You don’t want to think about it, but the reality is that is happens; and it happens to a lot of people in recovery.
You are working your program of recovery to the T and are regularly attending 12-Step meetings, and you have replaced the people, places and things that had kept you stuck and sick in addiction. You are doing all the right things and are genuine in your journey to stay clean, but in one moment of weakness you tumbled down the slippery slope and back into substance use.
It can feel like the world has ended and the shock of having to pick up the pieces can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Where do you begin? What in the hell are you going to do know that you have relapsed?
Shame and Relapse: A Dangerous Combination
If you have been in the unfortunate situation where you have relapsed, your brain and conscience are both in overdrive. You mind is replaying the events leading up to the relapse on infinite repeat and at the same time your inner dialogue is engaged in full shame mode. You may say things like
I am so stupid
I am such a loser
God, I am such a f@#king idiot
Feeling shame in this manner is normal. You have worked hard to maintain recovery and you did the unthinkable and relapsed, and now you have to start from square one. While feeling shame is normal, it is important to know that shame can also keep you stuck and getting back on the proverbial recovery horse becomes more difficult.
Why is that? At its core, shame is the underlying belief that you are unloved and unworthy of love. When you say things like you are a failure, a fraud or aren’t good enough in the context of addiction, you are painting yourself in a corner or putting yourself in a box with little or no way to get out.
The simple fact is this: relapse is a regular part of the recovery process. Studies suggest that approximately half of all individuals who try to get sober return to heavy use, with 70 to 90 percent experiencing at least one mild to moderate slip.
Knowing this you should be able to put things into perspective, but you still may beat yourself up. In order to move past those feelings and get back into recovery mode, you need to change your inner dialogue.
Changing Your Inner Dialogue
So, how do you move from an inner dialogue that is rooted in shame to something that is more constructive in the context of your recovery? It is important to shift how you speak to yourself and use a voice rooted in accountability. In other words, you need to move from shame towards its counterpoint emotion–which is guilt.
Oftentimes shame and guilt are used interchangeably, but in reality there are noticeable differences. As stated earlier, shame is the painful feeling that comes from our consciousness of something that is dishonorable or improper in which we feel unloved or unworthy of love.
Guilt can be a motivating emotion and springs from a feeling of responsibility for a dishonorable or improper emotion. Guilt is useful in the fact that it pushes you to repair the damage you have inflicted on yourself and others in your relapse.
Instead of saying “I am stupid”, you can change your inner dialogue to “I did a stupid thing and I wasn’t thinking”. Guilt addresses the behavior, makes you hold your self accountable and opens up avenues for change. While it may be difficult to do, changing your self-talk in this manner can help change the course of how you deal with yourself after relapse.
Relapse is something we desperately want to avoid, yet we know that it can be a real possibly in our journey of recovery. In our individual plans of recovery, it is important that we have ways to cope with relapse so that we can right the ship and get back on the path if we stray.