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Lessons Learned From Relapse: Insight to Help You Grow

Within addiction recovery, there are many terms that incite fear due to stigma. A 2019 study published in the journal Health Education surveyed a group of people – those who were in recovery, their family members and loved ones, as well as professionals in the field – and a total of 60 different terms were identified that were considered either positive or stigmatizing. Relapse tends to be a commonly feared subject because of its association with “failure,” “weakness,” or “lack of willpower.” Did you know that relapse is actually quite common, however? U.S. News reports that between 40-60% of people in addiction recovery relapse within their first year, but the odds do go down the longer a person stays abstinent. Continue reading to learn about the lessons learned from relapse.

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Lessons from Relapse: Personal Stories

Addiction recovery could be considered a lot like life – it’s the way that you look at it that makes the difference. If you consider life to be filled with ups and downs, much like a rollercoaster, then relapse could be considered simply part of the journey. A few years ago, writer Amy Drusner wrote about her own personal experience with relapse and some of the amazing lessons she learned from it:

  1. Substance abuse never gets better. There’s never a time when going back to using actually improves a person’s life. Instead, it hurts them – and the person who relapses – by pulling them back into the chaos that comes along with it.
  2. It’s never okay to attend 12-Step meetings drunk or high. Amy talked about her embarrassing experience with showing up to her meetings intoxicated, only to face the sober reality of her actions the next day.
  3. Substances only worsen the problem, not fix it. While we may think that reverting back to using will fix all of our problems, it only adds to them – and this is a hard (but worthwhile) lesson to learn.
  4. Feelings come and go, whether or not substances are involved. Many people find that they relapse amidst feeling angry, depressed, anxious, etc. In reality, those feelings will come and go despite whether or not a person chooses to try and escape them by using substances.
  5. Every person’s journey is different. Sobriety doesn’t look the same to everyone, because everyone’s experiences are unique to them. Relapse doesn’t fix or change this – in fact, the journey still remains the same.
  6. Anyone can be vulnerable to relapse. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sober – there are some days when you may be in a position that makes relapse sound good. This is why it’s so important to stay dedicated to your program and to continue to attend recovery-related activities, even if you don’t feel like it – because in the long run, it will help you stay focused.
  7. You should not let the opinions of others weigh heavily on you. Whether or not your family, spouse, friends or peers in recovery “think” you will succeed, you know that you can. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and don’t give up on that dream. Relapse can sometimes show us that even when we fall, we can get right back up.

Maintaining Sobriety

One of the biggest lessons that relapse can bring us that we don’t always have the answers, but we can continue learning about ourselves in recovery. If a person relapses, that means they’ve just found another person, place, thing, thought or situation that’s brought on cravings to use again. This is priceless information that a person can incorporate into their relapse prevention plan so they can take even greater steps the next time they’ve entered into moments like these. A 2015 study published by the University of Alabama found that there are several themes those in recovery find on their way to sobriety:

  • Maintaining recovery routineseven after relapse, we may learn that we’ve stepped outside of our recovery routine and that’s why we found ourselves relapsing.
  • Social support – we can learn to surround ourselves with people who really matter in the long run, as well as the tough reality that comes with distancing ourselves from those we use to abuse substances with
  • Personal/peer accountability – when we stop being held accountable, we’re more likely to become lax in recovery
  • Motivating emotions – we learn that we have more control over our emotions than we originally thought; and by setting positive intentions, we can influence our perceptions on events – which make it easier to implement relapse prevention plans
  • Recovery/life balance – we tend to find that through relapse, we’ve pushed ourselves to our breaking point again. Recovery is about finding a steady flow and balance in life so that we don’t become pushed to this point
  • Spirituality – 12-Step programs remind us that God as we understand Him or another Higher Power is whom we can rely on in times of need

If you’re ready to begin your journey to mental, physical and spiritual wellness, speak with a professional from Renewal Lodge by Burning Tree today.

Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness