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Relapse is Not the End

What happens when you relapse in recovery? Chris McMullen is here to share 6 reasons why people usually relapse. Remember it's not the end.

In this article

Like clock-work every day I make coffee and check out Facebook. Immediately I go to the “Memories” section.

I’ve never deleted a post from my past, even from when I was in active addiction. Posts show pictures of me out and about at clubs “living my best life,” to a state of being completely blacked out, and even those crazy stories of my using days. The post’s hardest to see was my declaration I was going to be sober from now on; followed by a couple of days later with “oops”  or “angel status is gone.” I can’t even imagine what my friends and family thought of these posts. It is a bittersweet reminder of what I have done. It invigorates emotions of where I was at and even current guilt and shame of the things I have done. Relapse, well RELAPSES are a huge part of my life. My longest stint sober was four and a half years, and even after that, I relapsed. Now I have two years sober. This time I took a very hard look at the relapses: What brought me to relapse? What was missing in my life? What can I do differently?

  • Boredom/Being in the Wrong Environment– Having too much time on my hands was a huge part. Could I have done something better with my time than going to the club? I have to ask myself and play out every scenario when I go do something. Having a gameplan or an exit strategy is a good thing to have. If I go to a restaurant I can choose to sit away from the bar, or even have my back to it. If I go to a friend’s party that you know will get wild,  I might have a script ready for an easy exit: “I am feeling tired, I am going to have to get going.” I find myself now having hobbies that I can fill my time with. Whether it be watching movies, gardening, writing, art, museums, etc. 
  • Confidence– Confidence is great, right? It really is a double-edged sword. Going to places I thought I was going to be comfortable with, and being overconfident that “I got this,” usually ended me in a drunken spiral. Having a daily routine of self-care, and deciding to not do part of it, is a small thing that festers into a relapse. Reminding myself now that constant action towards recovery is important. 
  • Hanging Out With the Wrong People– This seems so easy, yet so hard. I love getting attention. I received so much attention when I was using. I was the wild one. In the past, I would crave that attention, and those “using” friends I knew would be the quick fix. I realized quickly that I was the outcast at that point. All I wanted was to be apart. Which quickly drove me to pick up a drink. “Using” friends is not the only thing we should watch out for toxic friends and family. This is HUGE. Hanging around with negative people will bring me down. It turns my emotions on high. I become emotional, depressed, and angry, just like the people I hang around with. Emotions are contagious. 
  • Expectations– This is really hard not to have. We expect things to go the way they are supposed to. We expect to keep our job, we expect friends and family to be loyal. I want everything and everyone to be in a perfectly wrapped bow. If one thing is out of place, I quickly rationalize that I can go grab a substance. We can also have unrealistic expectations. After a first date, I can plan my wedding not realizing the next date I would realize what an idiot he was, and then I emotionally crash and burn. Having realistic expectations is hard, but so important
  • Self Awareness/Self-care– Intuition is everything. If something doesn’t feel right to me, I probably shouldn’t be doing it. No matter how strong or smart I think I am, the answer is no. I need to be mindful of my anxieties and triggers. For myself, this is a huge thing I had to look at this go-around in recovery. Self-care is also important. I have to take care of myself. I have to eat right to make sure my body has all the nutrients it needs. Cleanliness is also important. I can’t live in a messy house, otherwise, my mind will be messy. I also have to keep myself continually learning: whether to be reading books, learning a new hobby, I have to keep my brain going. 
  • Healthy Support System– When I am going through troubles in my life, running to my old party friends is not the best choice. It has become imperative for me to have a support system of like-minded people. Personally, I got involved in 12 step programs. It has helped me tremendously. My friends know everything about me, and I am able to be open about my thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment. They check up on me to see how I am, rather than checking on me to go to the club. If you can have at least one person that you can be completely honest and transparent with, that is a game-changer.

Relapse is real and more common than people like to admit. When my friends relapse, usually one of the reasons above is the reason. They are still my friends. They are still the same person they were prior to relapsing. If you relapsed, and are reading this article, it shows you are wanting better. You are in the pursuit of happiness. Give yourself a pat on the back. That takes a lot of strength. Be Well. 


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Chris McMullen is an advocate for the LGBT community, sexual assault awareness, and recovery. He uses his own experience, and wisdom as a platform to help others.

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