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The Unspoken Pain of Recovery: Relapse

April 30, 2014

Recovery from self-destructive behaviors is one of the most difficult tasks a person can undertake.  Whether you suffer from substance abuse, self harm, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms, it takes a lot of strength and courage to pull yourself away.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the appearance of relapses.

Relapses are not only common in recovery - they're to be expected.  Because you're so used to your unhealthy coping mechanism, dealing with your emotions and any withdrawal symptoms is even more difficult than usual. Even the strongest people suffer from relapses.

The relapse itself is not a testament to your character or will - what shows your strength is how you handle it.

Sometimes it's easy to view relapses as failures on our part, to say, "I went back to my behavior because I'm not strong enough." Subsequently, negative thoughts can crowd in, among them sentiments like, "If I fail once then I'll just fail again.  Why try in the first place?" Because of this it's important to restructure our thought processes to view relapses as learning experiences, rather than failures.

Each time we slip up, we learn more about our own emotional state and triggers.

That's not to say that relapses are encouraged - after all, that defeats the point of recovery.  But if and when they do occur, they're not the end of the world. The first thing to do after a relapse is to ensure your own safety, particularly if you're struggling with substance abuse or self harm.  Are you healthy?  Are you in a safe place?  Call for emergency medical attention if need be.

Once you know that you're safe, think back on the relapse.  What caused you to go back to your self-destructive behavior?  What feelings, thoughts, and experiences led up to it?  Was there any particular trigger?  Knowing these things can help you to avoid more pain and relapses in the future.

Then the most important step is to continue your journey in recovery.  

Sometimes a relapse can feel like a reset, and people become frustrated with feelings like, "Now I have to start all over again."  But your recovery journey was already started.  You just have to get back on the road.

If you need to talk through your thoughts and feelings with somebody, there are always listeners available on 7 Cups.  You can also find a support network through our forums.  When recovering from any kind of self-destructive behavior, professional support is the best course of action, but if you're unable to have that then the internet is full of resources.

You have the strength to overcome your struggles if you have faith in yourself.  And there are people ready to encourage you every step of the way.

By, Katie MacEachern

7 Cups of Tea Listener & Mentor: KittyKat