June 17, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

Relapse (reoccurrence) is not part of recovery.

Let me repeat: relapse is not part of recovery.

“Part of” implies, I think, that recovery would necessarily include reoccurrence, in the same way that in the Christian tradition, repentance is part of absolution. Until you repent or turn away from your actions, you can’t be absolved. You can (and many, many people do) recover from drug and alcohol abuse without ever relapsing, hard as that may be for some to believe.

Relapse (reoccurence) is not the end of recovery.

Let me repeat: relapse is not the end of recovery.

“End of,” I think, implies that any progress you’ve made before is somehow thrown away, which is no truer than falling off a bicycle is the end of learning to ride a bike. As with much of life, it’s not the initial mistake that matters, it’s how we respond to it that determines the future. Let me explain with an illustration that I think is universal but may be particular to me.

As I’ve mentioned here, last summer I hiked across England following Hadrian’s Wall. It was a beautiful seven-day hike, but my cell phone didn’t have coverage for all of it. One morning I woke up in, I think, Once Brewed, a village near the wall. For whatever reason, I got turned around and started walking south instead of west. When I reached the next town, Bardon’s Mill, I believe, I asked if I was heading the right way. A sweet English woman gazed at her slightly dim-witted American cousin and said, “No my dear. You’ll have to walk back the way you came to get to where you want.” 

I felt like a dummy, but I had to do what I had to do. If I’d refused to turn around, I’d have been stuck in Bardon’s Mill perhaps until the cows came home. If I’d continued walking south, I’d eventually have reached Bristol or Oxford, but not for days or weeks. If I were to get to where I wanted, I’d have to walk back.

And so it is with recovery and reoccurrence. Anyone can get up in the morning and walk in the wrong direction, just as anyone, especially in early recovery, can think “This time will be different” and begin a relapse. What matters, what really determines your future, is recognizing you’re now in the wrong place, asking for help and following the advice you’re given. A wrong turn doesn’t ruin your journey any more than a relapse has to ruin your recovery.

During this time of pandemic, when the old rules seem to have been thrown out, at least temporarily, many folks will have had a reoccurrence. All of us in recovery, though, have a duty to welcome folks back without judgement or moral outage, to simply say, “Good to have you back, my Friend!”

 If you’ve managed to keep from using during this crazy time, congratulations! It’s been a difficult period and you’re to be commended. If you’ve had a relapse during this time, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back to enjoying life without substances. It’s good to have any of us back again, my Friends!

You mater. I matter. We matter.

Keith