Does Relapse Mean Failure?

He relapsed, does that mean he failed? Over and over the same old crap!!! Won’t he ever GET IT???!!!

Those words were expressed very loudly by a father of a son with a drug addiction: me. No, no, no, this isn’t a rant of today. Everything is still good with my son today. These are the words that still echo in the walls of our home.

We all evolve and learn in the process of parenting someone with an addiction. When I first entered this world, my way of thinking was cut and dried — black and white. You either recovered or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you failed.

Well, learning is hard, especially if you happen to be an adult. And when learning involves first unlearning what you believe to be true, it is particularly difficult.

I struggled a lot. It literally took me years to understand what so many people told me over and over: relapse is a part of recovery. It was hard to accept this idea when I couldn’t relate it to what I’d experienced and believed in my life.

I can remember sending Alex off to his first inpatient rehab. So easy that was. Why didn’t we think of this sooner? Send him away, write a really big check and he comes home cured. Boy, was I dumb!

It didn’t take long for the anger to surface. Two weeks, in fact. What the hell, two weeks and it is the same old thing — except my bank account is minus $6,000.

Fast forward through a lot of anger, time and way too many more dollars than I want to think about. Relapse is a part of recovery. I don’t know the statistics on how many people who are addicted happen to “get it” the first time, but they aren’t really relevant to our story.

What I have learned is that recovery is a process that involves many things and numerous variables of which relapse is one component. That’s not to mean I accept relapse because it is part of the package — it just means I have a better grasp of the process and I am able to live in reality.

Does relapse mean failure?

Failure is the act of not trying. This is how I broke it down in simple terms and concepts for myself. When I was younger I water skied a lot. The first time I ran a slalom course I fell, if I remember right it was on the first ball. When I tried to trick ski I fell on my first 360.

Failure wasn’t me falling. Failure would have been if I climbed into the boat and never skied again. Failure isn’t the result of not succeeding. Failure is the result of not trying or giving up.

No matter how many times it takes.

5 Things You Need to Know About Relapse

People in recovery and their families are often uninformed about relapse. Here are five points to keep in mind during this difficult and scary time.

5 Things you need to know to avoid relapse
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    Jerry Otero

    April 1, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Dear Cheri,

    Unfortunately, there isn’t anything that anyone can tell you, that will make it all “go away”. But, if you feel that you have “tried everything” and you are not ready to give up yet, there may be things that you can do to avoid the scolding, nagging, pleading and all the rest that hasn’t seemed to work.

    By changing the way that you and your son interact, you may find that you spend less time feeling miserable and like a victim — and learn useful skills to regain control of your life — and help your son in finding the benefit of accepting the help that he needs.

    Why don’t you call me at the Parent Helpline (number below), and let’s talk a bit about what’s going on and brainstorm your next steps.

    Until then, I wish you all the best.

    Jerry Otero
    Parent Support Specialist
    1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373)

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    March 30, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    I needed to read both of these posts. I have dealt with more than a few relapses with my addict and have fallen into the same mindset as Ron stated in his post. We as adults do tend to forget the difference between relapse and failure. What an excellent point you’ve made. And Jerry is spot on about the shame our addcts feel about relapsing and the things they do while they are using again. It is so easy for them to fall away in that moment back into full blown usage. It is very important to deal with that so they don’t feel like total failures and worthless. Thanks guys.

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    March 29, 2013 at 12:50 AM

    He lied to us again. Every time he tells us a story, I believe him. This time it was about my ipad. He didn’t even realize he took it or so he said. It was in his car and his girlfriend said, “oh look, the ipad is in the backseat…” Everyone of his stories are plausible. But intellectually I know they are all lies. But I what to be able to catch the lie immediately. I have 20-20 vision, well only as a Monday morning quarterback. I can’t see a thing when he is right in front of me. I feel so stupid. I want to believe his stories and I kind of do… It was a mistake. He didn’t mean to take it. He is ADHD, wasn’t thinking and took it when he was rushing.

    My guess.. he needed a fix, needed something to pawn. He has pawned my ipad 3x so far, and was able to get it back with the next unemployment check.

    How can I make this go away…. please help

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    Mary Smith

    March 24, 2013 at 1:49 PM

    I would think that it’s normal to feel disappointed/angry when the “relapses” took place. I did when my husband had numerous ones before he stopped. Unfortunately, he died from alcohol related disease and I cursed every time he relapsed. Yes, I know it’s part of the process, yes it happens and it was never my fault, nor his in that it is the disease. Nevertheless, it hurt every time it happened and only with support from my Al Anon group and the book Getting Them Sober did I find acceptance, peace and forgiveness of myself for being angry. It is never easy to lose someone who was a good man with a terrible, unforgiving disease.

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    Jerry Otero

    March 21, 2013 at 6:42 PM

    Thanks for your post Ron.

    First off, it’s important to distinguish between a small slip — where someone has a glass of wine or a sniff of cocaine but then stops — and a relapse involving a full-fledged rteurn to excessive use.

    Because people have so much shame about relapse, they often let a slip become much more because they figure they have already blown it. By using the notion of slips, we allow people to feel their recovery doesn’t end with just one mistake, but that there a series of decisions involved, which can be stopped at any point.

    Excepted from the book “Recovery Options — the Complete Guide by Joseph Volpicelli, M.D., Ph.D & Maia Szalavitz

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