A relapse is a period of deterioration after a period of improvement. Relapse can apply to any deterioration after improvement; but it is most often used in reference to addictions or recovery after an injury or illness. For example, if an alcoholic manages to go months without having a drink and then after a hardship, begins to drink again. Or for example, if someone’s condition improves in the ICU for a few days and then he or she takes an unexpected turn for the worse again.
Even though these are the most common uses of the word, we need to think with a wider scope. We all experience periods of relapse. For example, even if we don’t have an addiction, we can have relapses relative to anything we struggle with. For example, we may struggle with money and then make more money, only to lose it and struggle financially again. Or for example, we may struggle with relationships and find ourselves in a relationship that feels good only to experience something that makes us struggle with relationships again. So think about relapse in terms of areas of your life where you struggle and make improvements, only to re experience struggle again.
The most painful thing about a relapse is that it makes the improvement seem temporary and the state of deterioration seem permanent. And because no one consciously chooses deterioration, it feels like you have no control over it. The place you were in emotionally and mentally and even physically before the improvement is more familiar. After all, you keep ending up back there. You feel like you spend your time climbing out of the hole with a ladder, only to fall back into the hole. And when this happens, it begins to feel fated.
For example, the dark spaces you get into before shooting up with heroine and when you are in a relapse begin to feel like the places you actually belong. Whether they want to belong there or not. Or the loneliness you experience before you find a relationship and when your relationship is in a relapse begins to feel like what you are meant for in this life. Because of this, it is very easy to slip into a depression about the relapse itself. It feels like the ultimate discouragement. You feel powerless to it.
When you are experiencing a relapse, it feels like you have no control over yourself or over the conditions in your life and your life is not going well. Because of this, it feels like the universe is against you. For this reason, I want you to watch my video on YouTube titled: I Can’t Trust The Universe (I Feel Like God Is Against Me).
The other painful aspect of relapse is that it destroys your self-esteem. You started to feel better about yourself because of the improvement, but now that you have relapsed, you are making that mean something about yourself. You are making it mean that there is something wrong with you. And the more times you experience recovery and relapse, the worse you feel about yourself. Take a good look at yourself right now. Ask yourself, what am I making this relapse mean about me and about my life? Meaning can either be like the keys setting you free from prison or the signature on your own death certificate. For this reason, I want you to watch my video on YouTube titled: Meaning, The Self Destruct Button.
So what if you are experiencing a relapse?
It’s important to see that when you are experiencing a relapse, you will have two patterns at play that are keeping you stuck in a state of resistance and therefore caught in a kind of Chinese finger trap. The first is that you are so desperate to get out of the relapse and get back to improvement that you are fighting where you are. You are resisting what is. You are most likely desperate for relief. When we are desperate for relief, you will reach for anything that will give you relief, even if those things are detrimental in the long run. This is what is happening when we pick up an addictive behavior or substance or relationship again. We’re reaching for relief. Wanting relief is not wrong. We simply have to be conscious of what relief is beneficial to us in the long run. The rest of the advice I give in this article will help to get you unstuck from this pattern.
The second pattern is that we feel so powerless to the relapse and so powerless to do anything about it that we turn our attention towards the past. We cannot accept that the relapse happened. We cannot accept anything that made the relapse happen. We begin to fight emotionally and mentally with the fact that it happened. We do not realize that we have no control over it having happened at all once it has happened. All we can do once something has happened is to accept it happened and to do what we can with what we have from where we are. So, see if you can see that most of your energy is being spent re-playing what happened and fighting with the fact that it happened; resisting the fact that it happened and how it could or should have been prevented. See the futility of this. See if for the pure reason that you can’t un-do what has already occurred, you can just accept that you are in a relapse.
- When you’ve had a relapse, refocusing on healing relative to the same thing you thought you healed from already feels totally pointless. It feels like you’ve already been there and done that and it obviously didn’t work long term. You feel like you’re back to square one, so why take a step again. Really sit with the fact that we are at a crossroads. Either we get to give up and totally surrender to being out of control or we get to start over by putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of improvement again. Stop thinking about which decision is right and which is wrong. Seriously consider both options because you have free will. Do you go left or right? Play both options out a week and then a month and then a year and then two years and then five years. Really consider this crossroads. If you decide to start over, really pour all of yourself with complete commitment into starting over. Make it a conscious choice, not a choice you feel like you have to make.
- Most experts will tell you that skills that involve control over the mind, like meditation, are a critical thing to learn and apply during relapses, because on a mental level, a relapse is a downward spiral. But what is it about meditation that works? The answer is that it stops thought. It slows the momentum of the thoughts that are leading you deeper into torment. If you are in a relapse, every day, take just fifteen minutes or more if you really want to and stop thinking. To learn how to do this, watch my video on YouTube titled: How To Stop Thinking.
- When you’ve had a relapse, it feels like no matter how hard you try, you will keep slipping back into the hole. Imagine the image of a yourself climbing out of a hole with a ladder and falling back into it. Now imagine this image turning upside down so the ground was now the sky and the sky was now the ground. You can see that from this angle, no matter how many times you go into the hole, you keep coming out of it. Sit with that for a minute. You just realized a truth. The truth is, it works the same in reverse. No matter how much you fall into the hole, you keep getting out of it. It’s like the fight about whether the glass if half empty or half full. The reality is both are true. Also, you already got out once. You can get out a second time.
