Coming Back from Relapse

It feels like losing everything, starting over, shame, guilt, humiliation and failure.

It’s not. Failure only occurs when we stop getting back up and earnestly trying to get it right.

We must keep at the forefront of our thoughts that not everybody gets another chance at recovery. If we remain vertical and breathing then have another chance.
Relapse is often part of recovery. It’s a regression – a step back toward the familiarity of hiding, running, and not feeling.

Recovery is hard work. Going through a lot of some of the rougher patches is scary and it’s hard and it hurts. Sometimes, when we don’t know what to do, and/or we’re too scared to do it, we shoot ourselves in the foot.

Oh, shit – I just did that thing I tell others not to do. I hate using euphemisms. They deny the intensity of the truth. We don’t shoot ourselves in the foot…we get drunk, we get high, we go back to cutting, burning, purging, or engage in other forms of relapse.

We do it until we don’t.

We do it until we develop a shred of confidence in another way. We do it until we begin to trust the process, have faith in a power greater than ourselves, and until we allow ourselves the support and care of good people who have suffered similarly.

That’s one of the hardest parts – accepting unconditional love is one a hell of a learning curve.

When someone I care about relapses; they do not disappointment me. In order for them to disappoint me, I would have to have expectations on their recovery. I do not. I have hopes and dreams and things that I want very much for them but my care is contingent upon nothing.

I often have to explain to those I serve that they do not hurt me by relapsing.

Counselors call it “transference.” It’s a subconsciously driven process in which we relate to others as though they’re someone they’re not. Folks often relate to me as a father figure, which in psychological terms, I am. I’m just unlikely to be much like the father they had/have.

The more we’re scared and hurting, the more we expect folks to treat us the way our family of origins did. It takes a lot to accept that there are others like us who are also trying to be the opposite of their families.

I get to explain to a lot of other misfits like me how this works because it’s so foreign as to be terrifying:

You’re struggling to accept care and concern because it comes without judgment or condition. You struggle to believe in you. We do not find it difficult to have faith in you. You are convinced that we are misguided in our perception of you. You fear that letting us know who you really are will result in us rejecting and abandoning you.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

No matter how fucked up we may be about ourselves, it’s not hard for us to see the truth about each other. We see that others are deserving of love and support. We see ourselves as we were taught to.

Until we don’t.
Until we accept that what was taught to us wasn’t true.
Until we consider that doing bad things doesn’t make one a bad person.
Until we conclude that our past does not define us and what we choose to do with our lives from this day forward does.
Until we accept that relapse is not an inevitability but rather the result of suffering alone.

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.