Does Relapse Mean Failure?

Ron Grover, as a young water skier, with his wife Darlene.

He relapsed, does that mean he failed?

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

Won’t he ever just 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 current rant. 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’s 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 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 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.

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

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