The vast majority of addicts relapse, usually more than once. Addiction, including alcoholism, is a disease of relapse. Those who made it the first time are few and far between. The most important thing for you to remember if you use is that relapse is a normal part of addiction.
Then there’s the matter of what actually counts as a relapse. Is it picking up and using alcohol or another drug? Really? Think about that for a minute. Wouldn’t you have to relapse first? If you hadn’t relapsed already, why would you pick up?
The fact is, relapse is a predictable process, just like recovery. It usually starts with something distracting us from our program. Because we aren’t taking care of ourselves emotionally, socializing, and doing the other things associated with recovery, we begin to slide back into our old ways of thinking and behaving. Inevitably, this makes us unhappy, and things get worse. Perhaps we stop eating properly, stop getting exercise, and generally get sloppy about taking care of ourselves physically, too.
As our physical and emotional state gets worse, our addict thinking starts looking for something or someone to blame. We manufacture a resentment against our wife, AA, NA, our job (or lack of one), and pretty soon we’re turned off to the whole recovery thing. Our behavior gets worse, we feel worse, and first thing you know we’re saying to ourselves, “Hell, if this is all there is to recovery, I might as well (drink) (drug) (gamble) (shop) (overeat) or whatever. It’s only a short step from there to actually doing it.
SOOOOooo, when did we relapse? It certainly happened at some point before we actually used. That just made it official. Actually, there was no specific time. Just as we get our recovery bit by bit, relapse sneaks up on us the same way. But in the end, it’s always about not being committed to our program of recovery. That’s true whether it happens at three months clean, or thirty years.
That’s what happens when you relapse. Next time we’ll discuss the second part of the question: what to do about it.