Relapse— Again?—Are you kidding me? Real Steps to Resurrecting Sobriety from the Ashes of Relapse

By Ken Wells - 06/22/2020


“It doesn’t’t take much brain shit for the junkie worm to do its work in the thought life of an addict” – KW

One of the most difficult struggles about recovery is that it is so daily. There are times that it can be so difficult and such a drag. The addictive life can be so repetitive and repressive. The neuropathways in my brain are so deeply etched that it requires constant deliberate action to get out of the rut of addictive thinking and acting.

In recovery, I can be so good and attentive and then I can be so inattentive and disconnected. Before, I know it, I am back in the soup of addictive thought and behavior. The cycle of addictive relapse can be so exhausting. The labyrinth toward relapse includes a multitude of pathways and possibilities. Yet, there are common threads that connect every addict, regardless of the drug of choice. First, there’s the disconnect from feelings and others, frequently triggered by exhaustion- physical, emotional and spiritual. Then there is the sequestered buildup of isolation, short lived or extended. At first, no one notices and all looks normal and well. Yet, underneath, like barnacles eating away at the pier, there is an ongoing eating away at the foundation and focus in recovery that always leads to disconnect from feelings. It creates a drift away from the heart and its values. Before the wagon wrecks, there is the boundary bashing and the careless gloss over with minimization and defense. I argue that nothing is out of balance in life. I keep hanging out at the barbershop and of course I eventually get the haircut, by acting out with my drug of choice.

Of course on the other side of acting out, there is always the hangover. There is the dull brain fog awareness of what is real, where prior to acting out I was clearer in my thinking. There’s the hollow emptiness that resides no matter how I choose to take care of myself. Then of course, there is the overwhelming shame that comes with addictive behavior with its compelling influence to wallow in the mud of my failure. For many, this pattern is so frequent and common that you become numb to the experience and tell yourself that it will never be different. Relapse sucks and I can’t help but conclude that so do I! It’s easy to feel trapped and figure that others can pull themselves up by the bootstraps and out of addictive living but not me. Where do you go when you are stuck and overwhelmed in your addictive thinking and behavior?

Here are a few thoughts for consideration.

#1. Refuse to wallow in the mud of recovery failure

Pigs wallow in the mud. I am not a pig. When I fail, everything within me tells me that failure is what I am and that I deserve to wallow in the mud of that failure. Or, I can pretend that there is no mud in my behavior and minimize the reality of my conduct. Either way, I am wallowing in the mud of addictive behavior. Getting up out of the pig slop of addictive behavior and bringing myself back to the center of my heart, regardless of strong feelings to do otherwise, is what is required. We all know that I cannot beat myself up to a better place. Pretending that my addictive behavior wasn’t really an act out, only delays my exit from the pig pen. Mud is mud and when I act out in addiction, I smear the mud all over me. It doesn’t change things by avoiding to look in the mirror. Simply, admitting failure and defeat and determining to do the next right thing without prolonged self-criticism or defense is the way out of the pig pen. It will require humility, training to be unconditionally friendly to yourself and doing recovery steps regardless of how you feel about yourself.

2. Refuse to compete and compare

Embracing failure demands vulnerability. In this raw space of recovery, I am prone to compare my life with others. I may be prone to wonder why I cannot do some things that others do and secretly contend that I am not as bad as others are whose acting out is far worse than mine. Deciding to do 90 recovery meetings in 90 days may be what is necessary. Yet, if I do so with an attitude that I am going to show my sponsor or family members that I am serious about recovery then I become more about competing and comparing for recognition and acceptance than about hungering for tools to help me with my essential powerlessness to my addiction. It will be important for you to be thoughtful and purposeful. You may get back into recovery because you fear losing a person, position or power but it will only be long lasting when you give up competing and comparing and surrender your “willfulness” to willingness to do whatever it takes to establish long term recovery.

3. Commit yourself to empowered thinking

Someone once said “if your thoughts are focused on what you want to attract in your life, and you maintain that thought with the passion of an absolute intention, you’ll eventually act upon that intention, because the ancestor to every single action is a thought” In 12 step recovery, we call this “acting as if” which sets in motion the forces that will collaborate with me to make my dream of sobriety and recovery come true. Recovery teaches that my ability to get out in front of myself and to see the outcome of sobriety before it transpires will cause me to act in ways that bring about the results of sobriety. So, I choose to not beat myself up for my mistakes. Rather, I choose to affirm my humanness. I choose to train myself in affirmations that underscore that inner peace is my birthright.

Here is a list of recovery questions that guide me away from relapse:

  1. What have I committed to do for my recovery?
  2. Am I realistic?
  3. Am I following through or am I making commitments that I do not follow through with and are left incomplete?
  4. What areas of my life am I not accepting?
  5. What feelings in my life am I resisting or glossing over?
  6. Do I recognize my shortcomings, character flaws and when my life becomes out of control?
  7. When I get rattled, how do I ground myself and re-establish poise.
  8. Do I confess and regularly make amends to those who I harm?
  9. Do I regularly carry the message of common shared brokenness to others? These are the concerns and guiding questions in a typical day in the life of a recovering addict.

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