Is relapse a part of recovery?

The answer is no, relapse is NOT a part of recovery!  Relapse is part of the disease of addiction, not recovery.  There is a great danger and a very subtle set up, in thinking that relapse is part of recovery.

This erroneous thinking can take the lives of addicts.  If I come into the recovery groups and I am told that, “relapse is part of recovery”, then the message is that relapsing is O.K. and it’s just part of the process of recovery.  How many relapses before someone dies?

Addicts are either “living in the disease” or they are “living in the solution”.  Working a 12 step program and having a relationship with your God is working the solution.  Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob, co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, talk about a “spiritual experience” sufficient to recover from alcoholism.

Eighteen years ago, I wrote an angry hate letter to the disease of addiction:

“You raped me of all my morals and values, and reduced me to a pile of dirty rags — a beggar and a homeless drunk.  You cut me deep inside and stole my soul, leaving only an empty shell of a person riddled with pain, fear, desperation, hopelessness, anger, rage, and a crushed spirit.  I became numb.  You were like a ravenous bloodthirsty parasite sucking the life out of me, enjoying my slow torture.  Twenty-eight years of this living hell was the price I paid to dance with you.

Even after suffering incomprehensible demoralization, I turned against myself and joined your chemical soldiers in the battle to win my destruction.  You killed my friend Mike in high school, and a month ago, my friend Jessie.

  • I lost my marriage.
  • I lost my career.
  • I became homeless.
  • I had five near-death experiences.
  • I lost my dreams.
  • I lost all the important relationships with family and friends.
  • I lost my dog.
  • I lost my drive and ambition.
  • I lost my self-confidence and my self-respect.
  • I lost my connection to God.
  • I violated my values and became a thief and a predator.
  • I was arrested 15 times, spent ten months in jail, and was in 13 treatment centers.
  • I lost the love inside my soul, and was filled with anger, rage, fear, desperation, terror and hopelessness.
  • I lost my faith and my trust in people and in myself.

I could add many things to this list, but you get the idea — you killed me in every possible way except by taking my physical life, and you came close to that five times.  This is what I call one hell of a blind date.  Although I hate you with every cell in my body, I am impressed with your diligence and persistence to obtain your goal — to kill me.  I look at you — the disease of addiction — as a highly intelligent, cunning, baffling, powerful, and vicious evil being which never rests and is always present, waiting for an opening to strike.  I wish I could see your red devil eyes and your blood-dripping fangs, but you are invisible.

You are more powerful than I, but if I could, I would kill you.  Slowly and deliciously over 28 years I would kill you, relishing your every cry.  I hate you even more because you have hurt my friends, my mother, and others that I love.  You just keep getting bigger and bigger, and the world is your playground.  I never knew that I would be forced to have a relationship with you — the disease — for the rest of my life.  I have stopped feeding you by no longer walking with your chemical soldiers.  I have the power of God, my fellow recovering addicts, and Alcoholics Anonymous  to keep you at bay.  As long as I continue to do on a daily basis what I need to do to stay sober and to grow spiritually, you will never be able to resume your task of destroying me.  As for your chemical soldiers, I respect and fear them, but they, too, can have no power over me as long as I choose not to use them.  Good-bye, pot.  Good-bye, alcohol.  Good-bye, cocaine.  I have found a new solution and His name is Jesus Christ.”

Eighteen years have passed since I was homeless and in the middle of my battle with addiction.  In desperation and overwhelming fear, I reached out and said this simple and powerful prayer:  “Jesus, Please Help Me”.  I had made my final surrender and my new life was waiting for me.  No other power than God could have saved me.  By the grace of God, I have been given 18 years of sobriety and a beautiful new life!

“Every recovering addict is a miracle because we have, “recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body.” The book Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that, “The main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than his body.”

The disease of addiction has three major components: the mental obsession, the physical craving and the phenomenon of denial. Then add to this spiritual bankruptcy, intense emotional pain, devastating loneliness, fear and confusion, then you have a perfect storm for addiction and relapse.

Here is a powerful quote from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous:  “The great fact is just this, and nothing less:  That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God’s universe.  The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous.  He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.”

The book goes on to describe that every addict or alcoholic is faced with two choices:  “One is to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could. And the other, to accept spiritual help.”

The book states that, “Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences.  To me these occurrences are phenomenon.  They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements.  Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.”

Relapse is not part of recovery.  Relapse is part of the disease of addiction.  The reason why relapse is NOT O.K. is because addicts and alcoholics are dying every day from relapses.  Let’s make it clear that relapses, although they do happen, are not part of recovery, relapses are the enemy, not our friend.  Relapses live in our minds.  Relapses are the number one tool of the disease to kill us. All addicts face one of the most powerful, evil and destructive diseases in the world.  The disease of addiction is so powerful because it attacks us intensely in four ways.  It overwhelms us by attacking us emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically simultaneously.  This is why Bill Wilson and Doctor Bob point to a spiritual solution.  No addict can be the solution to his or her own addiction.  Addiction is much bigger than that.  ” We had to find a power greater than ourselves”.

There are many ways to fight off relapses:  Call your sponsor, pray and ask God for help, go to a meeting, pick up the phone and talk to a friend, read the recovery books, surround yourself with people in recovery who love you.  One of our greatest enemies is isolation and fear.  Alone we relapse, but together we find freedom and a new life.  I always found that doing service work and helping another addict, allowed me to be free of using thoughts or depression, or stress in my head.  When we are helping others, it is hard to get stuck in our own minds. I know that my mind can often become a bad neighborhood.  Helping others is the key to freedom.  Peace to you!



About The Author

Robert J. Allison lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with his wife Rochelle Allison. Robert survived a 28-year battle with chemical dependency, including 13 chemical dependency treatment centers and homelessness. He surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and began his new life of faith and contented sobriety. Robert has been blessed with 18 years of sobriety and with his new freedom he now is helping other addicts to find peace, faith and the priceless gift of sobriety.