Coping Skills Emergency Plan, Early Recovery, Lapse and Relapse

Are You Afraid Using Heroin One Time (Lapse) Equals Failure? Create A Coping Skills Emergency Plan & HALT the Lapse Dead In Its Tracks. 

Blog post author header image John Makohen recovery coaching in nyc

John Makohen
Arise Recovery Coaching in NYC

Do you have a coping skills emergency plan to help you cope with the threat of a trigger or high-risk situation?

I have a client who got on methadone assisted recovery 4 months ago. It was a big step. 

While at the clinic she was approached by a friend to cop a new dope stamp she was selling. She copped the dope, went home, fixed up, and then called me. We had developed a coping skills emergency plan to deal with a lapse before it snowballed into a relapse. She did the right thing. 

 Relapse is a part of recovery.


I know you’ve heard the phrase, “Relapse is a part of recovery,” and, unfortunately, for the majority of people seeking recovery from a heroin use disorder, it is true. 

However, you don’t have to relapse to find fulfillment in early recovery.

It is a myth. 

However, a lapse and a relapse are entirely two different things.  (Learn the difference between a lapse and relapse here.)

No matter how hard kicking heroin or other drugs is, if you learn some coping skills and create a system for recovery, you can HALT a lapse before it becomes a full-blown relapse.

Your addiction has given you the chance to change your life for the better. You can become a better person. Coping skills help you to learn to relax and manage stress, face adversity, and high-risk situations

There is nothing fun about detoxing heroin out of your body. Every joint in your body screams for a fix. Stomach bile burns in the back of your throat, and the toxic stink of spent heroin filled sweat leaks from every pore polluting the air all around you.  

You know as well as I, getting through the chemical kick is only part of the equation. Once you’ve detoxed, the real game-changer begins. Now it is time to change old behaviors, dispute negative self-talk, and establish connections to a network of supportive peers, and the list goes on…


Cravings, triggers, and high-risk situations


Even with an infallible routine for recovery, a high-risk situation or traumatic experience can knock you on your ass.

Before I got over my stigma to methadone, I relapsed more frequently than I changed my underwear -literally 5 to 1, but in my defense, I was homeless. (Ugh, if my mother only knew. She made sure to remind me to change my underwear every time I left the house) Before I was able to create a lifestyle of lasting change, I had to get over my stigma to medicated assisted recovery. During this time, it didn’t take much for me to get caught in a swirl of nagging thoughts to use.

I was never able to use heroin or other drugs just once. The next morning the cycle of endless thoughts, schemes, and cravings crippled me. Entertaining the idea of using heroin often led to me using it again and again. I’d give in and set-up a buy. At that particular time in my life, using dope was much more comfortable than suffering through another detox. I couldn’t come up with one reason to stay sober. I was devastated.

When I started to take life seriously, my lapses were less frequent, but I was still able to convince myself I would be back in early withdrawal the next day. 

Not true. The nagging pains, chills, and battle to keep my insides inside wouldn’t physically begin after a single-use, but my brain convinced me otherwise, even with a belly full of methadone.

I would wake up with my skin crawling and head pounding. Subsequent withdrawal symptoms combined with the shame, guilt, and negative self-talk were enough for me to give up and get high.

Do you know the feeling? 

If you have recently experienced a lapse, you don’t have to let the slogan, “Relapse is a part of recovery,” overpower your system for recovery.

You can create a coping skills emergency plan to stop your slip from becoming a full-blown relapse. Keep reading this post, if you are
• New to recovery and want to learn how to cope with a lapse
• Have been in recovery for some time and recently experienced a slip
• Wanting to add more coping skills to your recovery toolbox.

Keep reading:

Are You Afraid Using Heroin One Time (Lapse) Equals Failure? Create A Coping Skills Emergency Plan & HALT the Lapse Dead In Its Tracks.

A traffic light in the middle of the street in London is Red it signifies the coping skill Stop Look Listen.

Coping Skill #1: Stop, Look, and Listen.

Coping skill emergency plan – How to Halt a lapse before it becomes a full-blown relapse.


Coping Skill Step 1 – Slow down, stop, look, and listen.


