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You Relapsed Over The Holidays- Now What?

If you’re among the growing group of people who have experienced a relapse during the holiday season, don’t let the disappointment of this setback get in the way of your recovery journey. Instead, take the following steps to set yourself up for even greater success in the new year.

On the outside, recovery may seem simple- ask for help, receive treatment, get sober and stay sober. However, anyone with first-hand experience with addiction will tell you that the journey of recovery is far from simple.

More often than not, the path of recovery is a complicated maze of victories and obstacles. Among the most common setbacks that those in recovery will experience is a relapse, or a return to using their drug of choice after a period of sobriety.

While concerns of relapse are prevalent at all times for those living in recovery, these concerns tend to swell during the holiday season as stress levels rise and people begin to extend themselves personally, socially and financially. In fact, the unrelenting stress of the holiday season can create a breeding ground of holiday relapse triggers. Due to this, it’s become common for those in recovery to relapse during what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Don’t Keep It A Secret

Relapse is a very common and frustrating hardship of recovery. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, 40 to 60 percent of individuals that have a substance abuse disorder will relapse within one year of treatment.

If you’re feeling shame or guilt because of a recent relapse, it’s easy to want to isolate yourself from your support network. You may be embarrassed by your relapse or fear that those close to you may judge you, but don’t let these thoughts stop you from reaching out for the support and comfort that you need.

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Call your sponsor or a friend from your support group and tell them about your relapse. If you speak to someone who is also in recovery, there is a good chance they’ll have their own relapse story. Ask for their advice and take comfort in the fact that others around you have been through the same obstacles and are now living successfully in long-term recovery.

Facing relapse in isolation can make getting back to recovery feel impossible. Instead, open up about your experience and seek support from the people around you who have been through similar hardships.

Identify Your Triggers

Parties, family gatherings, office gift exchanges- the holidays can place a lot of different stressors on a person. Since everyone reacts to stress in different ways, it important to determine what personally triggered your relapse.

When considering what could have caused you to relapse, it helps to understand the process behind it. Relapse typically happens in a series of stages that ultimately leads those in recovery back to using. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes notes that the process begins with an emotional relapse when feelings of guilt, stress or shame weigh heavy on you.

As the emotional relapse continues, you may start to fantasize about how drugs and alcohol used to make you feel- euphoric and unstoppable. These feelings can easily lead you back to using again.

So ask yourself the tough questions: do you have a toxic family? Did buying gifts put a financial burden on you? Was being around alcohol and others drinking at the office Christmas party too much? How did your relapse begin? After you’ve asked yourself the questions, it’s equally as important to answer them honestly. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for another relapse.

Once you have been identified what triggered your relapse, you’ll be able to make a plan in order to avoid or manage these stressors in the upcoming year. Use your relapse to build an even stronger foundation for your recovery.

Define What Relapse Means To You

Technically, a relapse is a return to substance use or abuse after a period of abstinence. However, is a very broad definition of something that tends to be extremely personal.

Every person in recovery has a different idea of what relapse looks like to them and for them. While you may view relapse as accidentally taking a sip out of a friend’s mixed drink, someone else in recovery may only view it as a relapse if they’ve gone on a week-long bender.

Although neither one of these definitions is wrong, it’s important to determine what relapse looks like and feels like to you. This way, you’re able to set boundaries. For example, if your definition of relapse includes accidentally taking a sip of a friend’s alcoholic beverage, you may try to avoid situations where alcohol will be served or get in the habit of bringing your own beverages to parties.

While setting strict boundaries for yourself might not seem ideal at first, setting up perimeters may be necessary in order to prioritize your recovery and bounce back from a relapse. As you grow in your recovery, you can always reassess your boundaries and add to or adjust them if necessary.

When you set boundaries based on your definition of relapse, you’ll be able to maintain your sobriety while remaining in control of your personal recovery story.

Reach Out For The Help You Need

Feelings of shame and guilt can make you unwilling to ask for help out of fear of being judged or disappointing the ones you love. While these fears are understandable, don’t allow them to get in the way of reaching out for the help you need.

While not everyone will return to a treatment facility after a relapse, you may find that this is the best course of action for you. If you do go to treatment again, you’re not truly starting over at square one, even though it may feel like it at first. You now have all of the knowledge gained from your previous experiences in recovery to help guide your treatment and journey towards long-term recovery.

Even if you don’t return to treatment after a relapse, seek help from your support group, your family or a treatment professional in order to identify triggers, set boundaries, build healthy relationships and get back to your recovery.

Recovery is not a destination. Rather, it’s a lifelong journey of healing, reflection and self-improvement. Relapse is just one of the many setbacks you’ll face on your path of long-term recovery. So while you may be disappointed or angry with yourself today, don’t let these emotions deter you from finding freedom in sobriety again.

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