So, You’ve relapsed… feeling guilt and shame won’t fix anything!
Several years ago, I spent 90 days in the country’s finest rehabilitation facility recovering from an addiction to pain pills… during that time I learned some valuable things to improve my life… most notably:
Learned about the nature of addiction
Learned about my inner child
Learned about my authentic self
Learned about the signs and symptoms of relapse
Learned how to make an ashtray in a pottery class
I had the answer to all my problems… I was fixed! That “fixed” lasted three weeks… the first time I walked past a bottle of Vicodin at my mother’s house I grabbed it and swallowed half the bottle!
I wasn’t fixed! I was destroyed by the guilt and shame of relapsing…
Promises Treatment Center has an incredible perspective of the fact that 9 out of 10 people in early recovery relapse. I wasn’t the first and I know there have been a few since me… the reality is it doesn’t have to destroy your life. I’d already done that before rehab… there was no need to dive head first in that misery again.
A relapse is a relapse, whichever way you put it. It doesn’t matter if it happened after a few days or you relapsed after several years. The best thing to do in such a situation is to pick yourself up quickly.
One of the worst feelings of your life is waking up after drinking or drugging for a week straight and realizing that your hard-won sobriety has veered into the ditch. Not only do you hate yourself for relapsing, you know you’ve let your loved ones down as well. Swallowing the bitter taste of relapse – literally and figuratively – it’s now time to make some hard decisions.
Do you just give in and sink deeper into the black pit you’ve fallen into? Or do you pull yourself up by your belt loops and resolve to right this temporary setback? These are the only two choices you have when you take a look at the reality of your situation.
Option one is not the most desirable, although it certainly is the easiest. Just continue on the course you’ve embarked on and the outcome is pretty well determined. Not that this is what you want, but you could decide it’s what you deserve. Maybe at the root of what precipitated the relapse is a belief that staying with your addictive behavior is what you do best. It is what you know. It may even feel somewhat comfortable – until the crescendo of negative consequences result in total self-destruction, even death.
Option two, on the other hand, is a tough choice to make. It necessitates admitting that you’ve slipped and immediately seeking help to regain your sobriety. It also means you’ve got a great deal of hard work ahead of you, a course of action that you may be reluctant to tackle. After all, you may tell yourself, you already know how difficult the first few days and weeks of sobriety are. You’ve been there before, at least once. If this is a repeat relapse, you are even more keenly aware of the trouble spots.
The most important decision has to do with what you want for yourself. How do you want to live? If the answer is that you want to reclaim your place at the recovery table, to re-establish the healthy and sober behavior patterns you worked so hard to achieve, then whatever work you need to do to make that goal a reality will be worth the time and effort.
Where Do You Start?
Depending on how long this relapse lasted and what changes you’ve gone through while you took this break from sobriety, there may be a lot or a little that needs to be done before you can feel you’re out of immediate danger.
The first action should probably be to get in touch with your 12-step sponsor to bring him or her up to date on what has transpired. Likely this won’t be a total surprise, since if you’ve been drinking and drugging, you haven’t been making it to meetings. Your absence will have been noticed, not only by your sponsor but also by fellow group members in your home meeting.
Making the call to your sponsor is going to feel awful. There’s no getting around that. But it is a call you need to make. If you can’t find the courage to speak about relapse on the phone, text or email your sponsor and ask to meet in person. It is probably better for you to be face-to-face for this conversation, since your sponsor and you will need to work on an immediate action plan to get you back on the road to recovery.
Enlist Support of Loved Ones
Those closest to you are going to be the ones most deeply affected by your relapse. Again, the fact that you’ve gone off the wagon will be obvious to them, especially if you haven’t been home for a while.
Facing your spouse, partner, children and family members can be incredibly difficult. While they love and support your recovery efforts, no doubt this relapse has hit them hard. They may very well be exhibiting a range of emotions, everything from anger to disappointment to anxiety, hurt and confusion.
This is precisely why it is critical that you ask for their continuing support and encouragement as you begin your trek back to sobriety.
Make sure that you mean what you say, that you intend to go through with the action to back up your words. If not, your words are meaningless.
Recovery experts note that relapse is not all that uncommon and that many people relapse multiple times before finding their footing in recovery. It can be a challenge, finding the courage to give recovery another try, but the rewards are so worth it.
To begin this journey anew, you will need all the support and encouragement of your loved ones you can get. Remember, it isn’t a matter of begging for forgiveness. It is a matter of resolving to make things right and taking the necessary action to do so.
Come Back Stronger Than Ever
Changing your outlook of relapse can also mean a huge difference in how quickly you will be able to regain your sobriety. Instead of thinking that relapse equals failure, move that perception to one that considers relapse as a learning experience.
Granted, having a relapse isn’t anyone’s idea of the best thing that ever happened, but if going through it means that you emerge with a more solid commitment to sobriety and more effective coping skills, it can be a profitable experience.
The bottom line is that relapse isn’t the end of your recovery journey. It is what you decide to do immediately following relapse and continuing forward in your sobriety that matters. Keep in mind that gaining knowledge, practicing and honing your recovery skills, and surrounding yourself with people who support and encourage your recovery goals is all part of the process. With renewed commitment and dedication to sobriety, you can come back from relapse stronger than ever.