Let me count the ways! First of all, pay attention to self talk. People say “I relapsed” as if it were the same thing as “I fell asleep” and were some mystical event. No. You chose to relapse; you decided to relapse. Let’s be really clear here: you could have chosen not to. It is a choice. Sometimes a hard choice, but a choice nevertheless.

Sometimes, after a good, long time in recovery, while you’ve struggled, gone to meetings, you have a sponsor, a therapist, and guess what might happen? You notice that life hasn’t bestowed upon you all the treasures or rewards or success or happiness you expected. Welcome to Life 101, where you are not Prince Charming or the belle of the ball. You realize you are not going to win the lottery or cure a major disease. But still you are alive and clean and full of possibilities and choices.

Maybe you still do not have the complete trust of family, maybe you still cannot find a job, and you start to think, “What’s the use? Why go through all this if nothing is really great?” Remember, it is the voice of the addiction in your head. Fortunately, you can tell yourself that this is not the only voice in your head. Sure, part of your brain is addicted, but not all of your brain is addicted. Whew! You can choose.

Remember, a thought is not a command! Acknowledge you will have these using thoughts. Usually when you are feeling low, depressed, disappointed, the addicted part of your brain will recall these feelings, and the addiction speaks. It says, “I know how to make you feel better.” Recognize and repel. Recognize and reject. Recognize and revolt. Recognize and recommit to staying clean.

Or how about this scenario: You say you do not know why you chose to relapse. This is a cop-out. You do know. You can try to BS everyone, but do not BS yourself. If you revisit the thoughts leading up to the moment of the relapse, you will surely see why. Or perhaps it was the dynamic duo of temptation and opportunity? What? You didn’t know there was an epidemic out there? You didn’t know you would be tested? No more BS. Because that is what it is—bullshit.

Or how about this? You met the love of your life, and he/she uses. Just a little, just sometimes, just on the weekends. You forgot there is nothing more important than staying clean. Or maybe you didn’t forget; maybe you just didn’t care enough about yourself. Remember

King Solomon from chapter 4? “Never underestimate the power of associations.” Leave temptation. Run. Run fast. Do not use, no matter what. No whining. Save your life. That’s right. Save your life.

Or maybe you have a job, and people at work use. They offer and keep offering. They seem to function just fine at work even though they are high. Why not you? Why not you indeed? Well, why not you? Maybe because you have made the decision to be straight/clean. Maybe you said the magic word enough and really meant it. Maybe you need to see your strength at work. Maybe you need to be more stubborn, more proud, clean! Easy, no. But think of the alternative. If you use, you go back to a life without choice. There is no middle ground when you are an addict. You will be in a lasting recovery or you will be a junkie. Period. Choose.

Other clients say they have chosen to relapse because they are bored and want to feel high to take the boredom away. Remember that the relapse voice in your head doesn’t care what excuse you pick, as long as you pick! As long as you use.

One of my all-time favorite clients was having a “perfect storm” of annoyances. First, his bicycle was stolen. Then, he was supposed to be picked up for work, and his ride never showed up, so he trudged to the bus stop in the pouring rain. His roommate ate the food that he had labeled as his in the refrigerator. He had an argument with his mother that turned very nasty. He was really down in the good old dumps, and guess what? Yup, craving thoughts. What did he do to stay clean? He checked his pity party self-talk and replaced it with the thoughts that made him feel grateful. Then, he called a friend who started out as his sponsor and let it all hang out about how he was feeling. The friend/sponsor let him know how common his feelings were, how actually expected these cravings arrive when we are at the weakest point of not feeling good. The sponsor told him not to place so much importance on negativity, just to recognize it and let it go. Have patience with yourself. Thoughts cannot dictate your behavior. You are the boss of what you do. Recovery is not a magical thing that happens once and you are good forever. Recovery must be tended to like the fragile flower that it is. With love for yourself, pride in your decision, and a firm commitment to stay clean, day by day, recovery can be yours.

Relapse is easy. Maybe you have personal experience with relapsing, or maybe you know others who have relapsed. Ask them if they are/were happy with the choice to use again. Not one of them will tell you relapse is better than recovery. The things that are easy are never appreciated the way we appreciate accomplishing that which is difficult. Relapse is easy; staying in recovery can be hard. Choose, damn it, choose. Choose because you can.

Get it in your head that relapse and using are not going to harm your little
pinky. We are talking brain.

All I have are words for you. Words to be able to arm you against this strong and sneaky opponent that you must face. But perhaps words are enough. Words are ideas, and ideas are thoughts, and thoughts are real things. For some of you, the right words at the right time are all you need to arm yourself. How I wish for these words to become your words. It is said that a man of worth is true to his word. Be true to yourself. Speak with the recovery veterans who have been in recovery for a long time. Take their counsel, their experience, and their story.

Take their words as your own. Know that help is a phone call away, a meeting away.

So why do people choose to relapse? The answers are many, but there is no good answer. Relapse is the way to hell. No way.