Have you ever found yourself repeatedly doing something you didn’t want to do? Perhaps its eating cookies for breakfast, spending more time playing Candy Crush than desired, or looking at pornography without really knowing why. I recently came across a tool in my work with addiction recovery groups that provides some valuable insight into why we find ourselves turning to food, drink, or substances to escape the onslaught of stress in our fast paced lives. Created by author and addictions counselor Michael Dye, the FASTER scale describes a model of relapse awareness and prevention that proves helpful even beyond addiction recovery work. It shows a progression of choices and behaviors that signify a descent toward relapse. Each letter stands for one stage in the process, very briefly described below. Do any of these stages indicate how you feel occasionally? Maybe one describes a recurrent state of being?
Forgetting Priorities. The first stage of relapse begins the movement away from trusting God and his healing process and focuses instead on present circumstances. This includes isolating and avoiding support from others, neglecting family, and skipping meetings, church, or other self-care activities such as journaling. Often conversations are superficial or sarcastic, and secrets are kept about thoughts or actions. Becoming preoccupied with distractions will lead to:
Anxiety. The background noise of fear ramps up, and we begin to worry, replaying old negative thoughts and fearing the worst. We become resentful or perfectionistic, judging others, and “mind-reading” what they are thinking rather than engaging in honest conversations. To escape the anxiety, unrealistic goals and to do lists are made, resulting in:
Speeding Up. To outrun the anxiety of feeling out of control, a person might become incredibly busy and always in a hurry. Instead of relaxing and slowing down, they become driven toward workaholism. This includes excessive caffeine, skipping meals, overspending, nervousness, over-exercising, and binge eating. It is difficult in this stage to identify one’s own feelings and needs, and repetitive negative thoughts can introduce dramatic mood swings. This increasing sense of irritibaility eventually escalates toward being:
Ticked Off. The rapid pace of speeding up creates a short fuse with yourself (feeling alone, selfhatred, can’t take criticism) and with others (blaming, arguing, defensiveness). This might look like black and white (all or nothing) thinking, road rage, overreactions, intimidation, pushing people away, or always needing to be right. It can also take on the physical form of headaches and digestive problems. Thinking becomes more irrational, and constant resentments and the feeling that nobody understands can make one feel:
Exhaustion. This loss of physical and emotional energy triggers the onset of depression, hopelessness, confusion, panic, and feeling overwhelmed. Exhaustion can look like sleeping too much or too little, having trouble thinking, crying for “no reason”, really isolating, being pessimistic, and wanting to run. Escape seems preferable to the survival mode of remaining tired and numb. Thus, thoughts and cravings for unhealthy coping strategies return. This stage can affect sleep, concentration, appetite, productivity at work, and feeling like you can’t cope with it all might even produce suicidal thoughts. Such hopelessness makes it really appealing to:
Relapse. It is not a big step from feeling out of control and helpless to giving up and giving in, returning to food, drink, substance, or sex despite promises to never go back to those places. Depending on the severity of relapse, this can feel out of control, lost in addiction again, and is often accompanied by lying to yourself and others. Ultimately the result is shame, guilt, and condemnation, with feelings of being abandoned and alone.
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Do any of these stages sound familiar to you? Do you live “faster” than you want to? If so, now might be a good time to seek help. Recovery is not merely about avoiding the self-destructive behaviors that have troubled you, it is about living a life of restoration, accepting life on God’s terms with trust, vulnerability, and gratitude. Life is meant to be done together, in community where it is safe to be open and honest about our secrets without fear of rejection, and where we work together to resolve problems. Restoration is about identifying fears and feelings, keeping commitments to yourself and increasing in relationships with God and others. The FASTER scale is a useful tool that points us toward one such recovery model that does not intend to make the words sober and somber synonyms.