Think of the lapse or slip as a warning signal – Just like the service engine light in your car. 

When your service light comes on, some of us, pullover immediately or search for a  safe area to stop and evaluate the problem. Whether you pull over or disregard the light, you know, there is a mechanical problem needing your attention.

Consider a lapse equal to a pesky service engine soon light. If you lapse, you should stop the flow of events (exit the highway) and evaluate the circumstances leading up to the lapse (assess the mechanics you comprehend). 

Once you stop and get away from the people, places, or situations triggering old behaviors, you can reflect on the events which triggered you to use.

Remove yourself from the event and retreat to a safe place to evaluate what went wrong, what you did, or failed to do.  

Safe space from the situation and further temptation create room for self-reflection without fear of being side-swiped by guilt, shame, and regret. Or the nagging temptations of others who could care less about your recovery or the desire to throw caution to the wind and party like a new decade is around the corner.

Removing yourself from the situation allows you to reason about your actions, the lapse, and how you wish to proceed.

Coping Skill Step 2 – Relax and forgive yourself.


There is no doubt about it. You will feel guilty after a lapse.

You will blame yourself for what happened.

It is common.

Don’t let the feelings of blame, shame, and guilt reinforce old negative thoughts and convince you. You’re a hopeless junkie, addict, or alcoholic.

You have to be bold and brave to strike those thoughts from your mind – fast, without looking back.

You will want to evaluate the lapse from a negative perspective, but doing this will only create the desire to resume your old lifestyle and give up. Approaching the lapse from this point of view will only make it harder to get up and brush yourself off.

Instead, forgive yourself. You are human. Mistakes will always happen. Use the lapse to learn more about recovery. You don’t have to start over, nor do you have to pick up again, creating a full-blown relapse.

The choice you made to use was not wise, but it does not define you as a failure. (Shit happens) Your lapse doesn’t excuse you from learning to love and forgive yourself. It means you have more work to do. Simple as that. 

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Tweet image : A lapse is just a slip so use your coping skill emergency plan for long-term recovery

Coping Skill Step 3 – Review and renew your commitment to recovery


Before you buy-in to the phrase, “Relapse is a part of recovery,” take a moment to think about where you are at in your recovery. How far have you come? Think of all the progress you have made. Be proud of the progress you made. Use this pride to cancel out any remorse or regret, which might turn this lapse into a relapse of drug-seeking behavior and becoming chemically dependent on heroin once again.

Review and re-evaluate your list of long-term recovery goals. Evaluating your recovery helps to reinforce your commitment to achieving your goals.

Show gratitude for the long list the gifts you have already received from your recovery. Remember, you are still in charge. One lapse does not undermine all the work and energy you have put into your recovery. You are in control, so take action immediately.

   Download a FREE workbook to identify your high-risk situations and triggers that will blindside your recovery goals by creating the urge to use heroin or other drugs.

Coping Skill Step 4 – Break the lapse down.


Don’t blame yourself or your plan for recovery. Instead, break the lapse down, by analyzing it as a one-time specific event. 

Ask yourself:

• What led up to the event?

• Who were you with, or were you alone?

• What high-risk situation triggered you?

The fact is the slipped happened, and you can learn from this mistake.

Dive deeper and visualize the event in your mind.

Look for clues, warning signs, and other factors to show you where you need to work harder in your system for recovery.

What coping skills, in your recovery toolbox would have prevented the lapse? If you are not sure, then you need to start creating a system for relapse prevention.

Your relapse prevention plan needs to have various coping strategies and tools for you to develop the strength to cope with high-risk situations and triggers effectively. 

A man sits quietly on the beach reviewing his coping skills to cope with relapse and recovery.

Trace your mental or physical lapse, determine what coping skills you are lacking, jump back into your system for recovery, and acquire the new coping strategies needed.

Coping Skill Step 5 – Don’t hesitate. Jump back into your plan for recovery

For years my life was lapse after lapse. I never had a plan to forgive myself for not being able to adhere to a rigorous system for recovery. I felt I had no willpower, and I would die, alone on the streets.

