We all know that making a resolution to change our ways is often not sustained over time. We all fail with our good intentions to change and do better, and we fall back into what is comfortable, and easy to do. That’s normal. Every year, many of us make New Year Resolutions, which we know in our hearts will only last for a few weeks or months, at the most. We understand that, and we forgive ourselves for our failings, and the failings of others, who fail in similar ways.
The Goal of Rehab
It is very much harder for anyone with an addiction to keep to his or her good intentions. Why? Anyone with an addiction, or who has ever had an addiction, is fighting against a formidable foe. The goal of entering Rehab is to come out at the end of the course of treatment, abstinent, emotionally stronger, and much better equipped to fight and overcome, the power of addiction.
This is done in a number of ways, but basically, you learn about addiction, and about yourself. When you have awareness and insight into why you feel the ways that you do, and why you react to those feelings in certain ways, you can exercise more control over what you think and feel and therefore, what you do. You can learn to run your own life, instead of being driven by your addiction.
After a course of Rehab, the former addict will hopefully have learned, all sorts of new ways to deal with the temptations, and life stresses that resulted in addiction in the first place. All the same temptations will still be there, so the risks of relapse are high, and constant. But after Rehab, the former addict will have new skills and tactics to outwit the enemy – and that enemy is their Addiction.
It should not be surprising that Rehab sometimes fails. Or that it might fail many times for the same person. The pressures to fail are extremely high, and they never go away, although in many cases those pressures can lessen to some extent over time.
Also, the more success against temptation that a former addict can notch up on the Addiction scoreboard, the stronger and more confident they become in the struggle. They also learn more and more about themselves and their addiction, through the experience of successfully living in recovery. For example, they know how to avoid high-risk situations. And when they find themselves in a high-risk situation, they can recognize it for what it is, and know how to deal with it, without falling back into addiction.
That is the theory. But we all know that no-one can ever be perfect all of the time, even if we try to be. Every single person is always failing to live up to their own expectations, and the expectations of others in some way. Some people more than others, but this failure to be perfect is completely normal. It’s understandable – it’s even what we should be expecting to happen, in ourselves, and others.
Everyone Gives In to Temptations Every Day – It’s Normal
Non-addicted people give in to temptation almost every day, such as that slice of cheesecake when we are supposed to be on a diet. Or ordering pizza, and eating nearly all of it, when we know we should be having a salad sandwich. We forgive ourselves for these lapses, and others forgive us too. Why?
Because we understand why they do it, because we understand why we do it – it’s because we want to do it, and therefore, sometimes, we do. It’s because we are all human. We know that no one is perfect. These ordinary lapses are quickly forgotten, and life goes on in much the same way as before. These non-addicted people rarely appreciate how lucky they are. These lapses are only minor misdemeanors on life’s journey. They do not have devastating consequences. Unfortunately, addicts are not so lucky.
And in other areas unrelated to addiction, there are even more serious failures to resist temptation that happen every day in the world, such as failing to resist the temptation of having an affair. Everyone who is having an affair knows perfectly well that they shouldn’t be doing it, and that things could go terribly wrong for themselves and others if they do, but people keep doing it anyway.
Having an affair is not a minor misdemeanor that can be swept under the carpet and forgotten, and yet people keep doing it anyway. And we all know why – it’s because they want to – they really, really, want to.
Any former addict, who is already in successful recovery, knows the power of that feeling of really wanting to give in to temptation, every single day of their lives. Every single day, they really, really, want to give their addiction what it still craves. Their addiction hasn’t gone away, even though they have become abstinent. It is always there, waiting for an unguarded opportunity to fight back.
Every single day that that a former addict manages to stay abstinent is a significant personal victory over their Addiction. It is difficult, or even impossible, for non-addicted people to fully understand the difficulty and magnitude of that daily struggle.
And then, one day…..they fail to be perfect. They give-in to temptation and it seems to everyone as if they are right back where they started. Suddenly it feels as if they have been totally defeated, and all of their hard work and all those daily victories have become meaningless, and worthless – and therefore, they are worthless and useless as well.
They often feel as if their situation is hopeless – that they will never be able to keep defeating their addiction every day, or ever again. They often feel guilt, remorse, self-loathing and disgust at what they see as their own weakness. And on top of that, they can see that their family often feels the same way about them as well.
