This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Seven: IMPLEMENT the new structure pervasively with humility and flexibility.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.
Is every slip a relapse? Does every bad choice mean I’m “starting over”? How can I not expect myself to be perfect for the rest of my life without making excuses for myself that will make it easier to slip back into destructive behaviors? You can see why relapse is such a difficult subject in a recovery program.
On one hand, you can expect to relapse many times in the journey of recovery. If we don’t relapse, then our struggle was probably not “life dominating” and didn’t warrant the level of attention this study provides.
On the other hand, we don’t want to expect to fail. We want to face every moment with the expectation that we’ll rely on God to make healthy, God-honoring choices.
With that said, here are the expectations of this study:
- We will face relapse.
- Relapse is the recurrence of self-destructive behaviors related to our desired change.
- More dangerous than relapse are dishonesty and hiding.
- Dishonesty and hiding are the difference between a relapse slip (short) and relapse slide (long).
- Relapse begins to end when honesty begins.
- We are more likely to be honest about something we’ve openly discussed.
- We include this section, not to excuse or predict relapse, but to place ourselves in position for a healthy response.
In their book Lose It for Life, Stephen Arterburn and Linda Mintle lay out four phases of a relapse (p. 228-230; bold text only). The presence of an early step does not make the latter steps inevitable. Rather we will look at each in order to help you prevent moving further into relapse when you realize you’re in a vulnerable condition.
“I just want a break from being good.” This is the mild, passive-aggressive defiance of fatigue. It likely means we’ve been trying to change too fast (perfectionistic approach to change) or that we’ve got too much in our schedule. Early honesty with people in your support network is the best response to this fatigue. Don’t try to press through in private. Evaluate what would be a sustainable approach to change with people who care about you.
It has been said by many, “Worldliness is what makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.” The further we get into temptation, the more this dynamic affects our thinking. You begin to view “healthy choices” as an “unhealthy burden.” You begin to view “unhealthy choices” as “moments of freedom.” You begin to view “supportive friends” as “people who don’t understand and expect too much.” When this disorientation begins to emerge be honest ASAP. This is the pattern of thought that will extend a relapse. Even if you don’t know what to disclose at this point, call a member of your support team and say, “I’m struggling. I don’t think I’m thinking well right now. Can we talk?”
This step can be fueled by self-pity, denial, or defiance. But we begin to think, “I deserve my self-destructive behavior,” as if it were a form of relief. The duration of time that has passed since we last engaged our addiction allows the sense of high or relief to be greater and the negative physical effects not to be as immediately felt. It is as if our bad friend really has learned to be good like they promised. We also know those who care about us will be disappointed and hurt, so we are more prone to remain secretive about what we’re doing. Frequent warning are:
- Fantasizing about your addiction as if it were “the good old days.”
- Believing that you can use again without falling back into addiction (over confidence).
- Your emotions become moody and your attitude becomes selfish
- You begin reconnecting with your old friends from when you were actively in addiction.
- You begin to pull away from or neglect friends who have been part of your recovery.
- You are defensive when someone brings up changes in your mood, attitude, or actions.
- You begin to neglect your outlets for healthy fun or enjoy them less.
- You begin to engage healthy interests in excessive ways (i.e., excessive exercise, compulsive cleaning, etc…).
Destructive choices destroy. There is no way around that. When we fail to acknowledge compromise (stage three), catastrophe (stage four) will eventually get our attention. While our goal is to interrupt a potential relapse before it reaches catastrophe phase, the earlier in the deterioration process we acknowledge what is happening, the better. Don’t allow shame or pride to prevent you from reversing the impact of your choices.
Read I Corinthians 10:13. “God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability” doesn’t just mean the type or intensity of temptation, but also means at any point in the temptation cycle. Too often we conceptualize a fictional “point of no return” in our battle with addiction. If a “point of no return” exists, it is the point at which we decide not to be honest with God, ourselves, and others. The grace of God means there is always hope in honesty about our sin and struggles. When God promises to provide “a way of escape” that refers, not to some secret passage way (hidden is never free), but to the context of grace and support which the gospel provides, that allows us to be honest.
John Baker provides five dispositions, using the acronym HEART, that alert us to time when we are particularly susceptible to relapse (p. 192, Celebrate Recovery: Leader’s Guide). When you experience these dispositions, reach out to a member of your support network. A quick phone or text that says, “I can tell I’m tense right now and wanted to let you know. Will you pray for me?” can make a big difference. Being alone with these emotions can be as dangerous as being alone with your AoD of choice.