The numbers suggest that relapses aren’t rare occurrences, but a part of the recovery process. An estimated 40-60 percent of recovering addicts relapse within the first 12 months after their rehab has completed, slowly dwindling down the longer a person stays sober (only 15 percent seem to relapse after 5 years of sobriety, in comparison). While this helps support the idea that addiction is chronic, it’s also important to mention that this doesn’t mean it’s a permanent condition – its effects lessen over time.
One way to look at it is to consider that the actual length and severity of an addiction goes far beyond what most people expect. Rather than ending the moment someone decides to get treatment, an addiction continues to present long-term problems, such as cravings, emotional irregularity, and negative physical effects, for many years after sobriety begins. Recovering addicts are left dealing with a variety of physical, psychological, and social issues the moment they begin treatment.
It takes time for the brain and body to properly readjust to sober life and build genuine resilience against a relapse – and because many people don’t have the options or the resources to continue their recovery after rehab, they fall victim to a relapse as soon as support for their recovery seems to end, and the full heft of sober living settles in.
It’s not enough to just go through a rehab program and promise to attend monthly or even weekly sobriety meetings. While some people successfully fight back against addiction in this way, many still feel improperly prepared for the fight. With early sobriety come a variety of new problems and challenges, ranging from increased responsibilities, to feelings of shame and guilt, and intense cravings. Learning to learn from relapses and continue the recovery process long after rehab has ended is important.
Don’t Let Shame Defeat You
First of all, let’s note that shame is nearly inevitable in most cases. And in a sense, it’s normal to be ashamed. Just as it hurts to fall flat on your face, it also hurts to realize that you’ve done something that you or others feel is wrong – and there’s a value in that. But that value is strictly limited to helping you improve out of a sense of responsibility towards those who support you, as well as the belief that despite the past, you can still do things better.
While feeling frustrated and ashamed is a natural response to a relapse, there comes a time when you need to embrace the positive possibility of change and believe in the part of yourself that is truly capable of doing good things.
The problem with shame is that it goes on for far too long. Being an addict is still heavily stigmatized, and despite the understanding that addiction is a disease, it’s still often tied to personal responsibility in the public consciousness. People have to choose to take drugs to become addicted, after all, and it’s that sense of karmic justice that makes it all too easy to turn a blind eye to the countless factors that unfairly skewer people’s lives towards addiction.
We’re all complex and imperfect, and addiction is one of many issues that draws out some of the worst in us by feeding selfish behaviors and driving us to push others away. Being ashamed of what you’ve done while addicted is normal, but you must work to conquer those feelings of shame and self-loathing.
You can’t overcome an addiction if you don’t believe you deserve to. Instead, you’ll find yourself trapped in a cycle of relapse and recovery. If you can’t see a reason to have hope in your own recovery, it’s critical to go seek help.
Help from professionals and close loved ones alike is critical in long-term sobriety. While we’re used to advocating personal responsibility, it’s important to understand that there are limits to what we can achieve alone. We need to stick together and employ a little compassion and empathy when talking about addiction.
Many people struggling with addiction lack the self-esteem and the therapeutic tools to deal with the stress of early recovery while becoming productive adults, all while avoiding substances that their brains have been wired to rely upon for coping. It’ll take time to build a resistance to those thoughts and develop better, healthier ways to deal with stress, as well as a strong sense of self, and a pride in one’s sobriety and sober progress.
Therapy can help many overcome their own limitations and believe that they can do better. Support systems, composed of family members and friends, are there to help avoid relapses by providing critical emotional support when it’s needed the most. And other professionals can help recovering addicts identify relapse triggers, get back into addiction treatment, consider sober living, and plan for the future.
Finding Your Triggers
The seeds of a relapse begin in self-doubt, and are grown through a lack of intervention, either by loved ones or due to a lack of structure after recovery begins. However, there’s often a specific trigger that causes someone to lose faith in their own sobriety and begin struggling with thoughts of relapse.
It might be an old memory triggered by being in a specific part of town, pressure from friends to have just one drink or one hit or longing for the effects of a drug after a particularly difficult week or day.
Whatever your trigger might have been, finding out what it is and figuring out how you might avoid it or resolve the situation in the future is important. It’s alright to relapse, but you shouldn’t relapse twice because of the same thing. Use these stumbles to learn more about how you could improve your recovery process.
It’s Part of the Process
Embracing that relapses are often part of the process involve learning from them and seeing them as opportunities for growth rather than signs of failure. It’s easy to look at the success stories and feel like crap because you haven’t recovered as quickly, or because you feel like your lack of progress in recovery is your own fault. But it’s important not to get caught up in these emotions and remember that we all move at our own pace, in recovery as in all things.
However, try not to succumb to the ‘revolving door’. Some people are trapped in a chronic cycle of recovery and relapse, never quite understanding what leads them to relapse again, and hopelessly trying the same thing without attempting to learn from the past. If relapses are opportunities, it’s still important to recognize how and when to seize them.
There’s never an appropriate time to give up. And if you don’t give up, you’ve never really ‘failed’ to recover. Sometimes, it just takes a little longer than usual.