Mar 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.