Monday, March 17, 2014

Is There Relapse in Recovery?

OH MY GOODNESS the big question! 

What does being in Recovery REALLY mean? Can someone be in recovery and continue to slip/relapse as long as they keep trying? Or do you have to have sobriety first in order to get IN to recovery? 

Everyone seems to have their own definitions of what recovery is, and being 7 years sober myself, I decided to do a little more research and get to the nitty gritty of what it means to be IN Recovery. (Definitions of slip, relapse, acting out, and sobriety HERE)

According to The Betty Ford Institute defines recovery as "a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health and citizenship.”

In 2005, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offered the following Working Definition of Recovery: “Recovery from addiction is a process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life.”

American Society of Addiction Medicine's describes recovery as “a process of overcoming both physical and psychological dependence on an addiction with a commitment to abstinence-based sobriety”

I believe defining Recovery in the addiction world is extremely important. Some believe being in recovery to mean “any sign of progress” or “someone who is trying to stop” but that leaves such a huge wide range definition that just about anyone could stand up and claim Recovery. If there are no boundaries and definitions on the term Recovery, then the importance of that meaning seems to lose its value. Especially for all the people who ARE sober AND in Recovery. 

William White an author, lecturer, and researcher who served as Senior Consultant at the Betty Ford Institute,---and is also a long term recovering addict himself---once said “If we proposed to define recovery from cancer by ‘any sign of progress’, people would think we were out of our minds”. If an alcoholic is in recovery for 2 years, but for whatever reason decides to drink, do we still consider them IN recovery? No. If an addict acts out in their addiction, their recovery/sobriety date starts over and they continue working towards getting into recovery again.


There’s more to it than JUST sobriety. Sobriety does not mean someone is automatically in recovery. It takes a heck of a lot more work than that! If someone has been completely abstinent for X amount of days, but his life is a bloody shambles and no one wants to spend more than two seconds with him, does this sound like recovery?

I call this "Dry Drunk" :
The Founder of AA, Richard Peabody declared: “A man who is on the wagon may be sober physically, but mentally he may be almost as alcohol-minded as if he were drunk". According to the panel, sobriety -- complete abstinence from ones addiction -- is a necessary part of recovery but not sufficient enough to consider someone in true recovery.
The panel also listed three levels of sobriety:

*Early -- one to 12 months of abstinence

*Sustained -- one to five years of abstinence

*Stable -- more than five years of sobriety (these individuals are said to be at lower risk of relapse)

Partial Recovery:
If sobriety is required IN recovery, what about all the people who have made huge strides in the process of working towards recovery? What about all the people that continue to work their butts off and only occasionally slip, but get right back up, dust themselves off and continue bravely moving forward?

Some experts call this “Partial Recovery”. The term partial recovery can be described as “patterns of problem resolution marked by decreases in the frequency, duration, and intensity of addiction use and related problems, and an increase in the length and quality of periods of sobriety or decelerated use.”

Can addicts make mistakes while working TOWARDS getting into recovery? Yes. We all do. The goal of course is not to, but as long as they keep picking themselves up, are honest with themselves and others, and they are sincerely trying harder each time, then I don’t believe a relapse or slip means "condemned to die". But even though God praises our efforts and progression, he still cannot condone sin. 

Mistakes, relapses and slips have the ability to help us learn because it’s not always about the mistake, but what we do AFTER. But “sincerely” and “honestly” are the key words there. And although a slip and relapse restarts an addict’s recovery/sobriety dates, that doesn’t mean it has to wipe out the gains someone has made for themselves in the process of recovery. It’s a choice. A relapse can be used as a beneficial tool to help us to analyze, identify and change the reasons that caused the relapse.

Honestly working towards being IN Recovery is like rowing a boat across a lake with the other side being the goal ie. Recovery. If you fall out of the boat on the way, you aren’t sent back to the shore where you started. You just fall into the water. You can choose to get out of the water and back into the boat to continue your journey, or you can choose to swim back to shore. Sure, if you get back into the boat you will be all wet and uncomfortable. But it is better than losing your boat and swimming back to shore regressing to square one more exhausted than you were before. 
Moreover, does deciding to get back in the boat and rowing to the Recovery shore mean your done? 
Heck no. You still gotta figure out how to live in the wilderness and survive the rest of your life, don't you? 

In the end, I understand why “no relapse in recovery” may be confusing, especially without knowing a definition of relapse & recovery (more definitions here). It’s sometimes hard to know where the EXACT line of relapse IS to begin with. It may be so thin to some people when starting out that it’s hard to see clearly. Even if accidental at first, intentionally taking the tiny sip of alcohol, looking at porn, masturbating, abusing drugs, having inappropriate relationships, adultery etc etc are a few definite line of relapses. 

