You finally check into a treatment facility and take the first steps towards a new kind of living after a relapse. You have come to terms with the reality of your condition, gone through the program to get better, and you know the road ahead and have a taste of its many possibilities. Sometimes the future looks bleak, and sometimes it looks promising – but you know that, at the end of the day, there is a future.
But then a relapse kicks in. It happens to many people in recovery, and it’s always a painful experience. More than just the physical trauma of going through withdrawal again and reaching that same point that previously took you months to achieve, a relapse feels like a failure to most people, an inability to stick to recovery and a confirmation of all your worst fears and biggest worries.
But it is not. To take an analogy out of sports, people see relapses as bone-breaking and career-ending injuries, when they are in fact just stumbles in a long and possibly fruitful journey. It’s important to remember, above all else, that it isn’t the relapse that kills a person’s chances at living a sober life – it’s giving up on sober living.
A Relapse Isn’t The End
Before we get into the how of recovering from a relapse, it’s important to understand the why. Relapses can be demoralizing and the idea of going through it all again just to potentially face another one can cripple anyone’s motivation to stay strong and keep going. But it’s important to realize that a relapse isn’t just a forced reboot – it can be a chance to learn, and more importantly, you can turn it into something positive for your long-term sobriety, rather than a painful setback.
Perspective is important in life, and in recovery. The way you approach problems determines how you handle them, and if you handle them effectively. By understanding that a relapse is an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than a waste of time and effort, you can prepare yourself for a new kind of recovery, one marked by an experience that helps you better understand yourself and your addiction, rather than being stuck in a cycle that feels inescapable.
Learning From Our Mistakes
Relapses are triggered. Sometimes the trigger is internal, and most of the time, it’s external. People in early recovery will always be plagued by temptations from old memories, places, and people. Learning to live with these temptations and shut them out is central to permanently overcoming addiction.
The first step is to remove yourself from potential triggers as much as humanly possible. For most people, the idea of completely uprooting just isn’t feasible – but there is a lot you can do to change the way you live, from taking a different route to work, to taking the necessary steps to remove yourself from relationships that you know are harmful to your recovery and your long-term sobriety.
Beyond that, however, it’s also important to learn to manage your stress. Relapses are not just triggered by memories, but they can also be triggered by a need to self-medicate under extreme stress. If you find yourself needing an outlet and immediately think of release through drugs, then you’re on a bad path. Get help, call someone, and learn to cope with difficult times and stressful situations by adapting healthy and constructive coping mechanisms, such as exercise and art.
When relapses do happen, they’re an opportunity for you to think back and reflect on what caused them to begin with. Was it a particularly stressful episode in your life? Was it someone, or something? Think back to what exactly pushed you over the edge and made you think that everything you had done prior to that point was worth erasing over the ecstasy of another hit.
Sometimes, it does not have to be particularly profound. Addiction can affect thinking and decision-making, thus leading people who struggle with their sobriety to be prone to risk-taking. However, thinking back to what led you into a state of mind where relapsing became possible can help you identify how to change your recovery.
Following the exact same treatment and changing nothing about your recovery plan is not the correct response to a relapse. Instead, analyzing where things went wrong and adjusting can help you fortify yourself from that same mindset, and better prepare yourself for temptations and stressful situations in the future.
Recommitting And Moving On
The hardest thing to do after a relapse is accept what just happened and decide to soldier on. Even if you manage to point out to yourself that this can be a learning experience with which you can further build your sober life, it’s impossible not to feel a little bit compromised. However, life is not about guarantees. It’s about chances, choices, and circumstances. If you’re struggling with addiction and are fighting to live a sober life, then your circumstances have many odds stacked against you. But through your treatment, you’ve got the chance and you’ve made the choice to get better.
After a relapse, embracing your newfound ability to choose outside of addiction and recommit to staying sober for yourself and your loved ones means embracing that life has no guarantees, and it’s on you to lead your life in the right direction. You made a mistake, because you’re only human. But it doesn’t make you a bad human, or a failure. Instead, it’s another pivotal moment where life gave you the choice to give up or keep moving forward – and as long as you keep moving forward, you’re on the right track.
Overcoming Your Fears
The fear of relapse is a very real thing. Fear as a psychological concept can be a tool or a hindrance. The fear of death can drive us to live in the direst of circumstances, to survive even against terrible odds. However, fear can also paralyze us and keep us from living. If you fear something excessively, then it keeps you from moving past it.
The fear of death kicks in when your life is truly in danger. But the fear of a relapse only keeps you fixated on the possibility of relapsing again, instead of allowing you to embrace the confidence you need to put relapses behind you and focus instead on living each day committed to sobriety and your own happiness.
Relapses are painful and can be difficult to overcome. It’s not easy to get clean again and recommit. But it’s possible – and if you want to get sober, it’s necessary. It will get easier to resist temptations and ignore cravings with time, and with a little help from friends and family, you can keep on the right track even on the bad days.