Have you ever heard the phrase, “Relapse is a part of recovery”? Whether you have heard it or not, there is some truth to it; so many people relapse during their recovery from an addiction (be it drug, alcohol, food, sex, or gambling) that it can hardly be considered an anomaly. It’s just a normal part of the process of recovery. Having said that, some questions come to mind: “But isn’t relapse a bad thing?” and “Why would we want to normalize it?” and “If most people relapse, should I just be lax in using my coping skills and just chalk it up as inevitable?”
These are great questions. First off, no, relapse is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, there are situations when one toke, one drink, one pop of a pill can lead to a “binge”. But one binge doesn’t undo the learning that’s already taken place. Let’s think of the brain as a computer and say that the new coping skills we’re practicing during recovery are like slowly learning a new software program (like “Photoshop”) in our computer. Every day that we do not turn on or use the old software (drinking, binge-eating, using, gambling, etc.), is another day that it gets weaker, almost the way computer software goes out of date. So, when we relapse, yes, we temporarily open the old software and reengage with it…however, we can always close it down again. We still have the other software–the new coping skills–to return to; it hasn’t gone away.
So, “why would we want to normalize relapse”? Well, most of us who are in recovery recognize that sadness, self-loathing, hopelessness, and other uncomfortable feelings can trigger cravings to binge, use, or drink. When relapse occurs then, it makes sense to recognize that we’re not alone and to focus on the fact that there’s still hope for recovery.
Lastly, “No.” Just because relapse is a normal part of recovery doesn’t mean it’s okay to be lax in using our tools and coping skills. Again, this is new software in our computer that you could say needs to be used regularly in order to learn it and get the most out of it. After all, you’re not gonna be able to make beautiful images in Photoshop if you never open up the program, right?
So, if you are relapsing or have experienced a relapse (or even a small setback), please know that you’re not alone. You can choose to share your struggles with someone who can help you recognize your strengths and start using your coping skills and finding new ones, too. The recovery journey does contain obstacles and sometimes we will fall down a hole and be stuck for a while. Just remember there’s life beyond relapse.
Peace, joy, and health.