You hear a lot about “chronic” relapsing if you go to any gathering of addicts. Many of us were continually relapsing at the beginning of our recovery. We’d get a week, or even a month, then use again. There are social as well as brain chemistry reasons for this, but what I want to focus on now is stigma.
Let’s reframe the whole issue. Here are 5 things to consider when it comes to so-called “chronic” relapsing.
1. Labeling. Since I think it’s important to lift the stigma from chronic relapsers, we might as well start by jettisoning the “chronic” – we’re all chronic until we quit. Why not think of yourself as a “returnee” to recovery? Considering yourself to be just another addict who’s returning to recovery is a truthful description and not so negative in connotation. And, if you can do it, I’d lose the labeling altogether. You are a having an “acute flare up” of a disease located in your brain.
2, At one point, this most recent relapse is going to be your last. Yep, that’s just a fact. It might be because you go to jail or die, but, hopefully, it’s because you were able to successfully quit this time. Remember more than a million people worldwide have quit meth successfully, you can too. When working with someone who’s struggling with relapse, I always try to keep the attitude that THIS relapse is the last. I know it’s going to be true one day, so why not today?
3. You didn’t lose your clean time just because you used again. Sure, you may have to reset your sobriety clock. But it’s always one day at a time, right? You just don’t lose all that knowledge, experience, and wisdom gained from your clean time—no matter how short that clean time was. For many of us, after we’ve spent some time in recovery, relapse just ain’t what it used to be: we’re constantly thinking about recovery while high. This is progress. A dear friend of mine (who’s been clean from meth for 18 years) calls any period of relapsing “interrupted sobriety.” This is not only to respect the time you’ve already accumulated, but to encourage a sense of hopefulness that you will return again to sobriety.
4. In the medical model, as mentioned in #1, you are having an “acute flare up” of your disease. You are NOT a morally weak “retread” who can’t seem to find the “willpower” or “surrender” to quit. You have a disease that manifests itself in the brain as a mental obsession to use meth. And don’t forget, our struggles make us stronger. Which brings us to…
5. Guilt and self-loathing over relapse is your enemy. “I’m a chronic relapser, so why not go ahead and use now? I will again sooner or later, anyway.” That’s your disease talking. Cut yourself some slack and remember the first 4 points above. Then get into action on taking some actual steps—like talking to someone, going to a meeting, anything proactive—to interrupt the slide back toward relapse BEFORE it happens.
And for those of us who are not struggling with relapse, let’s try to have more compassion and understanding for those who do. Everyone’s path to recovery is individualized. And let’s not forget #2 above. Encourage #2 instead of being negative about the slip.