Typically, when we are on a journey towards a goal and we slip up, we often look at it as a failure. We often judge ourselves or others who might have facilitated the fall off the path. However, what if relapse were looked at as an opportunity, a time to learn about yourself, a time to discover exactly what it’s going to take to stay sober?
Viewing Relapse as a Time to Learn
Perhaps if relapse were seen as a time to learn, it might not feel like a failure. If relapse were seen as an indication to reset your course to your desired destination, then it might not have a negative connotation. In fact, this is precisely what a plane does. What’s it’s taken off and it’s in flight, it is constantly adjusting its course in order to reach its ultimate destination. In other words, there are many points along the journey in which a plane is going in the wrong direction, thrown off by headwinds, weather, or sky traffic, and it needs to readjust its course.
So, if you’ve relapsed, stop beating yourself up. In fact, you should know that long-term drinking and drug use creates changes in the brain that can last long after an addiction ends, and those changes in the brain might trigger a craving, perhaps leading to a relapse. In other words, an addiction has a strong biological component where triggers and cravings for the drug occur almost without notice. Even if you have made the decision to stop using, it’s easy for stress from work, relationship concerns with friends, family issues, environmental cues, running into old drinking or drugging friends, and even a smell to trigger an intense craving. In other words, a relapse can happen very easily, which is why it’s so common for recovering addicts.
Emotional, Mental, and Physical Exhaustion
Let’s say, for instance, you’re in recovery and you’ve started a new job. Perhaps you haven’t yet learned that an essential part of your recovery is taking good care of yourself. Let’s say your job is stressful and demands a significant part of your emotional and physical energy. Perhaps you soon find yourself burned out. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Over time, as you continue to feel stress, you begin to feel overwhelmed and lose the ability to meet the demands of your job. And as this continues, you might lose interest or motivation to continue the role you play at work. There are many recovering addicts who experience this kind of extensive exhaustion. If you were to relapse because of it, you might learn that a critical part of your ability to stay sober is taking care of yourself by going for long walks, meditating, practicing yoga, and reading inspirational books.
So you see that relapse is a time to learn, to discover what it is that is missing in your recovery plan. Sadly, the average national relapse rate is quite high. However, relapse occurs so frequently in those who are recovering that it’s beginning to be seen as “normal” part of the process of recovery. Yet, there are factors in the lives of recovering addicts that can easily contribute to relapse, such as weak networks of support, underlying psychological disorders, beginning drug use early in life, poor coping skills, and abusing multiple forms of substances. Learning new coping mechanisms, healing unresolved issues that lead to those challenging emotions, and creating strong support networks can help keep relapse at bay as you move ahead in your recovery. By relapsing you have the opportunity to learn what it is that may be contributing to using drugs or drinking again.
It’s can be a challenging experience when you relapse. Although you might feel regret, remorse, anger at yourself, or even shame for breaking your sobriety, a relapse can indicate that perhaps you need more support. Perhaps you there’s a part of your recovery that needs more attention. Allowing relapse to be a learning opportunity can help change your feelings about it and facilitate moving on from it and closer and closer to sobriety.