Some of the roughest moments we will ever navigate in our healing or recovery journeys, are the moments after a relapse or set back.
Talk about a time when it’s easy to feel as if we will never, ever make meaningful progress.
Those are moments when we scrape bottom— when it’s easy to feel as if all of this effort is pointless.
Our inner critic will be VICIOUS in the moments and hours and days after a relapse or setback.
It’ll tell us that the roadblock we just ran into is our REAL self.
It’ll tell us that we should’t even bother trying to get back on track, because we’re just going to screw up again.
If we try to be compassionate toward ourselves after a setback, our inner critic will tell us we’re making excuses.
If we’ve experienced a setback, we will often feel the urge to go even deeper down the rabbit hole, because we’ve screwed up already, why not go all in on our defeat?
It’s a painful, discouraging time.
There are a few things we need to remember after a relapse or a setback.
We need to remember that literally everyone who succeeds in recovery has setbacks.
Sometimes those setbacks are emotional, sometimes they’re relational, sometimes they’re behavioral— but EVERYBODY has them.
You are not going to be first exception in the history of recovery to the rule that everybody has a setback. Neither am I.
Setbacks are a normal part of the process.
Yes, they’re a painful part of the process and we try to do everything we can to avoid them and make them less debilitating, but they’re GOING to happen.
We can’t avoid setbacks in recovery— but how we handle them makes a big difference to what happens next.
How we talk to ourselves after a setback or relapse is key.
We are going to have the inner critic screaming in our face that this is evidence we are worthless and we should just give up.
It’s really important we not jump on his side and scream in our own face that we’re worthless and we should just give up…not least because, it just isn’t true.
You don’t have to like the fact that you relapsed. You don’t have to like the fact that setbacks are a normal part of recovery. I don’t.
When relapses or other recovery setbacks happen, the name of the game is pushing reset and getting back on track.
Not self-punishment, not cosmic justice, not existential certainty. Getting yourself out of danger and back on track is the ONLY thing that matters for a minute.
We can have feelings about why and how we relapsed— and we can process them later. For now, just get back on track.
We can have feelings about how hard it is to start over, and yup, that part can be super discouraging— but we can be discouraged and mad about it later. For now, just get back on track.
If this is where you are, this is where you are. I’ve been there, everybody who has successfully recovered has been there. The smartest, strongest person you know has been there.
Just get back on track. Press reset. Each and every time your inner critic tries to get you to look backward at what a mess you’ve made, calmly turn back around and look forward to what you have to do here, now, in this minute, to get back on track.
Between those who plunge into self-punishment after a relapse, and those who focus on getting back on track, I will bet on the latter recoverers every time.
Self-punishment doesn’t motivate. It stalls us out more. It robs us of the energy and focus that we need to get ourselves back on track after a setback.
I know. This isn’t fun. It’s not fun for me, either.
Just keep taking baby steps. Step, by step, by teeny tiny step.
Subscribe to the Doc’s free email newsletter!