Sometimes, you’ll be doing well…and then you’ll be doing not so well. 

We often expect relapse— that is, an unplanned deviation from our recovery plan, whether we’re recovering from trauma, addiction, depression, or anything else— in the early stages of our recovery. 

It makes sense that when we’re new to using tools and skills, that those tools and skills will be tougher to use and yield less consistent results. We get that. 

But when we have a significant amount of time in recovery— years, for example— and we experience a relapse, it can really shake us up. 

We don’t expect relapse after we’ve been in recovery for a meaningful period of time. 

It surprises us. 

It discourages us. 

It triggers thoughts, such as “I obviously wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was doing…was I doing well at ALL?” 

Yes. Yes you were. Relapse doesn’t take away the positive steps you took. 

It triggers thoughts such as, “Will I ALWAYS be just on the cusp of relapsing, no matter how much successful recovery time I get?” 

No, you won’t— but that’s a more complicated question. People who have experienced trauma or who are vulnerable to depression or addiction ARE always at a heightened risk for relapse…but that DOESN’T mean you’re always just on the cusp of a nosedive. 

Relapse happens. 

It’s nobody’s fault. It doesn’t mean you did something “wrong.” It doesn’t mean your progress was “phony.” 

What does it mean, then? Well, it could mean lots of things. 

It could mean you encountered a trigger that you didn’t expect, didn’t know was a trigger, or were underprepared for. 

It could mean that because you’ve achieved a certain level of symptomatic stability, your brain considers it “safe” to let you remember things you’d previously been dissociating— and the shock of that switch threw you for a loop. 

It could mean that you had a stressful life event that temporarily overwhelmed your ability to cope. 

It could mean that you just underestimated your ability to withstand a specific stressor or trigger that, on paper, you thought you had licked. 

There are a lot of reasons why we might relapse after a period of stability or recovery— even a long period of stability or recovery. 

The key, as always, is not to let a relapse freak us out. 

The key is to remember that, once we relapse, we can’t take it back— it happened. 

The key is to pick ourselves up as soon as we can, and start employing the tools and skills we can remember. 

And above all, the key is not to let a relapse convince us of things that are not true. 

Because a relapse is not the end of the world. 

It is a bump in the road. 

it might be a painful, jarring, even damaging bump in the road— but it does not have to flip the car over. 

Think of it this way: when you’re in a fender bender after years of safe driving, do you then pull the car over and set fire to it? 

No. That’d be an overreaction. 

It’s the same with relapse. A fender bender— or even a worse accident— is no fun, and we do everything we can to avoid having them. But when accidents do happen, regardless of why they happen, regardless of how irritated we are that they happened, regardless of how damaged the fender is…we take the car into the shop to get it fixed. 

Easy does it. 

A relapse does not invalidate you or your recovery. 

Just do the next right thing. 


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2 thoughts on “When you relapse…even AFTER a long period of stability.

  1. I would add to this really good post, that it’s important to observe how nothing stays the same because of life’s rhythms. So eventually what goes up comes down and back up.
    We have to keep in mind there’s always going to be something that’ll shake, rattle & challenge our stability.

    Liked by 1 person

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