My last relapse happened 12 years ago. A table-saw accident ripped my hand to shreds. I had 9 years sober. It didn’t have to turn into a whirlwind of fury, but honestly, it was inevitable. If it was the saw it would have been something else. I was my worse enemy.

During my recovery from surgery, I craved for 2 years while holding on to a bottle of Oxycontin the surgeon prescribed. One morning I popped the jar and popped 2 Oxys. Several hours later, I was at the pharmacy buying a needle. 6 hours later, I was beating my self over the head with shame and guilt.  The negative self-talk came back immediately.

I had previously stopped going to meetings, speaking with my recovery coach and didn’t have a link to the recovery community. I lost myself, so the lapse turned to a daily regimen of pain and suffering until I couldn’t bear it any longer.  I felt the only way to quiet my self-torture was to succumb to heroin. My lapse turned into 7 years of active addiction living on the streets of Manhattan, Homeless Alone, Hungry. And Cold, within 6 months.

Coping Skills Emergency Plan – Step 6: Reach out and ask for help

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It’s connection.” – Johann Hari

Johann Hari quote "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It's connection."for blog post coping skills emergency plan

The main reason for my years of self-abuse, addiction, and homelessness was because I failed to allow myself to connect with other persons in recovery.

Once I finally accepted that I could not find fulfillment alone, in a vacuum, my recovery flourished.  It’s powerful when two addicts come together to help one another stay sober.

Did you have a favorite person to get high with when you were using? 

*Hint – find a new favorite person to get sober with, set some boundaries to ensure each other’s safety, and set out on your recovery journey.

I didn’t do this my first time around. I cannot force you to believe or start connecting with others, but my most significant experiences in life today are moments I share with others.

Isolation is another one of my enemies, but I didn’t know too much about who I was until I got sober. 

Do you have a

  • Sponsor
  • Recovery Coach
  • Therapist
  • Clinician
  • Peer-support group?

Any of these recovery mentors can help you start your journey, but I suggest to connect with as many people from our growing world recovery community.

If you’re a 12-stepper, call your sponsor.  Do you have a recovery coach then get your coach on the phone?

Contact, connect, and ask your peer supports to guide you through the lapse. Don’t isolate. Your support network will guide you through a slip.

At the beginning of my recovery, the lapse was a weekly event. Maybe it was a reservation, cold feet, fear of failure, or not sure I wanted or deserved, the good life you can see sparkling in a recovery warriors’ eyes.

When I fucked up, I had people to call friends to help me find a reason not to give up, and eventually, days between lapse grew. One day, I was having a chat with my clinician at the methadone clinic, and he told me I had 60 days with no positive toxicologies. I wasn’t counting. I was busy struggling with homelessness and poverty one day at a time.

Believe me, when I write, if it weren’t for my inner circle of support, I would not be typing this blog post in a warm cozy, upper east side apartment.  I can’t say for sure, but chances are without friends in recovery, I would’ve succumbed to shame and guilt over one of my slips and went all in.

When I lapsed in 2006, my slip drew a line in the sand, a barrier to my recovery. I knew I should have called friends from my support network of friends, but I was too proud or scared. I pushed all of my peers in recovery away long before I lapsed. I had no idea how to say, “I need help.” Shame will keep you from opening up, reaching out, and asking for help. Don’t let shame win, so pick up the phone.

Key Takeaways: Coping Skills Emergency Plan

You are human, which means you are not perfect. You will face trials and tribulations, especially when creating positive change in your life.

In the event of a lapse, Don’t worry. You have not failed yourself. But you have to get back up and brush yourself off.

Follow this 6 step plan outlined above:

1 – Slow down, stop, look and listen

2 – Relax and forgive yourself

3 – Review and renew your commitment to recovery

4 – Break the lapse down

5 – Don’t hesitate. Jump back into your plan for recovery

6 – Reach out and ask for help

Don’t let your slip draw a line in the sand between you and your recovery.

Download your FREE workbook to learn your high-risk triggering situations.

   Download a FREE workbook to identify your high-risk situations and triggers that will blindside your recovery goals by creating the urge to use heroin or other drugs.

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