I Relapsed, Now What?
I Was Sober Until I Used Again
Whether you were sober from alcohol, drugs, porn, or anything in between, the main takeaway is you used to be sober. You recognized the problem and the issues it caused in your life. So you made a commitment to get better; to get sober and stay sober. You fought for your sobriety. But you drank again or used again or both. In short, you relapsed.
And it sucks. You feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed. Maybe you sent texts out while you were intoxicated or you’ve been sharing your sober journey and suddenly recognize it needs to reset. It’s humiliating and painful. Your head is throbbing, your face is wet with sweat, your whole body feels sticky, and your stomach keeps reminding you there are only two ways to get this poison out of your system (and it’ll use both).
But, you’re here, now, and alive reading this, which puts you in a good position to stay sober. Let’s look at the facts.
1. 90% of People with Addictions Relapse in their First Year
The actual statistic comes from a study conducted in 1989 – so a bit dated – by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. That said, whether you’re talking with a therapist, attending AA or NA groups, or chatting online, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in recovery who didn’t relapse at one time.
You are not alone. If a fear you have is facing your peers in recovery, treat this as an opportunity to bond on a deeper level. It’s one thing to relapse and another to make the decision to get sober again. Relapse is common which doesn’t mean you should take it lightly, but you should recognize this happens to everyone, not just you, so don’t give up.
2. Being “Normal” is Weird for People with Addictions
Our addictions are crutches. This is why you relapse even when everything was going your way. You can have it all: great job, healthy body, and loving family. The problem is, this stuff isn’t normal. Even if it feels good, it can still make you feel uncomfortable simply because it’s different. Drinking or doing drugs are a twisted “security blanket.” They bring you to state of mind you’re familiar with. It’s not that you’re incapable of self-control, it’s that you sought something familiar in a weird normalcy.
3. The Problem Hasn’t Changed
This part is critical and if it helps, view “relapse” as a symptom of the issue (rather than the cause). You made a decision to get sober due to the problems in your life that resulted from drug and/or alcohol use. Relapsing doesn’t fix the problem, nor does it impact the rationale behind getting sober. If anything, relapsing should reinforce your resolve. Do not get down on yourself, recognize the mistake, and grow.
I Relapsed, What’s Next?
So now that we’ve covered some facts, here’s a rundown of what you can do moving forward. Obviously, the main thing you want to do is get sober, stay sober, and reduce the chance of a relapse. You are in a unique position in that you survived a relapse – there are many others who aren’t so lucky. The very first thing you need to do is assess how severe of a relapse you had.
Again, this isn’t meant to downplay a relapse – any relapse should invoke internal inventory – but there’s a substantial difference between a momentary weakness on a weekend and a bender last week. If it’s the latter, going to rehab might be your best option. Get clean and lay the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. If it’s the former though, rehab isn’t a bad option, but it may not be necessary. Once you assessed which path to take, follow these steps.
1. Forgive Yourself
Stop beating yourself up. You’re not going to get back up if you keep knocking yourself down. Relapsing is a mistake, but it’s human. A mistake is a learning experience so long as you try again. The only time a mistake is a failure is when you give up. Let’s walk through the process together.
Shaming yourself will only cause self destructive thinking; the idea that “you don’t deserve anything good.” This kind of thinking increases stress and anxiety and can cause you to isolate yourself from others which can lead to depression. Practicing self compassion is a part of staying sober.
2. Monitor the Triggers
At one time, there was a belief that the Chinese character for “temptation” was a combination of the characters “danger” plus “opportunity.” This is a widespread western misconception, but in the case of those of us with addictions, is no less fitting. When you get sober, you track your triggers (the people you know, the environment you’re in, and your daily routine), however you may not have anticipated all the triggers you’ll come across.
The temptation to use is danger plus opportunity. For instance, if you’re suddenly contacted from an old friend to meet up at a bar after 4 months sober, you’re inviting an opportunity for relapse. You can control your triggers if you possess the forethought to avoid unknown, but hazardous situations. Put your health first; put your sobriety first in every situation.
3. Make a Plan
Double your efforts to stay sober. The good news is, as you’ve already spent some time sober, you have an idea of what works for you. For instance, if you realized you don’t think about drugs when you’re at the gym, then spend more time on that treadmill.
It’s understandable to come out of rehab and think you’ve got a handle on the situation, but there’s an apt analogy for this. Addiction is like leaving your faucet on in the bathroom and leaving the house. The sink overflows, fills the bathroom, gushes down the hallway and down the stairs soaking the walls. When you make the choice to get sober, you turn off the facet, but the house is still suffering water damage. You have to rip up the stairs, remove the carpet and replace the walls. It’s work.