BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2018
Successful recovery demands a compassionate approach towards relapses to prevent the hopelessness that commonly accompanies the occasional slips.
Relapse is the dreaded word of families, programs, and most of all the person in recovery. Relapse has taken on so much negative connotation many programs and information guides has dispensed with the word all together. The stigma of addiction has softened with the opioid crisis but still persists. We hope as a society, we will continue to progress, embracing sufferers on their individual paths to recovery, including the setbacks encountered during this courageous journey back to wellness. Perhaps, its not the word that needs to be changed but our hearts.
Every worthwhile endeavor, requiring significant change, is commonly beset with lapses. We rely too much on self-discipline as the sole mechanism to effect change. The mental resources deplete, and the courageous efforts are stymied in exhaustion. We accept this when a diet is broken, or a workout missed, but when the addicted stumble, we scorn their fall, second guess their resolve, and rush to implement harsher methods of control.
"Every worthwhile endeavor, requiring significant change, is commonly beset with lapses."
Success Depends on Skillful Response to Setbacks
Relapse is a big deal and shouldn’t be brushed off as unimportant, but it also isn’t the end of the world, signifying complete failure. Successes in recovery, diets, workout programs or any other significant behavior change is accomplished through skillful responses to the setbacks. The skillful response is a requirement from everyone involved from the recovering addict, the family, the spouse, and the professional care givers. Everybody has a responsibility to work through the stumbling without harsh judgments or despair, maintaining the power of hope in our hearts, and engendering it in the hearts of the person in recovery.
The path to prolonged sobriety is more than abandoning the biological chains of chemical addiction. We often focus intently on the biological addiction while ignoring the prominent role the addiction played in diffusing emotional stress from the tasks of living. If emotions didn’t play a role in the beginnings of addiction, they certainly become a factor over time, as the addiction often severs connections, and distances the struggling soul from societal norms. Sobriety leaves the recovering addict bare to the extremities the addiction artfully shielded.
Learning to Live Again
The point is that during the lost months and years of addiction, the difficulties of sober life are forgotten. The single focus of bucking the pernicious addiction seems to be the only obstacle. We envision once we no longer are chemically dependent on the drink or the injection that life will smoothly return to normalcy. We will be like everyone else, enjoying good employment, a warm home, and a happy marriage. This is a farce that is rudely realized in sobriety. Sober life brings with it the same challenges. Challenges that when encountered while sober may drive us back to the mire we worked so hard to escape. The relapse is often a coping mechanism, returning to a path that provides immediate relief and long-term destruction.
The recovery process must work through, without ignorance to evidence-based practices, a personalized journey. The sneers and rejection of others, especially important others, only serves to weaken necessary connections to successfully maintain and return to sobriety. Human compassion gives energy to the process. Carl Roger’s humanistic theories, giving unmitigated positive regard and emotional attunement, provides a safe environment for the afflicted to process the emotional challenges of sobriety and develop healthy adaptations to fierce realities of living.
Be patient, keep hope alive, and lean upon external resources. Relapse must be compassionately examined, new courses of action implemented, and always an embracing of hope. A stumble is not a fall, and a fall is not ultimate destruction. Relapse is part of the journey. Stand-up, brush off your jeans and continue forward a little wiser than before.
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