Through my own recovery journey, and during my experience as a Certified Addiction Professional, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about what it means to relapse.
For some caregivers, and the people they’re supporting, that word can feel like a synonym for “failure.” That just isn’t how I see it, and I’d like to offer you my perspective.
Consider this: For people suffering from other chronic diseases we don’t consider treatment failure a personal failure. We help them take another look at treatment options. But if someone has a chronic brain disease like opioid dependence and they relapse, it is sometimes considered to be a personal failure.
In other words, there’s stigma attached to opioid addiction. So when a person relapses, they may be accused of a personal failure. But remember, it’s a chronic brain disease. We should show compassion as people struggle with the realities of this disease and encourage them to continue on their recovery journey.
It’s not always easy for caregivers to jump right into that type of mindset. You may find yourself rushing into a place of hopelessness thinking, “We’re back at square one. We’re starting over again.” But that may not be the case.
Look at it this way. Your loved one has successfully experienced days, weeks, or even years of sobriety. They know what being in recovery feels like—and so do you!
When your loved one first tells you they’ve relapsed, your impulse may be to show disappointment. Try to encourage them instead, and help them know that being honest is the right thing to do. Remember to cherish their honesty, because it gives you a chance to be there for them on these harder days.
You may want to take this opportunity to point out that your loved one is not the same person who initially started this journey. They may have relapsed, but that doesn’t mean they’ve failed. They’ve gained personal knowledge of what helped them stay sober in the past. So remind them how powerful they really are. Tell them how much they mean to you, and how proud you are of their accomplishments, no matter how small.
Having said all that, caregivers are human. You and I have emotions and struggles of our own. To do our best as caregivers, we need guidance, too. Finding support and resources can be a big help. Even reading posts like "Begin With Acceptance" from Sharon Osbourne might help you approach relapse objectively.
This is a time to help your loved one refocus the recovery journey. What was working? What needs to be adjusted? At the end of the day, recovery is a lifelong journey that takes dedication and vigilance, and your loved one is lucky to have your support along the way.