Relapsing In Addiction Recovery: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

by Dick on September 5, 2015 · 4 comments

in Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Recovery, Relapse

Program-Spotlight-Relapse-Prevention-Program-RPP-Summit-HelpsI’ve been in recovery for about 4 years now and have dealt with several relapses, even though I’ve done the Steps, go to 5-7 meetings per week and see a therapist.

Fortunately, my relapses have been very short lived and I’ve gotten right back into the program. However, each relapse has caused major problems and most importantly they have destroyed the trust I’ve worked so hard to build with my wife and family. It’s like taking two steps backward for every one step forward. It sucks. Big time.

Why did I relapse? Why do people in recovery relapse? Addiction scholars have written books on this subject. There are no easy answers to the question.

For me, I’ve usually relapsed when I was feeling very good, and often to celebrate and reward myself for some job well done — usually after a big win in court or a big closing deal. For normal people, this sounds completely insane, but for alcoholics and addicts, they understand. I’ve relapsed because the cravings to drink have taken up way too much space in my brain, and I did not “rat myself out” to my AA group, sponsor and therapist, allowing the cravings to become overwhelming. I would try to ride them out myself, and “out-think” them, but eventually they got me. I’ve relapsed because my disease tried (successfully) to convince me that my drinking wasn’t that bad and that I did not deserve to be an alcoholic. We call that the “built-in forgetter.” I’ve relapsed because I’ve slacked on meetings and didn’t make my recovery program the #1 priority in my life. I’ve relapsed because I made the conscious decision to pick up a drink, despite all the negative consequences.

People in meetings often say that at some point the obsession and compulsion to drink has miraculously gone away. Well, that has not been my experience. The craving to drink has never gone away, and I can tell you that I think about some aspect of drinking just about every single day. But it’s not like the craving itself is going to kill me. Yes, it’s distressful and frustrating, but it does go away eventually (and returns as well).

The most important thing about relapse, in my humble opinion, is to learn from the mistake and try not to make the same mistake again. It sucks big time to have to get a 24 hour coin (a topic for another post), but you don’t lose all those days of sobriety, and your foundation, while temporarily cracked, can be rebuilt, even stronger. Keep on getting back on the beam. Don’t quit!

I would love to hear from any of you who have dealt with relapses. Why did you relapse? And how have you come back and learned from them?

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  • Jon

    Damn, well said. Thanks for the thoughts on an especially tough weekend. I have exactly the same issues. I struggle the most when I get tired of not being able to have the fun (by drinking) I feel I I am entitled to (like right now). I also agree with, and think we should all remember, relapse does not wipe away all the value of a person’s past sobriety. Getting caught in that all-or-nothing trap can derail recovery completely. Thanks again and best regards.

  • Rocky

    I relapsed back in the day often… within the first 2 years of trying for sobreity. Mostly I relapsed because I wasn’t ready to quit. I didn’t change all the people, places, and things. I needed to cut off a bunch of my friends and all unhealthy relationships including jobs to get sober. Managed to be unemployed for 6 months focusing on sobreity which was the only way I could do it. Once I passed a year sober it was easy as pie.

  • Sober Lawyer

    Thanks for the comments guys! We are all in this struggle together!

  • Lu-Jane A.

    I ask myself every time why I relapse, and the answers very. I’m sad, I’m happy, I’m stressed, etc. Really I don’t need a reason, I just want to drink. I guess I relapse b/c I really don’t want to feel anything. But then I go back to meetings, and Talk to people. Try to get out of my head. I stopped trying to do the program my way, and stopped doing it for other people. I had to change my perspective and really see that it is MY recovery, and other people just can’t or won’t understand that. Usually that also leads to a relapse. Every time I relapse I learn what I need to stay away from and who to stay away from. And when that is impossible (life a parent) then how to deal w/it in the calmest possible way w/o letting all their judgements bury me in yet another relapse. I still havent found the perfect formula, and I am still new on this journey. But I truly hope I can learn to really trust this program and let it take me on the road to a healthier and sober life.

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