Relapse Isn’t Failure

By: | February 1, 2021

Recovery is hardly a straight line. The hope that a single trip to rehab would end all the misery that accompanied my addiction was an expectation my family, like many families, held. But that was not my story. My journey to a sustained recovery from addiction was a long, meandering path, sprinkled with successes, slips, and slides. I experienced many disappointments. I experienced multiple backslides into old behavior with alcohol and other substances before maintaining sustained abstinence and finding freedom in recovery. These returns to using are often referred to as a “relapse”- a dated term sometimes viewed as stigmatizing due to the term’s historical roots in morality and religion, not healthcare. 

Each time I returned to using, I became entrapped by a weighted cloak of shame. The nagging feelings and inner dialogue, telling me I was a complete failure…again. The thought of facing everyone was humiliating. Imagining my family’s faces filled me with fear. What would they say? What would they do? And now my abstinence scorecard was erased, and I was back to day 1. Many times this would evoke my “screw it” self-defeating attitude.  Instead of seeking help, admitting what happened, and beginning again, I’d choose the “easy” way out-returning to the old behavior and habits that I once literally begged God to help me escape. I’d try to convince myself that I would be ok- that this was my decision, my choice. But it was not. It was only the manifestation of my addiction.

In hindsight, I now see that each event was an opportunity for growth and learning. Relapse doesn’t have to mean failure.  The decision is yours.  Will you decide to hide behind the pain of shame and beat yourself up as I did in the past, adding years of suffering to the story? Or, will you see the episode as an opportunity to examine what led you to that moment and grow from it? Use the incidence to create a better plan of action, build a more robust support system, and get down to the causes and conditions that led to the act of using. You will often find your slip started well before the action.

When my son was learning to walk, he fell many times. I’d help him back to his feet and encourage him to continue moving forward.

I never shamed him or accused him of not wanting to walk badly enough.  Similarly, a slip by someone trying to achieve recovery doesn’t need to be guilted, shamed, or told they have undone their progress. What they do need is to continue to move forward from where they stopped. Just as I had been mentally prepared for my son to fall while walking, I suggest parents and loved ones of individuals new to recovery remember all behavior change is difficult and often never linear. 

The saying, “old habits die hard,” holds true. Each behavior or action is associated with a neural pathway in our brain. Years of repeated addictive behavior creates trenches out of these pathways. These well-traveled pathways, habits, or “default response” are the thing the brain found easy to do. When we begin using new skills and thoughts, we are forming new pathways. With time these new pathways will become strengthened, and the old ones being used less will weaken.  To better understand this, I like to visualize hiking trails.  The well-traveled ones are easy to follow, and years of activity have worn the ground free and clear of vegetation. Whereas beginning a new hiking trail, you have to push through lots of brush, you get entangled in vines and stumble over rocks. The footing is not as clear.  By returning to this trail repeatedly, it too will come to resemble a clear path.  In hiking, as with navigating recovery, one should expect stumbles and trips while trudging your way. The challenge is to turn to your tools in those moments to become a learning opportunity and not a failure.


  • Precision guided Behavioral Health-Diagnostic Assessments. Individualized Treatment Planning
  • Psychiatric and Psychological Evaluation (where clinically indicated).
  • Family Counseling
  • Trauma Touch Therapy®
  • Intervention Program: Triage and screening of the client’s needs, a comprehensive clinical assessment, report writing, family consultation\counseling and case management\care coordination for placement in a compatible treatment program.
  • Coordination of Medication Assisted Treatment & Medication Maintenance Treatment (where clinically indicated).
  • Coordination of Primary Care, Health\Medical and Medication interventions, education and monitoring.
  • Group & Individual Therapy\education.
  • Relapse Prevention-Basic and Advanced utilizing the Gorski-CENAPS model. Design and integration of support systems that enhance wellness and recovery efforts.
  • Coping and Life Skills development.
  • Spiritual Exploration and Formation Counseling.