Does Relapse Mean Failure?

    He relapsed, does that mean he failed?

    It seems like over and over, it’s the same thing, every time.

    Won’t he ever just get it?

    Those words were expressed very loudly by a father of a son with addiction: me.

    No, no, no, this isn’t a current rant. Everything is good with my son today. But 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 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. It seemed so easy. 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’s the same old thing — except my bank account is minus $6,000.

    Fast-forward through a lot of anger, time and way more dollars than I want to think about. Relapse is a part of recovery. I don’t know the statistics on how many people with addiction happen to “get it” the first time, but they aren’t 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 just 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.

    So, 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 used to water-ski a lot. The first time I ran a slalom course I fell, and, if I remember correctly, it was on the first attempt to ski around the ball. When I tried to do some tricks, I fell on my first attempt at a 360.

    Failure wasn’t me falling. Failure would have been if I had 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.

    It’s the same with my son’s relapse. I’ll stand by his side. No matter how many times it takes.

    This post was originally published in 2013 and has been refreshed and republished.

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