Relapse can either be a bump in the road or a crash into the abyss, depending on what you do once it has occurred. There are several main states of mind during an addiction relapse. One is referred to as having a belly full of booze (or drugs) and a mind full of recovery. The cognitive dissonance here is enormous: the chemically altered state and the compulsion to continue chasing it clashes with the hopes and aspirations of recovery. Under this scenario, it is often the case that the addict will need to use an even larger quantity of drugs than usual in order to drown out the voice that’s saying “this is so wrong, how can I stop?” Or, with luck, the recovering voice wins out and the experience doesn’t have to drag out to a new and more excruciating bottom than before.
The other main state of mind once an addiction relapse occurs is the equivalent of ducking into a dark alley: all of the new insights, understanding, and motivation gained in recovery seem to evaporate, and the mind reverts to its previous, untreated-addict condition. Unless a moment of clarity spontaneously occurs, where you suddenly see the nightmare for what it really is, this relapse will likely have to play itself out to the point of physical exhaustion or interruption by real-world consequences, and the result won’t be pretty.
Whatever the case, if you’re an addict of the hopeless variety, you have the same choice after a relapse as you’ve always had: pursue the addiction to the gates of insanity or death, or choose recovery. Choosing recovery starts with showing up. If the relapse is bad enough to warrant going back to treatment, show up for that. Otherwise, go back to your recovery support group and let people know you’re back, that the experiment failed, and that you need help getting back on track. Not only will this anchor you in a new beginning, it will also be helpful to your group, as the returning newcomer serves as a powerful reminder of what awaits anyone who doesn’t value his or her recovery.
Once back in recovery mode, use the experience of relapse as fresh motivation to pursue clean time, one day at a time, and to absorb the wisdom of the recovery culture. The tools of recovery have been proven effective and are available no matter how many times you have veered off the path.