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Accepting Setbacks in Recovery

In recovery, it is essential to remember that relapse does not erase your successes. A relapse is a speed bump, not failure. Still, it can be difficult to keep this in mind when you’ve been sober for a length of time. It’s important to accept your setbacks and build on them in ways that support your recovery, rather than focus on them as shortcomings.

Relapse is typically a sign that you need to make some sort of lifestyle change. What that change is varies by person and the circumstances of the relapse, but hitting a speed bump means that there is something you aren’t doing or something that you are doing isn’t working. There are several things you can do to help you accept relapse as just a setback, and not a failure, in recovery.

Recognize that your relapse is about you.

A relapse has nothing to do with other people. You’ll likely feel overwhelmed, and perhaps like you’ve let people in your life down, but your recovery journey is about you. Don’t allow others’ expectations, real or perceived, to discourage or influence you.

Of course, it feels good when a loved one or someone else in your support circle tells you that they’re proud of you, but their praise and your recovery are mutually exclusive. You are sober for you; your sobriety is not about someone else’s approval or disapproval and what happened has nothing to do with anyone else.

Make a list of activities that you enjoy.

It’s normal to feel discouraged or disappointed after a relapse, but it’s important to not let these feelings linger. What do you enjoy doing? Whether exercising, cooking, reading, or playing an instrument, activities that you enjoy engaging in are an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Taking inventory of these activities following a relapse can put things into perspective by helping you to see all the small positives of everyday life and give you things to look forward to.

Schedule out your days.

Relapse happens for any number of reasons— not working a program, mishandling triggers— but planning out your week can keep you accountable and lower the chances of it happening again. On Monday, pencil in that you will go to the 10 a.m. AA meeting on your day off, rather than deciding that day which meeting you are going to go to and at what time. Ask your counselor, sponsor, and/or case manager for their input to make sure what you’ve mapped out is reasonable. Be sure to schedule in time to spend with loved ones and time for hobbies.

Going into each day with specific, attainable goals in mind and knowing what you are going to accomplish can greatly help to re-build your self-confidence and get you feeling back on track.

Take a gratitude inventory. 

Each morning or evening (or both), make a short gratitude list. Revisit it when you feel discouraged and need a boost or just when you want a reminder of all you have to be thankful for. This small action can make a noticeable difference in your daily life as it becomes a habit you can get into.

Reach out to your support network. 

Make sure your sponsor knows that you’ve relapsed, so they can help you determine what your next move should be. They might have you re-work the steps or revisit a step or two. Ask people whom you trust for help getting back on track. Having the support and encouragement of people you care about is particularly important when accepting that setbacks happen in recovery.

Move on.

The most important thing you can do for yourself when it comes to accepting relapse in recovery is to move on. Don’t forget what happened, but allow yourself to learn from your mistake and use that mistake as motivation to not let the same thing happen again. Dwelling and beating yourself up over what happened is not going to keep you sober, bu doing what you can to prevent “I see this coming” from becoming “I should have seen this coming” will.

If you or a loved one is ready to end the cycle of relapse, we are ready to help. Please reach out to us at (877)-RECOVER at any time with questions you may have about our detox or residential inpatient programs.

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