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.

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 routines – even 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.

Renewal Lodge by Burning Tree is a  30-60 day addiction treatment program that specializes in helping clients who have tried multiple times to recovery from substance use disorders. We offer an individualized treatment approach and a continuum of care to help clients successfully transition from residential treatment to leading healthy, substance-free lives. Contact us today for more information.