By Beverly Conyers, author of Addict in the Family, Revised and Updated
“In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.” -- Robert Green Ingersoll
“He was clean for over a year,” a friend of mine said tearfully not long ago. “I felt sick when I found out he’d relapsed. Like my world was falling apart all over again.”
How well I remember that sick feeling! Each time my daughter relapsed, I was devastated. In some ways, her relapses were harder to bear than her long stretches of uninterrupted addiction because I’d dare to hope that the worst was over. I’d begin to start trusting, only to have the rug pulled out from under me.
I knew on an intellectual level that relapse is part of the process of recovery. I came to understand that the process of change rarely proceeds in a straight line from start to finish, that there are inevitable slips, setbacks, and bumps in the road. I understood all this, yet the emotional punch of relapse always caused me heartache and pain.
In time, I developed tools to protect myself emotionally. I learned not to hope for too much and not to trust too quickly. I also learned to accept that I could not control my daughter’s actions. Even now, when she has been clean and sober for several years and is living her life well, I know that relapse is always a possibility. Just as a cancer patient whose disease is in remission can never be completely certain that the disease won’t come back, a recovering addict can never be certain that addiction will not return. Experience has shown that the vulnerability is there.
Still, recognizing the possibility of relapse doesn’t mean that I live in fear of it. If anything, knowing that relapse is possible gives me greater appreciation for my daughter’s sobriety.
I treasure the time that I have with her while her mind is clear and her moods are stable. I love the growth I see in her. I respect her strength and resilience and her ability to overcome obstacles. The good things I see in her will not disappear if she relapses. They will still be at the core of who she is. And she will be able to draw on her inner resources in times of trouble.
Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about relapse – why it happens, how to cope if it happens, what lessons it has to teach us. One thing I’ve learned is that relapse, like all actions, has consequences. For families, those consequences include heartache and disappointment. But they can also include greater appreciation of what is good in the here and now and recognition of our loved one’s capacity to try again.
About the Author
Beverly Conyers is the mother of three grown children. She began writing about addiction when she discovered that her youngest daughter was addicted to heroin. She knows first-hand the anxiety and heartache that families endure, and she has gained deep insight into the process of recovery from addicts who share their experiences in her books. Above all, she knows that there is no such thing as a hopeless case. Everything can change even when we least expect it, and the miracle of recovery happens every day.