When You Go Back Out: Returning from Relapse

As an addictions counselor, all I can do when folks go back out into the throes of active addiction is pray and hope that they return. It’s not so important that they return to treatment with me of course, but that they escape the hell of active use and return to the safety and manageability of recovery.

If you’ve ever seen someone pick up a white chip in AA then you know how joyous folks are upon the return of their prodigal brothers and sisters. It’s one of the most beautiful and spiritual experiences I have born witness to. There’s applause. It’s a welcome home. It’s an expression of relief in knowing that the disease didn’t claim their life. It’s a fresh start and another chance to get it right.

A young man near and dear to my heart came back from hell recently. He showed up unexpectedly at my office. I hugged him extra tight and grinning like a fool I heard myself say, “You make me feel so fucking powerless.” If you’ve ever loved an active addict, then you know what it’s like for your soul to exhale. Until they return, you didn’t even realize that you were holding your breath.

The contrast between us was extraordinary. He was ashamed and I was overjoyed. We both had tears but my eyes were searching and his were studying my carpet. He explained as I’ve heard countless others say:

“I’ve disappointed everyone.”

Oh. Hell. No. Nope. No you didn’t. You let you down, not anyone else and most certainly not me.

Disappointment comes when expectations aren’t met. I didn’t expect that he’d never drink again. I expected and continue to expect that he will get better. Optimism and faith cost us nothing and open the doors to abundance. Each of us is eligible for a life “second to none.”

There’s an adage in recovery that we come to accept: “Birds fly, fish swim, and drunks drink.” Relapse is part of recovery and to remain embarrassed or ashamed of that simply puts us at risk for further destruction.

When they say, “Guilt is a useless emotion” what they mean is that it doesn’t change a damned thing. Too often we stay in it to avoid taking responsibility and facing our fears. We must change our perspectives and judge ourselves in the same manner in which we judge others. We must then take the advice we’d give to them:

Get up! Get the fuck back up. If you can’t stand, crawl. Call. Reach out. Whatever it takes, is exactly what you must do. Screw guilt and remember: We need you as much as you need us.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.