There is a myth which continues to be perpetuated both by recovery professionals and those outside the treatment industry in regards to how to handle a relapse. I often hear people say “relapse is a part of recovery.” I want to go on record and say that this is categorically false! I truly believe that addicts and alcoholics can get sober and stay sober without ever experiencing a relapse. Having said that, I am not so naive as to think that relapses won’t happen. Unfortunately, they do.
What’s important is that we look at a relapse in its proper perspective, then approach how to handle a relapse. Relapse is not a singular event. It is a process that starts days or weeks before the addict puts a drink or a drug in their body again. Relapse starts with insidious and subtle thoughts that the addicted person is somehow back in control. The ego returns, and the addict loses the humility and gratitude that got him or her into recovery in the first place. From the families point of view, the enabling has most likely returned. Financial and/or emotional support has often been restored. This gives the addict the sense that they accomplished what they set out to do and regained the trust of those around them. Further efforts to restore relationships are not so urgent anymore. We stop doing the things that kept us sober in the first place. We don’t go to meetings or speak with our sponsor. We don’t feel the need to take our properly prescribed medication. That appointment with our therapist suddenly seems burdensome. We revert back to old behaviors, and very soon, the baffling and powerful thoughts return. “Maybe I’m not an addict.” “That was not really as bad as everyone thought it was.” We return to that state of restlessness and irritability. We cannot control our emotional nature. Ultimately, we use and/or drink.
What I just described happens far too often. Sometimes the results are fatal. When a relapse happens, the enabler will often find some external reason that this happened instead of seeking help for how to handle a relapse. The 12 steps don’t work. His/her sponsor did not call back. The therapist was not qualified enough to handle such a complex case. They were on the wrong medication. The list goes on. Even if some of these things are true, this attitude will only prolong the problem. What is vitally important is that the addict be returned to that state of remorse, humility and gratitude that allows us to begin the process again. As loved ones of the addict, it is also vital that we engage in support for ourselves so that any enabling that we are inclined to offer is removed. If there is no enabling, there will be no addiction. While we cannot control all of the addicts’ avenues to be enabled, we can control our own behavior. It is also important to note that removing the enabling does not mean that we are withholding our love. One of the most loving things that my family ever did for me was to allow me to experience the consequences of my decisions for myself. They did not provide a buffer. The process of getting sober looks the same if it is the first attempt at sobriety or not. The principles do not change. While there may be underlying issues that need to be addressed, the fundamental truth is constant. I would encourage anyone who finds themselves in this situation to reach out and get the support they need. Attend Al-anon meetings, get a sponsor and work the steps of recovery for yourself. You can become free of the addiction and experience relief, whether your loved one is sober or not. Addiction doesn’t have to be a life sentence for anyone. Even those who love and support the addict can be free of it’s destruction.
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