What I want to say to anyone who finds themselves in this situation is this:
You have not failed.
Rehab has not failed.
Your loved one has not failed
You are not a failure
It should not surprise anyone if someone who has had the courage to go into rehab, commit to beating their addiction, achieved the success of Recovery, and has then lived among the old temptations for a period of time – sometimes several years without relapsing, can one day stumble in their good intentions.
It should be much more surprising that so many ordinary people manage to overcome their addiction at all, even for one week. I’m not sure if I could do that.
What is a more Useful Way to Think of Relapse?
Relapsing back into addiction is certainly a set back, for everyone concerned. But it is not the end of the world. Of course it is one step backwards, but think about all those hundreds of good steps forward you have already achieved. You are still way ahead on the ‘Me vs Addiction’ score-board. Don’t be too hard on yourself. No one can be perfect, all of the time, forever. And nobody is perfect. You are just unlucky that, compared to non-addicts, your particular temptations can have such devastating consequences.
Beating an Addiction is a long and exhausting war against a powerful and persistent enemy. If someone reverts to his or her addiction again, it is a real life testament to the relentless power of Addiction, not to the failure of the person involved. It is true, that on this occasion, addiction has regained the upper hand – it might have won this single battle, but it has not won the war.
And even more importantly, you have not lost the war. Addiction is a powerful enemy to defeat. Addiction never goes away. It lurks in the minds and bodies of recovering addicts waiting for exactly that moment when extra stress, or a high-risk situation can put extra pressure on the addict to give-in to their addiction, and give it what it demands and craves.
Every single day that a former addict remains abstinent is a victory. If your Addiction sometimes has a victory as well, it does not mean that the whole war is lost. It also doesn’t mean that this war is not still worth fighting, or that all the previous victories over addiction do not count. They do. You are already in a much stronger position to regain the upper hand again, with all the experience and self-confidence you gained during Rehab and during your previous periods of abstinence.
The Value of Support
When a relapse happens, you may need to have a refresher course in a Rehab facility to help you get back onto your desired life path again – back to Recovery. You will need to find a way to be able to rebuild your self-confidence, and get yourself back to fighting fitness again. To do that you will often need some extra support.
This support can be found in a number of ways. For example, from rehab staff, from fellow rehab ‘inmates’, your local doctor, the local AA or NA or similar support groups, and from family and friends. Even in online Forums. All these sources of support are valuable.
One of the major advantages of Support Groups is that the people you find there understand exactly what you are going through, what you are feeling and what you need. They can lend you their strength when you feel you have lost some of your own. If you have a Support Buddy from one of these groups, they will be keeping a watchful eye on you to keep you strong, and to avoid giving in to the daily temptations.
Families Need Support Too
When someone you love has an addiction, the value of personal support cannot be underestimated . Support is needed for family members just as much as it’s needed for the addict themselves. Any difficult situation is made easier, when you know you are not alone. And you are not alone. If you are someone who has an addict in the family, you really do need support.
If you don’t have access to any addiction-related Support groups, it is up to you to go and find people and places where you can find that support, and where you can give support to others. Everyone needs support, whether they have an addiction or not. Giving support as well as receiving it, always helps everyone concerned.
If you cannot find a local addiction-related support group, think about starting your own. You might feel that your situation is unique, but there are a lot of people out there in your exact situation, and like you, they probably believe that they are alone. You just don’t know about them – because people tend to keep quiet about addiction – for many understandable reasons.
Your local doctor might be able to discreetly connect you with others in similar situations. Or inquire through your church, or the local hospital. Help lines will also often be able to put you in touch with Support Groups in your area. Giving Support is as valuable as receiving it.
You can see a List of Help Line Contact details in the Menu at the top of this page.
Addiction-related Support Groups give you access to people who really do know what it’s like to be dealing with Addiction in real life. They have experience. And their experiences and feelings will be very much like your own.
No one can be strong all of the time. If you are in a group who understands exactly what you are going through, the stronger ones can help the more stressed ones in times of crisis. And then next time, the roles might be reversed, and you can gain strength by supporting others. It is always easier to maintain hope, when you don’t have to do it alone.