I Relapsed. Now What?

I asked myself this question so often that it became part of my everyday life. I regularly grappled with feelings of shame, remorse, guilt, confusion, and anger at my inability to stay sober. Rather than seek help after relapsing, I turned the other direction and the feelings of shame and guilt fueled my addiction and I continued to spiral out of control.

I am lucky enough to have an amazing family that loves me and has helped me get into treatment numerous times throughout my life. They supported me through it all, even if it was from a distance, protected by steadfast boundaries. I remember my parents’ faces on the long drive to the airport. My mother’s face filled with fear and grief. My father’s, stoic as he attempted to comfort my mother. I remember sitting in the back of the car thinking, “I will stay sober forever; it can’t be that hard.” I swore I would never be one of the people that sits in the back of meetings and never takes the necessary steps to stay sober. I swore I would do everything in my power to never hurt my family again.

Despite how certain I was of those promises, after weeks in treatment, making new friends, being fed three meals a day, and having a steady place to sleep, it all faded. The desperation and resolve that I once had slipped away. My desire to stay sober waned as time went on. As I got further from my last use, I forgot how bad things had gotten. The feelings of hopelessness and despair were replaced with memories of the “good” times I had while using. With that came a lack of motivation to continue with the daily disciplines that I knew would keep me healthy long-term. 

I relapsed for the first time only months out of treatment. I remember sitting alone in my apartment. I was filled with shame and guilt. I didn’t know what to do. What do I do after relapsing? My pride and ego told me that I could never tell anyone about my relapse, especially those closest to me. I thought about how proud my parents were, how hopeful they sounded on the phone. I promised myself that I would do everything necessary to keep my secret from them.

Looking back, I can see that my desire to protect my own pride and ego outweighed my motivation to get help. I stopped calling my sponsor and ignored her calls and texts. I blew off the friends I made in meetings. I thought my secret was safe. I sometimes wonder what my life would have looked like if I had answered those phone calls from my sponsor, or showed up to meetings with my friends. What would have happened if I had just been honest with my family and support system? Would they have been sad? Upset? Scared? Probably so, but the pain they suffered the next few years is nothing in comparison. My mother was unable to sleep, panic stricken and worried for my health. My father was overworked and overstressed. My sister lost her parents and her little sister for another 3.5 years, and all of this could have been avoided if I had just been honest when I relapsed. It’s hard to realize that I didn’t have to suffer from trauma and homelessness alone, with nothing but my addiction.

Nothing is as terrifying as living alone in the darkness, isolated from those that were ready and willing to help. Living every day stuck in a tangled web of lies that were nearly impossible to keep track of. I woke up every morning filled with shame and hopelessness, not knowing what my future held or how to stop my addiction. I tried to stay sober without the help of others, but it was challenging and I was never successful. I made endless promises to the people that cared about me, but I never kept them. Every time I relapsed, my loneliness and misery led to feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness, which continued to fuel my disease.

I remember my last relapse before getting back into recovery. I asked myself, “what do I do?” as I sat alone crying, knowing that I had to do something different; I had to be honest. Throughout my journey in sobriety, I have learned that being transparent and honest—regardless of shame and fear—is always the best option. That even when I feel ashamed, if I keep moving my feet forward towards recovery and healing, I will be successful in changing my life. I have learned that when my brain tells me to avoid reaching out for help, I need to push back. I have lost many close friends over the years, and it’s hard to think about how they might still be alive today if they had just reached out for help after their last relapse.

So, what did I do after relapsing the very last time? I picked up the phone and asked for help. The phone felt so heavy and my disease told me not to, but I pushed through. I launched into recovery for the second time and never stopped persevering regardless of how badly I felt. I sought recovery when all I wanted to do was hide. Those who took me in were ready, willing, and able to help me restart my journey. I refused to let my pride and ego stand in the way of my happiness and health again. I refused to let it hurt my family again.

Today, I continue to pick up the phone and ask for help. I do this even when I don’t want to. I was honest with myself about what I needed and stopped telling myself that I was broken. I am grateful for my last relapse because it was the catalyst that propelled me into recovery. It changed my life. Rehabilitation saved my life and for that, I will be forever grateful to those who stood by me and helped me through the process.

So for those of you asking “what do you do after a relapse?” pick up the phone, be honest, and get help. Recovering from a relapse is hard to do alone and the best thing you can do is be transparent with those who care about you.