Relapse Warning Signs with Melissa Witherspoon


My podcast guest this week is the author of a very touching memoir called I’m Sober…So Now What?: A Journey of Hope and Healing by Melissa Witherspoon

That’s an excellent question and there’s definitely quite a difficult stage that we reach when we are in early sobriety…

For many of us it’s a bit of a void – a kind of flatness when we suffer from anhedonia – we haven’t found our Sober Feet yet and we are certainly not thriving and enjoying our sobriety.

Our old routines are messed up, our drinking buddies are keeping their distance and we are not entirely sure what to do with ourselves.

That’s why we aim to take people on a 7 stage journey here at Tribe Sober – because there is so much more to recovery than “not drinking”.

We help people to ditch the booze and then introduce them to yoga, coaching, meditation, and art therapy so that they can explore and start to build their alcohol-free lives – a life they won’t want to escape from.

Melissa Witherspoon calls her memoir a journey of hope and healing and it really is.

Anyone who has been struggling for years will take hope from this book – Melissa spent decades struggling with alcohol – in and out of rehab – getting sober and then relapsing – but it finally stuck.

In this Episode

  • Melissa came from a happy home but struggled at school. Suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and Dyslexia, when neither condition was really acknowledged, meant that either her teachers or her classmates were giving her a hard time.
  • She never really found a friendship group at school – not until she got to High School when she finally found “her people”.
  • Trouble was her new friends were mostly boys and a bit older than her – and they were using drugs and alcohol. But she was happy – she finally felt that she was “fitting in”.
  • She was so influenced by this group that she left home and turned her back on everything she knew.
  • Melissa found herself living with a bunch of drug dealers in what she describes as a “den of inequity”.
  • She felt so free and grown up – she could come and go as she pleased and had access to the drugs and alcohol she wanted – she loved it!
  • However, things got quite “dark” and Melissa was rescued during a police raid!
  • In one way this was a relief but her mum was in denial about what had been happening and Melissa was just expected to slot back into “normal” life…without any help.
  • She was full of shame and guilt and finally managed to get some counseling at the age of 21 but she wasn’t open with her counselors so ended up carrying her shame and guilt into her 20s and 30s.
  • She coped with the pain by drinking and using drugs – and for two decades she was in and out of rehabs, making poor decisions and then dealing with the consequences.
  • For some periods she managed to keep up an external façade that she was coping, but inside she felt she was falling “down the rabbit hole”.
  • Melissa went to one rehab to help her come off alcohol and Xanax – when she left they gave her a bag of pills– pills she subsequently used in a suicide attempt.
  • Her life was only saved when her husband came home unexpectedly.
  • Back in rehab, she remembers how irritated she was with the “one day at a time” mantra – she couldn’t even get the schedule for the following day as she was told to just focus on today.
  • With perspective, she now appreciates how it can work and even today she finds herself saying “one day at a time Melissa” if she feels anxious or stressed – a good habit for all of us, I think.
  • Another mantra she’s learned to love is “progress not perfection”.
  • We use that a lot here at Tribe Sober – we’re currently running our annual 66-day challenge and many people are daunted by the thought of 66 sober days – but we give them a tracker and tell them to mark their Sober Stretches – how many stretches can they do? Are they getting longer?  How many alcohol-free days did they manage out of 66 – that’s progress, not perfection.
  • While we are at it, let’s look at some more Sober Cliches that actually help. How about “this too shall pass” – whether we are reflecting on a tough day resisting the triggers or being hit by one of those “lows” that we feel even when we are sober, “this too shall pass” can help to soothe us.
  • Another one is “one is too many and a thousand isn’t enough”. That’s one to remember if you’ve been sober for a few months and think “ok I’m fine now – I can have just one”. Well, spoiler alert – you probably can’t!
  • Finally, how about “there is no problem that alcohol won’t make worse”? If we’ve been using alcohol as a coping mechanism for years it can be SO difficult not to start drinking again if we get some bad news… but of course, the problem will still be there – along with a crashing hangover when we sober up.
  • These sayings might be clichéd, but they have been really helpful to many of us here at Tribe Sober. I hope that they’ll be just as helpful for you. If anyone has any favorite sobriety sayings, please send them to and I’ll read them out on the podcast.
  • Melissa was always worried about becoming a “Dry Drunk” – that happens when you get sober but you don’t “do the work”, you don’t change your life.
  • There is so much more to recovery than “not drinking” and that’s the journey we take you on at Tribe Sober – apart from introducing you to various therapies and offering you coaching, we welcome you to our community where many people are already sober and will inspire you with the creativity and connections they have discovered so they can thrive in their sobriety. Not just get through it as a Dry Drunk does.
  • To join our community just go to and hit “join our tribe”.
  • Melissa’s husband is in logistics and loves spreadsheets – so he created a spreadsheet of activities and timings to make sure that Melissa kept very busy in early sobriety – and it worked!
  • This is a definite technique that works for many people – we have to keep our minds occupied so we don’t end up thinking about drinking!
  • Have a listen to Tribe Sober episode 105 with Jeff Graham who explains exactly how this technique worked for him.
  • Apart from loving sobriety cliches, I’m very keen on analogies and Melissa talked about the “family in recovery” being like a boat.
  • People get used to their roles and if one of them changes the whole boat needs rebalancing. For example, Melissa’s husband got upset when she was no longer relying on the schedule he had set up for her – she was getting better and no longer needed rescuing.
  • This is linked to co-dependency  – and the whole family may need counseling if these patterns have been fixed for years.
  • From her experiences, Melissa has observed that there are 3 stages of relapse:

Stage 1 is emotional relapse – not even thinking about drinking yet but observing the triggers that seem to be getting more frequent.  Stay in Stage 1 long enough without taking action and you may move to …

Stage 2 is the mental relapse – when you start to feel uncomfortable in your skin – and skip activities like connecting with your sober tribe and sticking to your exercise routine – all things that relieve triggers. Stay in Stage 2 long enough and you may move to …

Stage 3 is physical relapse – when you are back in active addiction.

  • The advantage of knowing about these 3 stages is that you can keep your radar sharp for Relapse Warning Signs – all different for different people but you need to be able to pick up if you are feeling a bit “off” as Melissa puts it – keeping a journal is a great way of monitoring your emotions.
  • For Melissa, it shows up in a lack of self-care – if she starts neglecting things like her hair washing routine she will see it as a warning sign and tune in to what’s going on.
  • You can find plenty more advice and insight in her book which is available on Amazon: the book is called I’m Sober…So Now What?: A Journey of Hope and Healing by Melissa Witherspoon

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The 11 Year Fact

Did you know that the average dependent drinker will struggle alone for 11 years before reaching out for help?

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