Relapse is unfortunately a common step in the journey to complete addiction recovery. It does not negate your process thus far, nor does it mean that you are once again addicted. The urge to catastrophize is strong, but not based on facts. The reality is that you can relapse and drink or use substances and get right back on the road to recovery.
Many recovering addicts regret relapsing even before it happens. They know that it is not what they want for themselves, but may not feel that resisting the urge is possible. While this knowledge should be seen as an advantage, it tends to lead to guilt and shame that only worsens the problem.
However, if you know that you do not want this relapse to derail your recovery, you can be proactive and take steps to avoid it.
Take the following 5 steps directly after you relapse.
1. Call a loved one
If you are able to manage the guilt and shame, you can take this step before relapse has caused any major damage. Instead of taking a substance and hiding it while feeling terrible about it, call someone you trust who knows what you have been going through. Tell them to come over to help you weather the storm.
They will remind you of what you learnt in drug and alcohol rehab, at the same time serving as a buffer that prevents you from taking more of the substance. The person you call should be someone you know to not be particularly judgmental. Instead of berating you, they will help you, understanding that you need their support and not their moral sentence.
2. Go/Stay home
If you are at a bar or elsewhere, go home or to any other safe space. At home, you have the benefit of being in your comfort zone. Instead of being out with people who might lead you to take more substances, you are only with the people you trust to have in your life.
If you are already at home and have substances in your house, it is probably still a good idea to stay put. While you do not want to be tempted by the substances, remember that you have someone on the way. Your decision making is impaired by substances, so try to avoid making decisions until you have your loved one with you.
3. Sleep it off
Most substances have an effect that lasts hours rather than minutes. As such, relapsing and taking a substance can feel like a bigger deal than it needs to be. You are now under the influence for the next few hours, no matter what you do.
The best course of action to take may be to go to sleep. Instead of trying to wait out the high without doing anything you’ll regret, you spend that time recharging your body, taking yourself out of the difficult situation.
However, if you think you may have overdosed or are feeling ill from taking the substance, do not go to sleep. Call a hospital immediately and get medical help.
4. Be present
Once the effects of the substance have worn off, your instinct is going to be to think about the past and the future. There is this idea that relapsing takes you back to square one, and so you feel sad about having broken your sobriety and fearful of having to start again.
The reality is that we only ever have the moment. Your sobriety right now is no less significant simply because you broke your streak. By taking a moment to pause and reflect on the moment, you quiet some of the self-talk that causes guilt and recriminations which inevitably become self-destructive.
Our lives do not progress in a linear fashion and recovery is not always a linear journey. Relapse does not negate your past sobriety nor mean you are back at square one. All it means is that you used substances and now are sober again.
Another instinct after relapse is to keep it a secret from your support system. If you called a loved one to help you get through it, you may want to keep it between the two of you. You don’t want to disappoint the people who have been on your side.
However, by opening up and sharing with them, you build up the trust between you. They recognize that you are doing your best and that relapse does not have to be a catastrophe. You don’t feel like you have a dirty secret. Instead of taking the relapse with you into the next days, weeks, and months, you leave it in the past.
Relapse does not need to be anything more than what it is. It does not mean you are going back to square one. Rather, you can immediately take steps to get your recovery journey back on track.