Recovery & Relapse
“We started a group called ‘Moms Stop the Harm’ and we want to change how people view addiction. Not as a crime, but as a health and human rights issue.” Petra, ‘Moms Stop the Harm’ https://tinyurl.com/y5emxkf5
Petra believes that her son would still be alive if he wasn’t too ashamed to tell her he’d relapsed, and tragically she could be right! Relapse is part of the recovery process and needs to be the focus of continuing discussion between the recovering addict and their support people, family, friends, doctors, and therapists. Essentially, almost everyone will experience relapse, typically in the initial stages of recovery. Why? Because our emotional skills have been significantly affected by unhealthy substance use. Why are we likely to hide a relapse? Embarrassment!
Seriously, it’s that simple. By treating people with substance use disorders like criminals and losers we’ve created this heartbreaking cycle that too often ends tragically. The person struggling feels ashamed of themselves and afraid of the negative judgement of others, so they hide it for as long as possible.
Following the emotional upheaval that has been exacerbated by substance use we basically have to rebuild our emotional selves. We’ve been using drugs to numb or mask feelings that we don’t understand or find ourselves overwhelmed by. We’ve created turmoil to obscure our anxiety and deflect our responsibility. Confusion has become the norm, and clarity a distant memory. Recovering people often need to start from square one, identifying basic emotions like joy, grief, anger, and fear.
Strategies for recovery will include finding yourself, getting to know yourself, learning to value yourself, and forgiving yourself for all your fears and insecurities, imperfections and needs. It will also mean recognizing and appreciating your experience, good and bad. Being accountable for the downs as well as the ups means being honest with yourself and the people in your life who are trying to help you.
- Reward yourself for good choices.
- Affirm yourself by reaching out.
- Be accountable by sharing your experience.
- Take care of yourself by helping others.
- Know what matters and do the right thing.
- Learn from your mistakes so you won’t repeat them.
- Rest and reflect so that you’ll have energy and ideas.
- Connect to people who can help you.
- Allow yourself to feel joy, grief, anger, and fear.
- Be present, let go of the past, and let the future unfold as it does.
- Set boundaries for yourself so that when you stumble you don’t fall too far!
Relapse is part of the recovery process. “If we look at recovery as a life long process that may include one or many relapses, a far more realistic view of success emerges. We need to think of a treatment trajectory: it may take five, seven, nine times before they get it. Chronic depression has similar success rates. Seizure patients? The noncompliance rate is just as high. High blood pressure? All they have to do is take their medicine. It’s not as difficult as staying sober, but the rate of noncompliance is just as high.” (Gantt Galloway, a scientist in the Addiction Pharmacology Research Laboratory at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute. Addiction, HBO documentary series, pg. 28) Recovery means building a new life, not simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Creating a new lifestyle, complete with friends and activities, is certainly an enormous challenge, but the reward is a healthy LIFE!