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10 Important Lessons to Learn From Relapse


relapseIf you have returned to alcohol or drugs after a period of sobriety, you may fell rather disillusioned and full of shame. It may seem that all of the progress you had made while sober is now lost forever – it has all been for nothing. Relapse is never a good idea, but it does not have to be a complete disaster. In fact, there are powerful lessons that you can gain from the experience that can make your life better in the future. We list ten important lessons that you can learn from relapse.

1. There Is Always a Reason for a Relapse

It can feel as if a relapse just happens for no reason; however; this is unlikely to ever be the case. It may not have been obvious to you at the time, but the chances are that your return to addiction began days (possibly even weeks) before you picked up the first drink or drug.

The relapse process usually begins because you have become stuck in recovery. This can happen if you have been neglecting your sobriety, or you have reached a challenge that you are not willing to face. The symptoms of the relapse process can vary from person to person, but it can include things like:

  • increasing negativity about the future
  • cynicism about recovery
  • romancing the drink or drug (remembering the ‘good times’)
  • turning to maladaptive behaviours (for example, exercise addiction, workaholism, internet addiction, or relationship addiction)
  • behaving unethically
  • dry drunk syndrome (this is where people behave as if they were in the midst of addiction even though they are physically sober).

2. You Can Learn From a Relapse

It is vital that you are able to learn from your relapse; as the saying goes, those who fail to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. If you can discover the reason for your return to addiction, this knowledge can make you stronger in the future and you can avoid making similar mistakes going forward. Relapsing is never a good idea, but if you are able to learn from the experience then it can strengthen your sobriety.

3. Relapse is a Normal Part of Recovery

The claim that ‘relapse is a normal part of recovery’ is true in the sense that it is very common for those who achieve lasting sobriety to have a history of relapses. This observation does not mean that it is ever okay to return to alcohol or drugs; it should never be used as an excuse to relapse. If you have returned to your addiction, the knowledge that it is common to make the same mistake could give you some solace. More important is the knowledge that many individuals have come back from relapse and been able to build a solid sobriety.

4. Sometimes Relapses Happens When Everything Appears to Be Going Well

The reason why a person might relapse is not always because something bad happened – it can also occur when things felt like they were going really well. This most common example of this is ‘pink cloud syndrome’, whereby a person is so high on the sober life that they rather lose touch with reality.

It is understandable that many feel happy, relieved, and optimistic after they break free of addiction. The problem with pink cloud syndrome is that the person can become so high that they are putting their sobriety at risk. The reason is that being in this position can make individuals believe that they are cured, so they stop doing the things that have been keeping them sober. The other danger with pink cloud syndrome is that reality finally kicks it, it can hit people very hard; it can be such a severe comedown that the person becomes disillusioned and uses it as an excuse to relapse.

It is important to enjoy your newfound sobriety, but you need to be on the lookout for signs of pink cloud syndrome. This is more of a problem in early recovery. There will be plenty of joyful times ahead in your life if you remain sober, but keep in mind that life is a mixed bag of emotions and there are likely to be bad times as well as good.

5. Relapse Does Not Mean You Are a Bad Person

The biggest mistake you can make after a relapse is to fall into a pit of self-hatred and guilt. You have made a mistake, and you are now paying the consequences. This does not mean you are a bad person; you are a human being and all humans make bad decisions – at least occasionally. The guilt and self-hatred is only going to drive you further into addiction. You will not be able to go back and undo the past, but you can forgive yourself and move forward towards happiness and sobriety.

6. Relapse Does Not Mean All Your Progress is Lost

It is common for those relapsing to be very upset because they feel they have lost all of their progress, going right back at square one. This is not really the situation at all. You cannot really lose your progress. When you once again become sober, you will be able to benefit from the things you learned and the experience you gained during your last attempt at sobriety. By learning from your relapse, you can even add to your progress so you are much further along the path of sobriety.

7. Relapse Can Be a Sign That a New Approach Is Needed To Recovery

They often say that if you keep on doing the same things, the same things are going to keep on happening to you. This means that if you return to recovery without making significant changes to your approach to life, you are very likely to relapse again. You need to think carefully about your strategies for dealing with things. If you do not belong to a recovery fellowship, the relapse might be a sign that you need this kind of support. If you do belong to a fellowship, your relapse may signal that you need to redouble your commitment to this group or try a different type of group.

8. A Relapse Can Boost Your Motivation

The reality of a return to addiction can be very painful. It is easy to forget how hard life can be when abusing alcohol or drugs once you have been sober for a few months. A common reason why individuals relapse is that they begin to take their new sober life for granted. This relapse can be a powerful reminder of what is at stake, significantly boosting your motivation for sobriety. The best attitude is to recommit to sobriety with the determination to do whatever it takes to succeed.

9. Your Relapse Can Help Other People

If you are able to return to recovery after a relapse, you can be of great service to others struggling in recovery. You can share your experiences, which may be enough to convince some to avoid making the same mistakes. Helping others can strengthen your own sobriety as it boosts your self-esteem and self-confidence.

10. A Relapse Can Make You Grateful for Sobriety

It is common for people to miss all the good things in their life because they are so concerned with all the things they do not have. This is a real shame because the secret to happiness is not about getting more; it is about appreciating all that you have. A relapse can be a reminder of all the good of your life. It can increase your level of gratitude thus making your life better going forward.

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