“Slowly I began to recognize that many of the boxes I found myself in were boxes of my own making.”— Melodie Beattie
Relapse isn’t a reality for every addict. Yet, for most, it has happened. Once sober you tell yourself ‘never again’ and you mean it. You’ve tasted the sweetness of sobriety and you shake your head wondering how did you ever think acting out was a better life? Yet, it happened! At first, it seemed like it was out of the blue. You had been doing so good. Then it felt like someone pulled the rug out from under you. Cravings hit you like a big Mac truck. It didn’t come out of the blue but it just as well had. You were not prepared nor paying attention to the details of your recovery life and there you were—acting out again!
The taste of acting out is bitter. There are times it makes your mouth dry as cotton. There is a sick feeling in your stomach. Sometimes you wonder how it could possibly have happened. Yet it did. There are cascading self-accusations that rattle in your brain like a machine gun. You feel overwhelmingly down and discouraged. The hangover from acting out leaves you feeling dull with brain fog. You walk through life activities hollow inside feeling dreamlike about the experience. You know you have to tell on yourself but you want to lie and keep it all a secret. How do I ever rebound from such an awful place?
Here are steps back to center that you must consider:
1. Admit the obvious. Addicts learn from their family of origin to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious. They are great at pretending. When you relapse you must tell on yourself and be accountable to your support group including your partner. This is where you wobble. You can tell people in your 12-step group but my partner?! Are you kidding me? Secrets and dishonesty are breeding grounds for addiction behavior to flourish. Best to tell support people in 12-step recovery before you disclose to your partner so that you don’t minimize what you did in relapse. To do otherwise risks creating a disclosure disaster. Hold your feet to the fire and tell on yourself.
2. Do the next right thing. This is obvious but bears underscoring. The next right thing is to get yourself out of harm’s way. Address vulnerability to continue acting out by reaching out in a 12-step meeting and/or recovery friend. Lay it out in living color exactly what happen. Don’t piecemeal your truth. Let the love and acceptance of the group or support person become a shroud you wear. You have hurt yourself and are wounded. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to face consequences. It is important that you surround yourself with love, support, and genuine care in the presence of white hot truth-telling.
3. Do an autopsy on your relapse behavior. Once you’re out of harm’s way and surrounded by support, figure out how relapse happened. If you don’t, be prepared to do it again. Examine program neglect: (1) stopped going to meetings: (2) isolated—not telling on yourself to group/sponsor or support; (3) stopped doing the steps because of busyness; (4) procrastinated facing a truth that you don’t want to face; (5) wallowed in shame, resentment, loneliness, anger, hate; (6) marinated in mistaken beliefs that block intimacy and sabotage recovery. Do the work of unpacking how you put yourself in the box that led to your relapse. If you can figure out how you got into the relapse box, you can figure out how to get out.
4. Fortify your commitment to recovery: Once clear about why you acted out, fortify taking the next healing steps. Create filters that will keep you from porn and acting out. Don’t just put a cork in the bottle, get rid of all alcohol in the house. These are examples of next right steps. How many times have I heard addicts confess to relapse with no plan for next right steps. When you fortify your commitment to recovery, next right steps become obvious.
5. Act on positive self-affirmation regardless of how you feel. When you relapse and feel like all hell has broke loose, it’s hard to take yourself by the nape of the neck and pull yourself from the mud hole you created. You can only do this with determination to act on treating yourself as you hope to be. It is painful but you must forgive yourself and let go of the negative feelings that accompany relapse behavior. These steps are always painful. As you act in the way your destiny beckons, the painful shameful messages will fall away in time. You will become congruent merging your behavior to positive beliefs about self.
6. Don’t let the little boy/little girl run your inner life. You cannot expect a small child to figure out addiction. Shame dominates in relapse behavior because we empower the little boy/girl to make adult decisions about recovery. Put in charge, the inner child will conclude that you are a piece of shit who is destined to never get it right so why try. This is because a little child is unable to navigate the narrows of addiction recovery. However, when you take the reins of responsibility and place them in the hands of the powerful adult in you, the results are dramatically different. As an adult, you can face consequences of destructive choices, choose to care for self, and hold your feet to the fire of bringing yourself back to center. It will require the adult-you to fend off the negative shameful messages and to embrace and act on positive affirmations that will fulfill the destiny of sobriety.
Relapse is always found in the box of your own making. Hopefully, these steps will help you step out of the box and take steps toward solid sobriety and deepened serenity.