I had one hundred and twenty-nine days.
I barely even thought about, but every day I kept the streak going and I was pretty proud of myself. I mean, that’s over four months! But then one day life (work, school, socialization, exercise, the blog, sleep, etc.) must have just gotten in the way and the next thing I knew, I saw this message:
Okay, missing a day of Duolingo (learn languages for free!) is kind of a silly example, but who hasn’t been really committed to something new at one point or another? Maybe you got really into blogging and social media or you took up marathon running. Maybe you made jewelry or started a daily meditation practice. Whatever that new activity, you were probably really into it for the first few weeks or months. That may have been all you talked about or all you did in your free time.
But then our interests change. Or we become busier at work or with relationships. Before we know it, that activity we had been so into doesn’t take priority in our lives any longer. It may even become a chore to keep doing it just for the sake of doing it every day. So we make a choice. If it’s something we truly enjoy, we can find a way to incorporate it into our lives, but if it no longer interests us or is no longer fun, we try something new.
Well, that’s cool, but now let’s imagine you didn’t break your streak at Duolingo or meditation or running. Imagine you had 129 days sober/clean/behavior or symptom free, and now you’re facing starting over at day one.
What now?! First of all, lapses in recovery happen. They happen at 3 days in, or at 300 days in. And each time you’re going to have to make a conscious choice to start over.
Here’s 5 ways to help move on after a lapse in recovery:
1. Today is Day One
Don’t wait until tomorrow morning to start over. If keeping track of your days behavior free motivates you, start with day one the moment after the behavior. By committing to starting again, you’re already letting yourself know this lapse is not the end of your hard work in recovery. Just because you’re re-setting your days back to one, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to reach and surpass your previous behavior free day total.
Remind yourself why you chose recovery in the first place. What keeps you going? Perhaps make a pro and con list of recovery.
2. Don’t Eat the Whole Cake
Imagine you’re on a diet (but why would you torture yourself with something that isn’t sustainable and doesn’t work??) and you just ate a piece of cake you swore you wouldn’t eat. Do you go ahead and just eat the other 8 slices of cake since you “already messed up your diet”? Or, perhaps you accept that the cake was delicious or made you feel good in the moment, acknowledge your behavior, and move on to the next activity, knowing that tomorrow you’re not about to have more cake.
3. Ask for Support
As normal is it is to experience a lapse in recovery, most people don’t understand how challenging it is to maintain your recovery day after day. Reach out to people who understand what you’re going through. Whether that’s your therapist, dietitian, support group, sponsor, trusted friend/family member, or doctor, don’t try to do it all on your own.
And if no one is available to you exactly when you need them, treat yourself with the same compassion you would a friend who is going through the same situation. What would you tell your friend to do? Would you ever accept his/her decision to give up?
4. Analyze, Don’t Criticize (Alternatively: Be Curious, Not Furious)
Start thinking about what led to your lapse. Did your binge start because you restricted all day? Were you with your friends who are still using and the temptation was literally staring you in the face? Was looking at pictures of you with your ex-girl/boyfriend upsetting?
Behaviors can absolutely “just happen” when you’re early on in recovery because our behaviors have become a habit. But once it’s no longer a habit, there’s always another reason for the behavior. It helps to follow the previous step and reach out to that support person who may have more insight into why the behavior happened.
5. Update Your Relapse Prevention Plan
I’m assuming you already have a relapse prevention plan in place, because that should have been one of the first things you worked on in treatment. Now that you’ve experienced a lapse (your first or the 21st), you’re able to revise the plan in ways that work best for you.
You’ve already followed the previous step and you know what led to your lapse. Now, imagine the same scenario and think about what you could have done differently in the moment. In addition, think about how you could have avoided that scenario in the first place.
When you begin to see your lapse as a learning experience and an experience to help you strengthen your recovery, you may not be as afraid of relapse. Because relapse doesn’t just happen. Relapse is often the result of many lapses that are not used as learning experiences. And that may just mean you’re in need of more help and assistance, and that’s perfectly okay, too.