slips through and is believed, it spells trouble. It germinates like a weed or a virus. It breeds new thoughts that aren’t true until you are living in a make-believe fantasy world. You may start to believe that sobriety isn’t as good as you thought it was and you NEED drugs and alcohol. You are trapped a fairy tale scenario and you don’t even know it. You might as well expect a unicorn to knock at the door. These expectations are equally untrue. This fantasy is particularly nefarious. It has conveniently omitted the dark and scary consequences at the end of the story.
One way to steer clear of the danger of euphoric recall is to know the signs:
- Obsessing about drugs and alcohol
- Can’t concentrate
- Blocking past memories
- Sudden distaste for sobriety
- Associating with friends who are still addicted
Euphoric recall happens to most of us in recovery. This occurs especially in the first months of sobriety, when we are establishing new ways to interact with the world without drugs and alcohol. We need awareness and tools to counteract this subtle foe. Being able to spot the signs is very important. Next we need some coping strategies to insure that these are just fleeting moments, not life-changing (ruining) decisions. Here are some tips.
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How To Cope With Euphoric Recall
1. REMEMBER THE WHOLE STORY
Some call this “Play the tape.” Euphoric recall is like remembering just a short snippet of a long tale. With this strategy, we play the whole tape. What happened an hour after that fun memory? The next day? Can you remember the hang-over, the black-outs and the regrets? Can you remember how isolated you became? How sick you felt? It helps to write all this down so you have it handy for the next time these sneaky thoughts retur. Make the story as horrible and cringe-worthy as it really was.
2. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS WITH SOMEONE
Hopefully, by this time, you have some sober acquaintances you can talk to. Maybe there is someone in an AA meeting you like. It could be a sponsor, family member or therapist. It is important in early sobriety to have people you can talk to that understand addiction. If you are having euphoric recall, let someone know. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. We have all experienced it. It will feel much better to just share it and get feedback from those who have felt the same way and have gotten to the other side of it….SOBER.
3. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
Isn’t sobriety much better than being out there, addicted and isolated? Is your health better? Do you have new friends now? Make a gratitude list of all the blessings that come from sobriety. It is the first step back to reality and a clear mind.
4. RE-ENTER THE PRESENT
Euphoric recall is a journey into a false past. It can blind you to life around you. Take a little time to notice where you are right now. Breathe. Take a walk in the sunshine. Create something. Go to a meeting. Eat some ice cream and savor every bite.
5. BE ACCOUNTABLE
Make a promise to a sober friend to call them every day. Hang out with sober people. When we make promises to others we are more likely to stay sober.
6. ACCEPT SPIRITUAL HELP
If you are so inclined, a little prayer couldn’t hurt.