Does Relapse Mean Failure?

For most people relapse is or will be a part of their story. But it’s only a story, not a failure, and the script can be rewritten at anytime. Relapse carries a deep sense of shame with it. It touches every false belief we have ever had about ourselves: I knew it, I am a failure,” or, “I’ll never amount to anything,” or, “Other people deserve happiness, not me.” By getting out of the cycle of negative thinking – together – we can address our “relapse-mentality.”

An old timer told me, many times, while I was struggling, “Just stay on the train, the scenery will change.” I love this visual of being a traveler on a train and passing through every type of terrain and weather: landscape I perceive to be beautiful, ugly, hot, cold, light and breathtaking or dark and scary, it all changes when I stay on board and I experience the totality of life. When I exercise the adversity muscle and stay sober no matter what comes, I earn a little more gratitude, a little more self-esteem, a little more time. However, when I get off the recovery train, I forfeit my self-esteem, my dignity, the forward momentum is lost and I’m back at square one, nothing ever changes. It doesn’t mean the trip was a failure, it’s just time to jump back on.

Why Do People Relapse in the First Place?

There are many reasons for why people may decide to return to addiction after a period of sobriety including:

* THEY HAVE NO IDEA!   Yes, some people just don’t know, it’s a mystery.

* They went straight home following rehab. Rehab works best when followed by aftercare in a recovery community for an extended period of time. The longer, the better.

* They did not have appropriate aftercare.

* The individual is not committed to his or her recovery – they haven’t surrendered completely or given up on the idea that they will one day be able to use alcohol or drugs safely.

* They have no intention of staying sober, they just wanted to appease loved ones and get them off their case.

* Some individuals have an additional mental health problem alongside their addiction and the mental health component wasn’t recognized or addressed.

* Unrealistic expectations. No one gets better overnight and there is real work required to stay sober.

* Some people get sober but continue to hang out with substance abusers. This means that they are constantly being tempted to return to their old life, and the chances are that some day they will be unable to resist.

* Many people tend to isolate in recovery. This is usually because egos stand in the way of putting in the time or effort to make new friends. It’s necessary to replace the drinking and drugging buddies and fun times they’ve left behind. There are fun sober events to attend, concerts, conventions, etc. – no one gets sober to be alone and bummed out so it’s imperative to take contrary action and reach out – even when we think we’re above it all – especially when we think we’re above it all.

* Some people take on too much in early sobriety. This means that they become overwhelmed by everything and feel unable to cope.

Relapse Happens…..It Just Doesn’t Have To

Relapse is an opportunity to learn more about your self. The important thing is not to beat your self up over it or make excuses, rather find out what areas of your life need attention – more will always be revealed. Instead of excuses, use the tools of the 12 step program and action steps to move into a place of forgiveness and fortitude.

Press on in the direction of recovery and healing at all costs. Sobriety is a personal journey and there will be bumps along the way, that’s life. If you do relapse, it is not the end of the road as long as you are willing to learn from your challenges, put methods in place to create a better outcome the next time, come all the way in and sit all the way down.

Don’t Let the Downside of AA Keep You Away

There exists a downside to AA in that there can be an underlying current of judgment in the rooms when someone relapses and does not adhere to the prescribed notion that everyone gets and stays sober…from their first meeting…immediately…forever.   In my experience, most people in AA are very kind to those who return to start their time over. Still, there is a pass or fail mentality, a silent pointing finger and an unspoken stigma that puts too much pressure on people to be perfect from the get-go. Far too often members think they know when someone else should be getting it right. Recently a friend with over 25 years of sobriety relapsed and is starting her time over. I don’t see this as a failure. I see it as an incredible accomplishment – over 25 years without a drink or a drug – WOW! Now my friend gets the opportunity to see what areas of her life require closer examination and action.

Send Kind Thoughts and Take Loving Action

The essence of the 12-step program of recovery is pay-it-forward. It is the ultimate example of love and tolerance and relapse is only a failure when we admonish ourselves, or when we do not do our best to reach out to those who are struggling. Some people will not make it back after a relapse. The time immediately following any period of sobriety is a delicate period. The body has lived without substances and is highly susceptible to too much and no one knows exactly how much that amount is. Being kind and reaching out to friends who relapse is an essential part of recovery. We don’t get better alone and we don’t stay sober alone. By helping each other heal, we can remove the stigma of relapse and create more space for everyone to recover without feeling shame for not achieving a perfection that doesn’t exist.

From a spiritual standpoint: every day, every minute or every second really, we are born again, made new, created from love, from the divine, with a Buddha nature and when we misstep, we can jump back on the recovery train. Forgiving ourselves is a vital part of recovery; love and tolerance begin at home in our own hearts. And in dealing with others, it is always wise to remember the AA anecdote, “There but for the grace of god go I.”

Last Updated on February 21, 2024


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