Dealing with Setbacks in Addiction Recovery

First off, no one is granting you some sort of special permission to fail.  You’re not getting a hall pass from SMART, or anyone else to fail in your recovery. The person that’s ideally most concerned with you not experiencing a setback is (hopefully) yourself.

That said, statistics show that many people in addiction recovery have setbacks along the way.

So, let’s say that you got started in recovery, and you have a lapse.

How Not to Deal with a Setback

In this scenario, you have a lapse and react in these sorts of ways:

Telling yourself another time would be better.

There’s nothing that says a “better time” will ever come along. Though it may be difficult, there’s no evidence that it will ever be any easier to recover than it is right now. Waiting for your planets to align is not a good plan—there’s no time like the present.

Blaming it on others.

You might deal with your lapse by blaming your peers, your family, your ex, or just about anyone else; that “if” someone else didn’t offer it, or hadn’t treated you a certain way, or pressured you into using you would not have lapsed.

By using blame, you’re trying to convince yourself that it wasn’t you that chose to use – you were “forced” into it. If that were so, your recovery is at the mercy of the world, and you might want to take up residence in some sort of fallout shelter away from the rest of the world if you want to recover.

Telling yourself that you “can’t handle” recovery.

You might tell yourself that recovery is driving you crazy, you “can’t stop”, or that urges are forcing you to use.  Being upset is not the same as “going crazy”, urges cannot force you to addict yourself, and you’d be a sort of an anomaly if you were not capable of recovery. Millions of people have recovered from all sorts of addictions, and you can, too. It’s less of a matter of if you can than if you will do all that it takes.

Telling yourself you’re not ready.

If you’re already in recovery, it was probably for a very good reason. You may want to remind yourself of why got you into recovery in the first place, rather than talk yourself out of seeking freedom from addiction.

Seeing your setback as an all-or-nothing disaster.

Saying things like “I’ve blown all the time I had!” and believing you’re starting all over again may make your setback appear to be a recovery-ending event.  Your “good days” are still there if you’re concerned with counting them, and you’re not starting over – you had a setback.

How to Deal with a Setback

Take responsibility.

Don’t cop out and blame others or situations on what happened. That creates a two-fold problem. First, you’re blaming someone else and that can cause a relationship issue (if you’re interested in keeping a relationship), and secondly, it defers you from seeing your own involvement and decisions.

You cannot correct your thinking and actions if you are busy blaming others.

Learn from the setback.

It’s not a total loss if you learn something from what happened, and make plans to not have similar situations trip you up. Here, you may want to avoid certain situations, or create a Portable Lapse Prevention Plan.

Don’t treat yourself as a failure.

Lapses and other failures are events, and not indicative of who you are nor how things will eventually turn out. Learn from the “event”, make the needed adjustments  and move forward!

Setbacks  can create  clarity on what you didn’t see before. 

If you walk away from the setback having learned from it, it’s not a total setback anymore, is it? For instance, if you had succumbed to peer pressure, you may want to look to see if you carry around a habit of people-pleasing.

Get input from others

If you’re still confused by your setback, reach out to others.  You can post to the SMART Online Community, discuss it at a local meeting, or an online meeting.

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