Woman holding head thinking "I relapsed today, now what?"

I Relapsed Today. Did I Fail My Recovery?

If I Relapsed Today, Am I a Failure?

I relapsed today. Three words that a recovering person might dread saying. But remember that recovery is about both truth and forgiveness. Recovery begins with honesty and acceptance. We said: I am powerless over my addiction. I believe that a power outside of myself can help me. Here is another truth to be aware of: Relapse is often a part of the recovery journey. But so are self-forgiveness and healing. In this article, Promises Brazos Valley looks at sobriety relapse and how we can reframe it to help us grow and heal.


No one wants to feel like a failure. Recovering people can struggle with self-esteem. We are often harder on ourselves than we ought to be. We can sometimes tend towards pessimistic thinking. Learning to change the way we see things is a critical recovery skill. In recovery, we learn to treat others with kindness and compassion, but we also learn to extend that kindness towards ourselves.


Accept the Truth of Your Relapse

The first thing to realize is you are a miracle. You found your way to recovery! So many living with addiction never do. Accept the credit for making the decisions that may have saved your life. No matter how you got here, the fact is, you’re here. That means you’ve overcome some incredible challenges. Recovery author Brené Brown once said, “When we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” Recovery is a daring act. You didn’t back down. Be proud; you earned it.

The second thing to recognize is that there are always failures on the road to success. Think of someone you admire. Now, think about their story. No matter who your hero is, they didn’t get to where they are without some failures along the way. When you say, “I relapsed today,” you’re speaking the truth. You’re accepting responsibility. That’s what recovering people do. A sobriety relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed at recovery. The only way you can fail at recovery is to give up, and you’re still here.


Recovery is a Journey, Even Relapse

You’ve likely heard that before. But what does it mean exactly? It means that recovery consists of action. One action after another. It’s almost always in motion. Recovery is a thing that we do. It is a way of living, not a goal or a destination. You’re never really finished recovering. Believe it or not, that’s one of the best things about recovery. There’s no limit to the amount of growth and healing we can do. We don’t have to recover. We get to recover. It’s its own reward. The Four Stages of Change is a useful model in understanding the recovery process.



What are the Stages of Change?

Stages of Change is a way of understanding the process of addiction recovery. The purpose is to understand the way recovery is experienced naturally instead of trying to simply enforce behavior modification. Awareness of the thought and behavior cycles we experience leads to understanding. People may not always experience the stages in this order. They may jump around or even experience more than one stage at a time. The stages are a system for understanding the process as it usually occurs, not a plan for you to follow, per se. The important part is understanding what the stages are and how they work.


The Stages of Change are:

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Relapse



Precontemplation is where we are in active addiction and have not yet considered recovery. We may not see our addiction as a problem yet or haven’t had sufficient negative consequences to warrant a change.



The contemplation stage is where an addicted person recognizes they have a problem. A person in this stage will at least consider the idea of entering recovery and may be receptive to learning more about it, even if they aren’t yet ready to commit. People often spend years in this stage before moving closer to engaging in recovery.



This is where we begin to plan. We think about what our recovery goals are and how we might meet them. Talking to others about our issues and asking for help is part of this phase too. So is doing things to set ourselves up for success, like removing potential environmental triggers and gathering support from friends and family. Finally, we identify our next move to initiate recovery; this may be calling a treatment center to arrange admission or finding a therapist or meeting to start attending.



In the action stage, we start following the plan. This is where recovery really begins if you’re a first-timer. Like we said earlier, recovery is about action. We can only achieve the needed changes if we take the actions required. For someone who has been to drug rehab, relapse can still happen. The action stage is where they completely change direction and move toward the light again.



Maintenance is the stage in which many of us spend the most time. Here we focus on continuing our growth. That means sticking to the goals and relying upon the supports we established. It’s important to keep recovery thriving during this stage. The “pink cloud” has long since dissipated. Life stressors will challenge us, and we must avoid growing bored or complacent. Helping others is proven to help people stay engaged and avoid a sobriety relapse.



Relapse is often a part of the recovery journey; the recovery process is cyclical by nature. There are up and downs. It ebbs and flows. A sobriety relapse does not mean you lose all that you have accomplished. Don’t think of a relapse as resetting the scoreboard to zero. Time in recovery is a source of pride for some people, and rightfully so, but we are all doing it one day at a time. The most important period is the 24 hours you’re experiencing right now. It’s about the quality of your recovery, not the quantity.

Misuse of drugs or alcohol has consequences; we know this. It’s what brought most of us to recovery. But there are other risks. Tolerance is reduced while we are sober. Many people suffered fatal overdoses when they picked up after a period of abstinence. There is no guarantee we make it back into the safety of recovery after a sobriety relapse. We cannot be sure that we won’t lose several more years to the illness before we make it back in if we make it back in. Get in the middle and keep connected to the parts of recovery that inspire you most. Don’t sit at the back of the room. Don’t be invisible, even if it’s comfortable. Especially if it’s comfortable.


No Guilt, No Shame.

Sobriety relapse is a part of the story for most of us. Accept it if it happens, but don’t imagine it’s inevitable. If you find yourself saying, “I relapsed today,” try not to slide into despair. Be on guard for feelings of guilt and shame. Keep reminding yourself that acceptance is the answer. Accept that the drug abuse relapse happened.

Self-forgiveness is key. Guilt and shame won’t keep you sober. All they do is tear down your self-esteem. Recovery is about healing and rebuilding ourselves, and giving back to others. Anything that involves tearing yourself down isn’t good for your recovery. We let go of feelings of guilt and shame. We run toward what we know is good for us.


What Should I Do if I Relapsed Today?

If you relapse, the best thing to do is keep it simple. Don’t overthink it or dwell. Keep moving and follow a process. We love systems and processes in recovery because they can help keep us moving in the right direction, especially in a crisis. When you’re not sure what to do next, the best thing is often to follow a simple set of instructions. Here is a simple list of steps to follow after a sobriety relapse:


  • Accept what happened. Admit the truth to yourself and others you trust.
  • Remember the rule of holes: if you’re in one, stop digging. Don’t use a slip as a reason to continue to relapse.
  • Forgive Guilt and shame don’t help your recovery one bit. Be kind to yourself; you deserve it.
  • Rely upon your sober supports and fellowship. The last thing you want to do is isolate, even if that sounds appealing.
  • Learn from what happened. It’s helpful to identify any triggers and to know when the relapse really began.
  • Engage in recovery with new goals. Exercise your recovery and build upon it. Help others.
  • Invest in yourself. Part of recovery is self-care, so work to find joy in your life. Seek experiences and new knowledge.



I Relapsed Today, How Do I Prevent it in the Future?

This question is bound to come up, and it’s a good one. Understanding what led to sobriety relapse for you is a great place to start. You may have heard the relapse begins before you pick up. It’s true. The thinking and behavior that can lead to relapse happen first. Tracing that back to the beginning will yield valuable insights. Armed with that information and an understanding of your triggers and a few other things, you can begin to form a relapse prevention plan. These plans are proven to improve outcomes and lessen the likelihood of sobriety relapse. Some treatment centers, including Promises Brazos Valley, will help you develop one as part of your care. If you aren’t in treatment, work with a therapist or even someone in recovery to put one together.


Promises Brazos Valley Can Help

We hope this article on relapse was helpful and informative for you. Understanding how relapse happens and how to respond to it is a crucial part of healthy recovery. If you or someone you love is living with a substance use disorder, Promises Brazos Valley can be part of your solution. Please give us a call at 800-393-0391 anytime, 24 hours a day, to discuss relapse, treatment or any recovery-related matter. Remember that recovery is about action!


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