Is Relapse Normal?

Sure, relapse is normal. But, who wants to be normal? Wouldn’t you rather be sober? As long as I thought that relapses were a normal part of recovery, I kept having them.

When I had a cafeteria approach to recovery I took what I wanted, and left the rest. If I worked the steps I worked them at my pace, to my standards, and by myself. And I kept acting out. I hated it, but it was all I knew, I didn’t hear anyone telling me there was another way. People might have said it, but I didn’t hear it.

What I did hear was that I was making progress when I lengthened the time between relapses. I heard that progress was also shortening the time between relapse and confession. I heard that progress was having shorter or less severe relapses. But all I really heard was that it was OK to relapse. And with my cafeteria approach to recovery I liked the idea that relapse was a normal part of recovery, because that meant I could have some relapse with my potato salad.

I liked the idea of relapse being an option. This is a non-threatening recovery that doesn’t challenge me. It tells me to take it easy, it says hey man you’ve spent years doing this let’s not go ahead and stop overnight now, it took years to develop this problem it’ll probably take just as long to solve it. So just relax. Let’s take this one step at a time, preferably one step every six to eight months.

Like I said, the addict in me was comfortable with the idea of recovering slowly with lots of relapses, or in other words, not recovering. It was very uncomfortable with the idea that the addiction would one day lead to the destruction of life as I knew it. It squirmed at the idea of being powerless over the addiction. It hated the idea that I got myself into this problem and I couldn’t get myself out. I abhorred the idea of surrender. So I just didn’t think about these things; instead, I thought about lengthening my abstinence, confessing quicker, or acting out less. But still my focus was on acting out, not recovery.

The belief that relapse is normal is based on the assumption that human power is keeping us sober. Only human power could be so weak. If God was keeping us sober, would we relapse at all? As long as I relied on my power to stay sober, I continued to relapse. It wasn’t until I abandoned the ideas that my efforts would bring about my sobriety, and accepted the fact that God only could grant me sobriety, that I stopped relapsing.

Relapses are the kinds of things that make you want to puke in your mouth and never use a public restroom again, ever. And you are telling me that these are normal? Normal to who? When we seek recovery we are looking for a new normal. We are looking for a life where we don’t feel like our agency has been hijacked.
I can hear it already, “Relapses can actually be a good thing, if we learn from them.” I get learning from relapses, but I’d prefer to learn from sobriety, learn from my sponsor, and learn from God. Incidentally, my wife also prefers I learn this way.

* The original post can be found at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that. I think when we say that relapsing is normal it's usually to keep us from beating ourselves up for acting out, but in reality it's closer to justifying and excusing our actions, especially when we look at it with the idea that we'll just lengthen the time between acting out, severity, etc.