How a Relapse Can Lead to a Stronger Recovery

How a Relapse Can Lead to a Stronger Recovery


First of all, before we dive into this, let me just say this right off the bat:

You do not have permission to relapse.

There is no justification for relapse. You do not go out and drink or use drugs with the rationalization that it might actually make your recovery stronger somehow.

All I am saying here is that, if you can come back from a relapse, there is a chance that your recovery could become stronger as a result of this. However, this is never something you would want to intentionally pursue–the idea that a relapse could strengthen your recovery.

If someone in recovery manages to tough it out and avoid relapse then that is infinitely stronger and better than someone who does relapse and has to crawl back from that.

Also note that many people who relapse actually die as a result. They never get another chance, period. It ends their life. Of course none of us believe that this could apply to our own story, but obviously it happens to some unfortunate people. Relapse can kill you outright.

So do not think that you have some sort of “out” if your recovery gets overwhelming, that you can just throw in the towel and drink or take drugs again, and then maybe you will come back stronger from that. This is not a good life plan. Many of those who relapse never come back from it. Keep that in mind. It is far better to put in the effort now, when you are already in recovery, and strengthen your sobriety.

As they say in AA, it is far easier to stay sober than it is to get sober. Crawling back from a relapse is tough. Impossible for some. Not worth the risk.

That said, if you have relapsed and you are ready to make another go of it, here is what I would recommend.

For starters, you should realize the need for treatment. Now perhaps you went through some sort of professional treatment in the past, and maybe you did not.

What I am saying is that, given that you are coming back from a relapse, you should seek out more treatment this time around.

Which is to say, you need a more intensive level of treatment.

Let me outline a few possible tiers of addiction treatment. These are just rough guidelines, and the actual details may vary a bit. But this should illustrate the concept for you.

The first level might be “going to an AA meeting with a sober friend once a week.”
Then we move up to “Attending AA daily and getting a sponsor.”
Then “full immersion in the AA program, active step work, sponsoring newcomers yourself, chairing meetings.”
Then “Full immersion in AA and also seeing a therapist for an hour each week of therapy.”
Then “Full immersion in AA and IOP groups 3 times per week.”
Then “28 days in an inpatient rehab followed by AA and IOP for aftercare.”
Then “28 days in inpatient treatment followed by long term rehab or a halfway house, to include IOP and AA.”

So in each case, you can see that we start out with just one AA meeting per week, and slowly work our way up to a very intense recovery in which you go through a 28 day program, live in a halfway house, and do a lot of intense aftercare as well.

And of course, there are lots of options in between those two extremes.

What I am suggesting to you is this: If you tried and failed at recovery in the past, then you should step up the intensity of your treatment when you try again.

I did this myself. The first time I attempted to get clean and sober I went to a single AA meeting. This failed miserably, and I clearly wasn’t ready.

The next time I went to a rehab for about 10 days, and I did not do a single thing for aftercare. Again, not ready. And again, I failed.

Later on I went to a 28 day program, but again, I did not do anything for aftercare.

Also along the way, I tried seeing a therapist once a week. A substance abuse counselor attempted to convince me to go to rehab and get involved in AA. But I just wasn’t ready to make that leap.

So eventually I surrendered completely and became willing. Willing to do what? Whatever it takes. And that meant, for me, going to inpatient treatment and following up by living in a halfway house, going to AA every day, seeing a therapist, and basically “doing it all.” I was finally willing to dive into recovery head first and do whatever was required of me. And that was when it worked.

So there are a couple of things that you should take away from a relapse. One is the realization that you cannot do this alone, and that you cannot do it without help. Whatever you did in the past in order to help yourself to recover, it was not enough. Whatever you did and whatever treatment you had, it was too little. You needed to do more.

Two, you need to realize that you must relinquish self will completely. What does this mean? It means that you must realize that you sabotaged yourself when you relapsed, and that the way you will avoid this in the future is to relinquish self will.

How exactly do you do this? You do this by making an agreement with yourself. You must decide that you will not make your own decisions this time around, and that you will listen to the advice of others.

I would suggest that you start that process in terms of your placement when it comes to addiction treatment. Which simply means that you will not be the person who decides how much treatment you need or where that is to take place. So you ask for help and then you do what you are told.

This will often take place as some sort of assessment. So you might call up a treatment center and say “I need help.” They will take it from there by assessing your needs over the phone, figuring out just how much help you really need, and then referring you to the right services that fit your needs. Then you simply do what you are told to do, and your life starts to improve from there.

This is very different from someone who is trying to maintain control and call all the shots, dictating where they will go for help and how long. You cannot do that and find real sobriety. Instead, you must let go completely of this need for control and allow yourself to be directed to the help that you really need. This is the only attitude that will result in long term sobriety.

If you have relapsed then you have a chance to turn everything around. Ask for help and then humble yourself enough to listen to the advice, listen to the suggestions, and then do what is being suggested to you. If they suggest rehab, go to rehab. If they suggest IOP, go to IOP. Get out of your own way this time and do not try to take control of your life back. This is how you turn a relapse into a stronger recovery–by allowing yourself to learn from the mistake and humbling yourself enough to take some direction. Good luck!