When we set out to rid ourselves of our addictions, we are usually full of hope and resolve. We have a clear picture of where we are heading, and we are determined to reach our goals. We are not often equipped with the reality of the length of the journey, or with insight into the multitude of hazards, pitfalls, and temptations which will surface as we make our way toward our recovery. These setbacks can take us by surprise, and can set the stage for a relapse.
Relapse is so often a part of recovery that it is included as a topic in the bulk of recovery-based literature. While it is wonderful if you are one of the few who manages to avoid this experience entirely, know that you are in the blessed minority. If you do find yourself experiencing a relapse, it is helpful to know that you are far from being alone in it. The following are some tips to consider if you do find yourself in the relapse stage of recovery.
Consider Life As A Spiral
Addiction doesn’t usually happen overnight. It is most often a journey. There is a reason this journey is sometimes referred to as the “downward spiral,” rather than being called a straight plunge. A spiral winds slowly toward the center, with many instances of passing through territory which is similar to what was experienced, before. We may notice, through our addiction, that we have several opportunities to jump off of this crazy train. Those of us who end up at the very center of that downward spiral – or hit our rock bottom – do so because we don’t see – or don’t take – those multiple opportunities to end the ride before we crash into that hard surface.
The journey out of addiction is also often a spiral. This time, though, the journey is upwards. Just as you didn’t get into your addiction in one, fell, swoop, it is unreasonable to think that your journey out of it will be linear. There will be many opportunities for both successes, and failures, along the way. With each success, you get further and further away from your life of addiction. Each step backwards that you take will mean that you are playing with the idea of sinking back down to the black hole.
This spiral metaphor for the journey shows us that we don’t need to despair if we make a wrong decision along the way. The good news about the spiral process is that one step backwards doesn’t mean that all is lost. If you have already taken several steps forward, one backwards step doesn’t erase your progress. If you have been actively working toward your recovery – and then make the bad decision to use a substance again – the key is to detox, dust yourself off, and then make sure that your steps upward continue to outnumber your steps back downward.
Avoid Shaming Yourself
One of the worst things that we can do during a relapse is to pile on the self-depreciation. Many who end up in addiction do so as a response to experiences an overwhelming amount of negative thoughts and emotions. The substances are often used as a means to escape these unpleasant perceptions. Adding more of the negative vibes to your plate won’t help you to avoid the temptation to numb or silence them. Ruminating on guilt or shame over an instance of relapse is a self-defeating practice, and can result in a strong temptation to give up. For those in recovery, it not relapse which is the enemy. It is giving up which needs to be diligently avoided.
When processing the fact that you have experienced a relapse instance, be kind to yourself. It may be useful to consider how you would treat someone else, if that other person were in your situation. Any encouragement, understanding, or support that you would provide for someone else who is working on recovery belongs to you, as well. You are just as deserving of that positive regard as anyone else. Rather than being bogged down by focusing on the failure, take this time to focus on all that you have accomplished, and to make plans for your next steps forward.
Surround Yourself With Insightful People
Often times, those in addiction have dragged family members and loved ones along for the ride. These people in our lives may be tired and hopeless, and may even feel angry and resentful toward us. They may have been hounding us, for years, about our need to get out of the addiction. When we finally make steps toward sobriety, they may feel as though all of their prayers and wishes have finally come to pass. When we experience a relapse, it can appear to them as though their hopes have been ripped away, once again. Their responses can be quite vicious in this scenario, and can consist of anything but continued support.
When we are working toward our recovery, it is sometimes best to temporarily separate ourselves from those closest to us. By removing ourselves from the familiarity of our loved ones, we have the opportunity to experience growing pains, without worry of their responses to our stumbling. Just as being unkind to ourselves after a relapse is counterproductive, experiencing the angry, blaming, disappointed responses of others can also result in temptation to give up.
Those who have insight into the process of recovery – which often includes trained professionals and former addicts – know that the process is often more complex than simply deciding not to use anymore. They understand that there is a large portion of ourselves which has no desire to use, even while we are actually doing it. Supporters with insight are able to nurture that positive part of our psyche, and will avoid emphasizing the smaller part of us which tempts us toward returning to the addiction. Through utilization of psycho education and a focus on the positive aspects of our journey, these folks can come alongside us and help us successfully navigate through the rough patches.