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How To Deal With Relapse In Recovery

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Though it’s not something that those of us in recovery enjoy thinking about, relapse is very real and happens for a fair amount of people.

This doesn’t mean that those people are recovering in a right or wrong way — it just means their path is different. What many people fail to realize is that relapse is not equivalent to failure. For some, it’s necessary in order to learn and to set them on the right path in recovery.

If you find yourself in the position of having relapsed, there are a few things you should consider and remind yourself of.

1. Remember that relapse isn’t reason to throw it all away.

The fact that you slipped up doesn’t mean your previous recovery time was for nothing. This mindset, that any time in recovery becomes pointless after a relapse, can be so dangerous. It’s what tempts you to sink back into using rather than turning back to recovery. Instead of giving up on recovery, try to identify what relapsing taught you. How can you use that knowledge going forward to avoid making the same missteps? What positivity can come from the experience? Framing relapse this way, rather than in a negative light, can help you get your mind back on track and help you start fresh in your recovery.

2. Reach out for support.

It may be tempting to isolate yourself after a relapse. You’re likely feeling guilty, maybe even feeling like you failed the people around you. But the reality is simply that you slipped up, like everyone does. Rather than assume that the people in your life will be disappointed in you, give them the chance to be supportive. Reach out to others in the recovery community who have been in your shoes. Ask them what it was that got them back on track after their own relapse. Determine how they’ve managed to stay on track. More likely than not, these people will welcome you with open arms and help you get back into recovery. Make sure to reach out to the parts of your support system that aren’t in active recovery as well. These people also care about you and your wellbeing, and may have some valuable insight for you.

3. Determine whether treatment is necessary.

Some people are able to get themselves back on track after a relapse by using tools they’ve learned previously. But for others, it’s more of a struggle. Just remember, there’s no shame in that. Everyone learns and reacts to situations differently. If you feel like you would be safer and more successful by returning to treatment after a relapse, then do so. Just because you may have been in treatment before and have relapsed, that doesn’t mean that treatment didn’t work for you. It may only mean you need a little more time there to redirect yourself again. The people in your life will likely understand this and support the decision you’ve made. And if they don’t, they probably don’t have your best interests in mind.

4. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally.

When we feel like we’ve failed ourselves and others, it can be easy to start neglecting our own needs. Maybe this is due to guilt or fear. But either way, make sure that you are putting your needs first after a relapse. Physically, this may mean making sure to get out of bed each day, to exercise, to show up to work. Mentally, it could mean talking to a therapist, to your support system, journaling about what happened, or something else entirely. Every person’s needs are different and you are the one who knows yourself best. Take the time to determine what you need to do to take the best care of yourself.

5. Practice self-compassion.

This is perhaps the hardest thing of all, relapse or not. For some reason, being compassionate toward others can come easily, while doing so toward ourselves is a struggle. This may be especially true following a relapse, when you are likely struggling with feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt and shame are strong motivators to beat up on yourself, to think negatively, and to feel worthless. But these feelings are a trap, and they will likely lead you into a downward spiral. When you find yourself struggling with these emotions, try to reframe your thinking. Rather than thinking of yourself as a failure, think of yourself as someone who can look at your mistakes and learn from them. Being able to change your thinking in this manner can go a long way when it comes to recovery.

Remember, relapsing does not mean you have failed at living a life of recovery. What matters most are the choices you make post-relapse. You have the option of continuing down a negative path, or pulling yourself back up and returning to a sober lifestyle. Which path you take is ultimately your decision!


Beth Leipholtz is the founder of Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into substance use disorder and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a web designer and photographer in Minnesota. Follow her on Instagram @beth_leipholtz and on Twitter @el9292.

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