I thought this might be a good time of year to write about relapsing when you are trying to give up an addictive habit. Christmas can be stressful with all the additional organising and social events that surround you at this time of year and temptation seems to be everywhere from the office chocolates and cakes to the office Christmas party with alcohol flowing, and not forgetting the overindulgence that is expected on Christmas day. Relapsing is a normal part of the recovery journey, and most people will not give up at the first attempt, it is not unusual to give up and start again many times before you finally break free. It is not a crime to relapse and the worse thing you can do is beat yourself up.
Learning a new habit is like a toddler learning to walk, very few get there at the first attempt, they might start by crawling, then pulling themselves up onto the chair and falling down many times before they finally master the ability to walk a few steps. When they fall, they get back up again, they never give up, they try and try and try again until they succeed.
They also don’t feel guilty every time they fall, they might reassess the situation, wonder why they failed, try a different tactic, but they never blame themselves. The problem with guilt thoughts is that they are sticky and hard to let go. They don’t arrive as guilty thoughts, they will merely be a thought e.g. I drank a glass of wine at that party, I ate a chocolate cake for dessert, and we can choose to just let that thought go, but when we are trying to give up a bad habit, we start to add meaning to that thought, we turn it into a guilt thought by sticking glue onto it and then it becomes hard to shift. We add things, like “I am a failure”, “I will never manage to give up” “What’s wrong with me” and these negative thoughts become the glue that holds that guilt thought in place, it gives it more importance and becomes our focus of attention. If we had just let the first thought go “I had a glass of wine” your mind will have drifted onto other more interesting things.
If you relapse, just mark it as part of the learning journey, remember you are learning something new, a new way of living and being in the world, enjoy the journey and discovering new emotions and feelings created by living life as a person not dependent on anything outside yourself for your happiness.
It’s ok to review the relapse calmly with an enquiring mind, maybe like a science experiment, maybe it was a stressful situation that triggered it, maybe it was a happy event and you were celebrating or maybe you were in a place where you would normally act out your habit. Review what happened to make you fall, just like the toddler and identify the trigger only to help you in the future as you travel back onto your new pathway and start again.
One relapse does not put you on a downward spiral, you just had a relapse, it is a natural part of your journey to freedom.