relapse in recovery

How Should First Responders in Recovery Respond to Relapse?

Published on October 24, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

The first few months of sobriety can lead those in recovery to feel a swell of optimism for their future — and rightfully so, as taking those first steps represents vast emotional growth. To the newborn recovery program alumni, using alcohol and/or substances may feel like a thing of the past. Seasoned individuals dealing with recovery know that relapsing is but a bump on the road to recovery. The most important aspect of relapse hinges upon how addicted individuals respond when it happens.

Even if the act of returning to the alcohol and/or substances responsible for unthinkable amounts of pain makes the afflicted individual feel powerless, reacting sets a stage to exercise more agency. First responders in recovery can ignore their relapse, instead choosing to deny this reality and insist to themselves that they are healed. Another negative option is feeding into the shame associated with using, allowing negative judgments to continue fueling the cycle of addiction. 

Seeking help following a relapse is the healthiest way to mend the guilty feelings when relapse occurs. First responders may have an especially difficult time admitting they acted in their own self-interests, rather than acting in the interests of their community. Acknowledging one’s powerlessness to chemical addiction marks a crucial first step towards correcting the course of recovery.


Don’t Blame, Just Take Action

It is human nature to be critical when reality fails to match expectations. As long as the human species has existed, critical thought has proven essential to survival. Yet the instinct to critique relapsing fails to take into account how alcohol and/or substance use disorder is a condition that limits the scope of one’s control. It’s useless to blame yourself or others for relapsing, as the desire to use develops much in the same way as hunger or thirst — the urge comes from autonomic body functions. 

There also seems to be a higher stake for relapsing in the context of society. If someone attempted to change their diet, it would seem out of line to chastise them for eating junk food on a night out. However, those in recovery must worry about scorn and derision from those who may not understand the constant gravity of alcohol and/or substance use. Just like breaking from a healthy diet, relapsing should be treated as an opportunity to reassess one’s recovery. Something about one’s recovery is clearly unsustainable if they relapse, so taking the time to plan lifestyle changes can make a huge impact on the future of a first responder’s health and sobriety.


Be Honest With Yourself and Others

Dedicating oneself to sober living means committing to vulnerability above all else. If someone’s behavior has a negative impact on your recovery, this merits open communication that will ideally end in mutual understanding and compromise to benefit the health of both parties. Lack of transparency is one key difficulty of assisting those in recovery. Those in the proximity of recovering alumni may have no idea their neighbor is struggling with the triggers of social anxiety, depression, or other issues. Silent suffering often characterizes the early stages of recovery.

Tell the truth to yourself and others. If today is harder than yesterday, share that with anyone who has made themselves emotionally available. Reaching out to a sponsor or a mental health counselor is a step that many first responders might shy away from initially, but can make a huge difference in the long run.


Relapsing Is Not the End

Much of the stigma surrounding relapse comes from our own dread of failure. In fact, the inability to accept “failure” is what often motivates individuals to begin using in the first place. Nobody enjoys falling short of a goal, but the ability to learn from these moments of shortcoming can teach more about one’s identity than all the examples of success put together.

It’s okay to make mistakes. That is what a relapse is — a mistake. Relapsing does not mean that addiction has triumphed forever, and it certainly does not determine the future. Rather, it marks a moment from which an individual can learn some of the deepest-held truths about their own identity. Relapse is the chronic nature of addiction getting a good shot in. Who you really are is determined by your ability to get back up and keep fighting.

Not all relapses require detoxification and/or rehabilitation, but they should act as a signal to those in recovery that their addiction is in need of additional attention. Setting aside extra time for group therapy or picking up mental wellness literature can fortify the commitment to sobriety. 

Relapse often weighs on our minds and can seem inevitable. Still, the worry of relapse should not overshadow the mindful practices you have put in place to lead a fulfilling life. The symptoms of relapse vary from person to person, but they are identifiable. At First Responders Wellness, our experienced treatment team can help you develop a plan to anticipate and prevent relapse. Not only will you have the support of a treatment team, but you will be able to consult peers and alumni to help guide you as well. If you or a loved one are battling nagging thoughts of relapse, don’t try to do this alone. First responders are used to being the ones who save others — now it’s time to let us do the saving. We’ll be here for you every step of the way. Call us today at (888) 743-0490.