- There is a reality that most people do not see. Our minds organize things according to linearity. We see things in a straight line. This is why we feel like our future is hopeless when we experience relapse. But the universe doesn’t actually function in terms of linearity. For lack of a better word, linearity is an illusion that was only created in this universe so we could perceive progression and expansion. In reality, everything is cyclical. It functions much more like a spiral. And healing is no exception. Healing happens in cycles. It is not a straight line from unwell to well. Think of it more like an onion. Where the onion represents the thing you’re trying to transform. If you began at the center of the onion, moving in a straight line from the center to the exterior of the onion (let’s call that freedom and the state of being healed) you can see that you’d hit layers of onion and spaces between those layers. Each layer of the onion you go through brings you closer to freedom and total healing. But each time you hit a layer, you feel like you’re back in it again. This is what a relapse actually is. It means you have hit another layer of the thing you’re trying to transform. And this is why each relapse provides more awareness and more insight that makes you more conscious and thus more free and more healed. And guess what? Because this is the way healing works, relapse in some shape or form is inevitable for people. When you are having a relapse, you tell yourself other people are able to stay out of the hole and you keep falling back in. But this is not the reality. You are simply comparing yourself to people who are out of the hole, when you are in the hole and feeling terrible about yourself. They are going to end up in the again too. It may be about something different. They may be trying to transform different things. But if they are living and breathing, it is inevitable that they will have more layers of the onion to go through.
- Use your mind to deliberately focus your way into a better state about where you are. Get out a sheet of paper or a computer and write down “I am in a relapse” and write down what that relapse is. Then, write down how being in this relapse makes you feel. Also, write down what this relapse makes you aware that you want desperately but don’t feel like you can have or keep. Relapse is after all an indication that you want some improvement that you feel like you can’t hold on to and keep. Then write down pages worth of any thought that makes you feel just a little bit better. Pay attention to the feeling of relief. Because you want to write anything that causes you to feel relief. Begin by writing thoughts that reflect where you are, so you can get them outside of you. Then write angry thoughts. Then write any thought that makes you feel better about the situation. Pretend you were a philosopher or a lawyer whose job was to make it ok to be where you are and to make you hopeful about the future. What would you do and say in order to make your case? Write it down.
- Use your mind to create the sensation of relief in your body directly. I did a YouTube video a while back called “How To Feel Better”. I highly suggest that you watch that video at some point if you are struggling to feel better and want a deeper understanding. But in that video, I explained that we can create feeling signatures that change our state. We do this by picking the best feeling thing that we have access to visualizing and focusing on it and imagine bringing it through our body. For example, when I’m in a low state, I can’t imagine being loved by someone or being wealthy. The only thing I have access to that feels good might be the memory of toasted marshmallows or the image of a sunflower in the sunlight. So, I focus on that. I put all my attention on it and when I feel the feeling of that, I imagine and sense and feel that feeling of the toasted marshmallow or of the sunflower being taken through my whole body, around my organs, into my cells and bones. I hold it while feeling the sensation of relief.
- Take responsibility back again immediately by creating a plan of action that nurtures you in the direction of improvement again. Make it into a list and keep that list in your wallet or purse or somewhere super accessible. Taking responsibility by taking action will actually pull you out of powerlessness. For example, if I struggle with becoming chronically suicidal, during a relapse I will write a list of things to do that will pull me out of that state such as: 1.Collect a play list of sounds and songs that soothe my nervous system and feel uplifting. And I will put that play list on. 2. Close my eyes and imagine the aspect of me that is feeling suicidal as if it is a little person inside of me and have an inner dialogue with it so I can figure out its needs and meet them, as if it were my job to take care of this hurt part of me. 3. Go running at the gym where there are lots of people. 4. Read a book about something that really interests me. 5. Get in a hot bath with lavender oil. Etc. Make this list long. And any time you feel yourself spiraling, take out the list and just do what it says. Just do it without thinking about doing it. Taking action towards improvement will probably involve other action items, like seeing a therapist or attending an event or going on a vacation. But these things are more long term and the reality is, in a relapse you need actions that are immediate in order to stop the downward spiral.
- Do not isolate. Now is the time to reach out to have connection. Most relapses happen when people feel isolated, alone and disconnected from others. That being said, make sure to reach out to connect with people who will not tell you that there is something with you (which is a push away emotionally) or that there is something wrong or bad about you needing connection. Reach to people who also want connection.
- Become aware of what led to the relapse. Relapses don’t come out of nowhere. They happen when too many stressors or a stressor of too much magnitude to cope with occurs. Instead of fighting with the fact that it happened, simply identify the conditions that created the relapse. Not only does this provide the awareness of what happened, it also puts you in the position to make changes to your life that can prevent it from happening in the future. Some stressors are unavoidable, but some definitely are. If you struggle with relapse, chances are high that you have not yet made the changes necessary to your life in order to meet your needs and create the conditions that prevent relapse instead of contribute to it. Use this relapse to learn about yourself.
When you are suffering a relapse it feels like you are back at square one. But you are not. It is impossible to be back at square one in this universe. That defies expansion. You are simply hitting another layer of the onion. And more you commit your full energy to facing this layer of the onion, now that it has arrived; instead of fighting the fact that it has arrived and trying to make it un-arrive, the easier it will be to move through it. And stop telling yourself that you’re the only one who can’t seem to stay out of the hole. If you were, there wouldn’t be so many views on this very article would there be?