In Recovery Or In Relapse?
If you spend time with treatment professionals, you’ll occasionally hear them make a strong statement to people struggling with substance use disorder. “You’re either in recovery or you’re in relapse,” we’ll say.
It’s strong, to be sure… but it’s also true. We see it over and over again.
At first, alcoholics and addicts stop using and get cleaned up. They go to 12-step meetings, work the steps with a sponsor, and eventually sponsor others. They enjoy rebuilt trust in relationships and improved reputations at work.
But then some start to become complacent. Their attitude changes in ways so subtle that they don’t even notice. They slowly lose their enthusiasm for the actions that have been keeping them sober. The things that have been keeping them clean and sober gradually become too much trouble. They just can’t find the time for them.
Then they start thinking things like this: “Maybe I wasn’t as bad as I thought.” Or, “I’ve learned so much-maybe I can control it now.” Once this kind of thinking germinates, they’re moving out of recovery and into relapse.
How Do I Make My Recovery A Success?
Given the subtlety of the disease and how easily it can take over our thinking, what’s the best approach to staying in recovery successfully?
The most important thing is to understand the process and recognize its warning signs when it’s still early enough to do something about it. The loss of enthusiasm about recovery is a major red flag. So is the tendency that creeps in to start criticizing meetings or others in the program. It shows itself in cynicism, defiance, or self-pity.
These characteristics show that “I’ll do whatever I have to do to recover” is giving way to a “why do I have to keep doing this?” Recovery is turning into relapse.
It really does happen that early, and that is why catching it is essential. Once it gains momentum, the decision to drink or use has essentially already been made without realizing it. Hence, the statement, “If you’re not in recovery, you’re in relapse.”
Once we discover that subtle changes in attitude have begun to take hold, there are active steps we can take in response. While these attitude changes are often accompanied by shame (“I can’t tell anyone”) or egotism (“I can handle this now”), we can tell our sponsor about these thoughts. (Again, this is easier done early in the process.) We can add meetings and focus on the positive aspects of each.
We can talk things over with a therapist or counselor. And we can intentionally develop a practice of gratitude for the blessings we’ve received in recovery.
Many who are recovering successfully find themselves drawn to spiritual communities of various kinds, where the relationship with a Higher Power can be nurtured and strengthened over time.
If we understand that when it comes to recovery and relapse, we really are in one or the other, we can recognize the warning signs early. Early enough, that is, to make changes while we still have the power to do so. Waiting allows unhealthy thinking to take over- and for some, this can be lethal.
Sometimes, however, we don’t recognize the warning signs until it is too late. When that does happen, and we relapse, we have to remember that our recovery journey isn’t over. Mistakes happen in life and recovery is no different. The important part is to remember that we were strong enough to make it once, so we’re strong enough to do it again.
You Don’t Have to Face This Journey on Your Own
Serenity Lane has been a trusted community provider of addiction treatment services since 1973. Our care services combine 46 years of experience with a medically-informed, multidisciplinary care plan. We treat the whole patient, encourage family involvement, and will create a care plan matched to your individual needs.
You can learn more about recovery and relapse by calling us at 800-543-9905.