But we must delve further into ourselves than that. After much personal digging I’ve learned my own PERSONAL relapse is not ONLY taking the sip or chatting with men online, a relapse for me would be in allowing myself to even WANT these things. Because the second I want or have the desire to want to take a sip or to chat etc., there’s just no stopping me, I have zero will power. The second I start entertaining the thought and I start missing those “fun” party days, then that’s when the desire steps in and I’m done for. I WILL go back to my addictions with full force. I couldn't fight it, I’d just give up. I’d leave my family, later become some bum on the street, give up my entire will to satan and eventually die a horribly agonizing death from my addiction. Alone. 

That’s why there is no room for relapse in my recovery. 


  1. "Sober" and "recovery" are not synonymous. I know that this post is your opinion. It's not the rule. As an addict IN recovery I politely disagree with everything in this post. Being in recovery does not make me immune to temptation and triggers. I battle with them on a daily basis. And sometimes hourly basis. I'm almost one year sober and there have been many close calls. Even if I did slip, that wouldn't mean I'm not in recovery. Not being in recovery would mean that I have totally jumped off the boat. Given up. No one is perfect. Mistakes are part of our human condition. Does that mean slips are ok? No. No way they're not. But it wouldn't mean I wasn't in recovery if I chose to get back up, repent and give the shame to God. I think it's all semantics honestly but I think that by saying "slips are not part of recovery" puts an awful lot of pressure on the addict to be perfect. And although that is what we are all striving for, to be like our Savior, as an addict I have complete compassion and empathy for another addict, in recovery, who struggles. Because I've been there. I know exactly what they are going through and how hard they are fighting every second of every day. And that fight is recovery to me.

    1. Yay thats awesome, good job for being one year sober! As long as we stay sober and in recovery, thats victory regardless of how we get there! Thank you for your comment, it made me really think more on the subject and I realized I needed to re-write my post to thoroughly explain myself, and I really appreciate your opinion :)

  2. Great post. I like the boat analogy and I like the early, sustained and stable demarcations. -Rebecca

  3. Careless language is always confusing. According to the dictionary recovery is the act or process of becoming healthy. Kind of leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation. Like you said. Is it an act or a process?

    Sometimes after I learn what a word really means I stop using it altogether because it didn't really make sense. For example here I might just use the adjective form of the word and say I am a recovered addict to make it clear what I mean.

  4. That's quite a discussion. I went to meetings for years, and took the road of progressively greater time between relapse, and progressively less severity of relapse. In my life now, I believe that relapse does not have to be part of it for me. I might have been able to learn that earlier in my journey, but perhaps the experiences I had in-between starting recovery and true sobriety were a necessary step for me to learn the humility and sacrifice required to come to Christ and be healed by him.

    1. Thank you for your comment! My husband has gone down the same path towards recovery. Ha I just keep hoping that someday it really WILL be the last time, but for now as long as he's staying connected to me and he's sincerely trying, im willing to stay all in. 👍

  5. Adam Moore, a C-SAT, said that when he works with his addicts he starts with identifying the event horizon of the black hole of addiction. The theory of the "event horizon" is that you can approach a black hole without getting sucked in until you cross the "event horizon". So his goal is to identify what will get them sucked back into addiction so they can stay as far from those behaviors as possible until they get some solid sobriety under their belt. I think the author of this blog did exactly that with her addiction. She identified the "event horizon" of her addiction and stayed as far from it as possible and did the deep work necessary to identify what feelings lead to the path to the "event horizon." I do know someone who was honest with his wife about his addiction and started a recovery program and has never acted out in his addiction since. Everything I have read about addiction also tells me that you can never say that you are "recovered" from your addiction, but "recovering" because "recovered" suggests that you can stop working on your recovery which is not true. My friend who has 11 years sobriety in NA still attends her meeting every week without fail.

    1. I agree! I will never be recovered because even though sobriety/recovery formed new neural pathways in my brain, the neural pathways formed by my addiction are still there. Even though they are no longer currently being used, if I ever choose my addiction those pathways will be activated and it'll be like riding a bike again. 😀

  6. So I recently saw an article on fight the new drug saying how neurotransmitter pathways can actually be destroyed and replaced. Apparently new sciences are finding more about it. I didn't know if you had heard about that discovery or not. Thank you for your blog!

  7. Thank you. I truly appreciate your honesty and I really like your articles.