Relapse is a common characteristic of the chronic disease of addiction.
How do we address a relapse? Here is some practical advice. First, get completely honest with someone about what’s been happening in your recovery. You’ll have to start by owning that it is difficult for you to be honest about your drinking or using. Try to find all the words that reflect your true feelings about being honest and what made it okay for you to be dishonest. This is an important step in regaining your integrity.
The next step is to discover and uncover what has been missing in your recovery. Once again, transparency is essential. Use the following list of incomplete questions to help you identify what is missing:
• The hardest thing about staying sober is . . . .
• The part of me that sabotages my recovery convinces me . . . .
• I justifed drinking or using by telling myself . . . .
• I imagine that a life free from alcohol and other drugs would be . . . .
• Sobriety means . . . .
• My addiction prevents me from . . . .
• If I were more honest with myself about my drinking or using, I would realize . . . .
• What I secretly despise about recovery is . . . .
• If the part of me that wants to stay sober could speak, it would say . . . .
Please share your responses with someone who can help you analyze what you are discovering and integrate it into your recovery self.
Summary: Listening to Relapse
If a patient is being treated for hypertension, the physician may try several medications before finding the one best suited for the patient. Hypertension patients typically fall back into behaviors that contribute to their condition—sedentary habits, high-salt diet, and so on—so they have to get back on track and have their medication adjusted as they keep working on the lifestyle changes.
It’s the same for the chronic disease of addiction. If you relapse, you have to “unpack” what your relapse is saying about what you need to stabilize your recovery. It may take some time for you to figure out how to interpret your relapse and respond to it in a way that helps you move forward.
It is also essential to challenge any toxic attitudes that prevent you from facing and learning from a relapse. These attitudes create shame and other toxic emotions that undermine your recovery.
Instead of letting toxic attitudes rule your life, cultivate nurturing attitudes. Use the following concepts to guide your response to a relapse:
• Relapse means that I need to be more supportive of myself and my needs in recovery.
• Why I relapsed isn’t as important as what I do about it.
• I may have made a mistake, but I am not “a mistake.”
My relapse doesn’t define me, but what I do about it does.