Why Coming Back From a Relapse is a Success
If you have recently had a relapse or a slip you may be feeling extremely discouraged and disappointed. Shame and guilt may be consuming you as you feel that there is something completely wrong with you as all you have to do is not drink and you are not able to do just that! Believe me, I know this feeling!
My sober journey began 10 years ago, when I walked into a church basement to attend a 12-step meeting, with every intention to never, ever, pick up a drink again. Yet, I spent the next four years trying to figure out exactly how to do that!
I could not relate to others in the 12-step rooms or the rehab, because they were poorer, or crazier, or simply way worse off than me. I surely cannot be addicted to alcohol?! Look at these people! I’m not like them. But I had many consequences and I knew if I did not stop things were only going to get worse, so I vowed to quit once and for all!
But quitting drinking did not turn out to be so easy! I was only able to stay sober for a few weeks at a time… then a few months… but ultimately I drank again! Why? Why did I always return to this destructive behavior!? I just could not understand why! Sometimes I ended up drinking because I was angry, sad or hurt, and sometimes because life seemed to hard, too annoying, too boring! Sometimes I drank seemingly for no reason! I just drank! It want till later that I learned that this was part of the disease – I drank because I had an addiction to alcohol.
One of the hardest things about that time was the shame and guilt I felt about my relapses, and how horribly difficult it was to start over so many times. At some point I started believing that no matter how hard I tried, I would never get sober for good – I was just not capable of living as a sober human being, my life was just to complicated to do so, and I was going to die a drunk anyways.
Here is how Sarah Hepola describes this period of her addiction/recovery process, in the exert from Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget:
“Anyway, I had spent about three months locked in this formal effort to stop drinking, but my success was middling at best. I would last two weeks, and slip. I’d scrawl an oath in blood, last another two weeks and then think, you know, it wouldn’t be that hard to get two weeks again. Why not drink? It got to where I was pretty much drinking every two weeks, which was its own management plan. Twice a month: That ain’t so bad.
Except it was, because the shame of saying one thing and doing another is a dark and bitter brew. I had lost faith in myself and any promises I made whatsoever. I would lay down rules at 7:30 a.m. and dismantle them by lunch. It was meaningless, play-pretend, like depositing an envelope of very generous checks into my account, each of them written on cocktail napkins.
“Every morning I tell myself I’m going to stop drinking,” I said to a woman on the phone one night, hating the sound of my own pathetic voice. “But then 5 o’clock comes,” she said, completing my thought. “And the jungle drums start to pound.”
…I had been given so much – a good family, a great job, amazing friends, the counsel of a wise and successful writer – and yet it could not save me. Nothing could. Because three days would pass, maybe four, and I’d be back in the J-Lo closet, sipping cut-rate Cabernet from the world’s saddest liquor store. “
Click here for the full article by Sara Hepola*: My relapse years.
For most people dealing with addiction recovery is anything but a straight line. In fact, it is typically a long, winding path, with ups and downs, successes and disappointments and often instances of backsliding or relapse, in which someone returns to using or doing a problematic behavior.
And relapse is not necessarily part of recovery as some might say, but it is rather a part of the disease, yet for many it is a much needed part of the whole recovery process – so really is not a failure but instead a common — and very frustrating — part of the process. The truth is that many people trying to recover have one or more relapses: Up to 60% of patients who receive substance abuse treatment will relapse within one year, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association — and the relapse rate is even higher for some drugs, like heroin. Gambling addiction has similar rates: About 50% to 75% of gamblers resume gambling after attempting to quit, according to the National Center for Responsible Gambling. (Ref: https://www.addiction.com)
Here are a few helpful ways to deal with relapse, from the Alcohol Rehab
How to Deal with a Relapse
A relapse should never be treated lightly, but there is no benefit to be had by feeling excessively guilty about it. It definitely does not need to be the end of the world. The individual be able to salvage their sobriety if they:
- It is vital that the individual returns to recovery as quickly as possible. The longer they leave it the harder it can be to start again.
- Those people who relapse and automatically regret it are said to have experienced a slip. If they stop right away there will be no need for them to experience a full blown relapse.
- The fact that the individual has had a slip or relapse is a sign that they have somehow gone off course. This means that people have to understand how they went off track.
- It is often said that those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. The individual needs to not only know why they relapsed but take action to prevent something similar occurring again.
- After a relapse it will be necessary for the individual to redouble their efforts. If they just go back to how things were before the relapse then they are at a high risk of repeating their mistakes.
SO, you see, relapse is not the end all! In fact it is the beginning. Many of us never make it back! But if you have come back and are trying to stay sober again, that means that you still have a chance to get sober and live in recovery. I often see people return after a relapse, and they avert their eyes, and apologize, but those of us who helped them before are not seeing them as a waste or failure, but as a success for making it back. (Last line by Lisa W.)
Stay tuned as next week I will cover some of the reasons that cause relapse in Dismantling the Common Causes of Relapse post.
*Sarah Hepola is the personal essays editor at Salon. Her memoir, “Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget,” was a New York Times bestseller.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)*, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles.
*Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using (Ref: NIAAA).