We know that relapse happens. We know that multiple attempts are the norm. Certainly not for everyone, but certainly this is true for some.

Why does relapse happen? It happens because you let your mind have a mind of its own. Stress, anger, disappointment—all these thoughts and feelings will take your focus away from your goal of being in a lasting recovery. Even though relapse is not unusual, we know that it is not inevitable. Many people have stopped using and never used again. But what if you are not one of those people? What lessons are there to be learned and applied going forward?

The first lesson is to acknowledge how easy it is to give in and just decide to relapse. Things get to you, and your mind is reminded about the relief that is just a hit away, a drink away. Instant recognition of these thoughts is critical. You must have a plan in place. That plan must be to call your recovery coach or call your sponsor or call someone with whom you have a prearranged pact to be there for each other in such a crisis. Put this plan in place. Do that now. Go ahead, I’ll wait right here for you.

If ever you should need help and support, it would be right at the moment you lose sight of the most important thing in your life, which is to stay straight. Help is support. Support is help. Be prepared. Have a plan in place.

Another lesson from relapse is an overwhelming feeling of disgust and failure that you can actually make use of, but don’t spend too much time there. Realize how badly you feel, and then get moving. Don’t wallow in pity. Make sure that a relapse is over as soon as it starts. In this way, a relapse does not blossom into a binge, but instead becomes a slip and not a relapse at all. There are good lessons to take away from a slip. Getting back into control mode immediately displays strength and a recommitment.

You will not be the only one who feels badly if you slip. Family members and loved ones will express their feelings about your slip. If they are angered, do not despair. Try to understand the feelings of others, but get right back on your program. Get right back with your sponsor. Get right back with your coach. Your coach and your sponsor will help you through this, and, chances are, this experience will strengthen your resolve and make you more aware of the pitfalls and challenges you face.

Another critical lesson is, no matter what, you will not accept any slip or relapse as a final failure. No such thing. No failure is a final failure. You can keep coming back to treatment and recovery. There is no expiration date on trying. Do not beat yourself up if you slip or relapse. Relapse statistical rates are no different for the disease of addiction than for any other disease that must be managed. Remember that great Japanese proverb: fall down eight, get up nine.

The best lesson of all is that relapse is preventable. If you start your journal as requested, you will begin to see the when, where, who, what, and, most important, the why.

Most important of all is for you to know that there is help. Know that there are people to call who want to help you get past this incredible urge. You must beware of thinking that you would be bothering anyone. That kind of thinking is the addict part of you. Call. Ask for help. You need help, and there is an army of us waiting to help you. Let us help you save yourself.