How to Handle Feelings of Guilt and Frustration After Relapse


“Relapse is part of recovery.” This statement is what people in rehabilitation centers and AA meetings hear very often. This statement is very dangerous. Why? Most people think that since it is part of your recovery and it is something that’s inevitable, it is okay to indulge when relapse happens.

It isn’t okay, and it will never be. This will put everything you gave up, worked for, and the ones you love at higher risk — the sobriety you’re currently experiencing, the life with your loved ones that you’re trying so hard to rebuild, and the promise of future that your life may have after the addiction.

That is why we personally think that the best way of giving hope for people struggling for sobriety is “Looking for the best way to deal with the inevitable relapse is part of your recovery.”

It’s real, although the distinction is little. It helps deal with relapse, not as an unavoidable phase of healing, but as a potential barrier which may be surpassed by someone who’s dedicated to pursuing their recovery.

Why does relapse happen when recovering from an addiction?

Many folks in recovery from a disorder that abuses substances such as alcoholism and drug addiction didn’t start that process completely willingly — often, they had been persuaded by family and friends, ruled by the Court, or reached their own version of “rock bottom.”

Many times, alcoholics and addicts have other persistent mental or emotional disorders like PTSD, anxiety, or depression. The person doesn’t automatically get rid of the problems brought by the said disorders when he stops taking drugs or drinking alcohol.

When both factors — first reluctance and progressive disorders — unite during the early stages of healing, they can make someone who just enjoyed being sober be dangerously vulnerable to some relapse, particularly when their surroundings aren’t conducive to pursue their current state of being sober.

What other things can contribute to the occurrence of relapse?

The addict/alcoholic may feel overwhelmed and at a loss when trying several methods to live a normal life, socialize with other people, and to feel okay with the stress that they need to deal in their daily life when they just reached the state of being sober.

Until those lessons were learned and always put in mind, the person can opt to develop new habits that should be supported by a strong foundation. When it’s backed up by a weak foundation, different circumstances that may prompt a relapse. These may include:

Wrong people – it’s most of the time impossible to remain sober if those who surround you are still drug addicts and drinking excessively. Connecting with your old buddies in drug-use and drinking who are still actively engaging in these vices may be your stepping stone to joining them again.

Unproductive places – Addiction is a disorder caused by poor habits. When you still continue going to the places that used to tolerate your vices that led to your addiction, you may just go back to your old ways.

Avoid revisiting the pub you used to drink till morning, the house of your previous supplier, and places where you and your previous drug and drink mates meet. Doing this will eliminate one of the risks of taking these substances again.

Old ways – What does this really mean? This is your way of thinking or your mindset and the way you cope up. It was your own unhealthy method of doing tasks which help your illness progress.

Addiction is a disorder stubbornness, denial, and ego as well. When you repeat your old ways like your mindset, reactions to stressors, and your behaviours in the past, then don’t expect that you’ll get better because you’re only preparing yourself to get disappointed.

Striving to do more than what you can – “Keep It Simple Stupid” is just another saying that most people in the rehabilitation center repeatedly follows.

What it implies is that an individual should concentrate more on activities, actions, and institutions that encourage you to heal. Don’t give in to the temptations that attempt and resolve every mistake and a broken relationship in the past while you’re struggling for sobriety.

Getting impatient – Most of the time, an individual who’s in his early stage of healing may become frustrated when they are not regaining the normal lifestyle that they had before they became an addict as fast as they believe that they should. What they fail to understand is that their disease developed slowly so they should also expect to recover slowly.

Losing faith – Often times, the first signs of sobriety are not evident in the early stage. Others might give in and then attempt to take shortcuts because they do not know why a specific activity or measure is vital, but don’t follow their steps.

Recovery may be a long process, and occasionally, it may require to set your ego aside but just put your trust in the procedure which has worked for many folks in a similar circumstance.

Disregarding and not attending meetings – When an individual has just become sober, they might begin to feel as though they got the situation under control.

The simple fact of the matter is, the 12 meeting sessions apart from the provides you with a support group that totally understands what you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing, which is vital in your recovery journey to make sure that you’re not getting overwhelmed nor tempted to go back to your ways.

Absence of a solid support system – As much as you have to avoid those who may lure you into drugging or drinking again, you should also have optimistic, sober men and women who put your best interests and recovery first.

These are individuals who you can open yourself up to whenever things are becoming too overwhelming for you, and who may put you back on the right track when you get tempted to drift away.

The feeling of being depressed – A lot of men and women in the early stages of their healing experience may go through the symptoms of depression since their brain attempts to go back to its right track.

They may feel lonely, like as if they’re mourning for a lost loved one. That may be true in a way since the connection they have with their favourite drug was already broken.

Nevertheless, the difficulties you’re experiencing in your life right now does not compare to the new and sober life that awaits you after your recovery. Realizing that it is a kind of already progress in itself so might as well exert efforts in your journey to sobriety.

When a relapse happens, does that mean that a person did not really recover from addiction?

No, definitely not. Addiction is like hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes — it’s persistent. It comes back, especially if the person suffering from this does not have enough self-control to abstain from using the substance in the early stages of sobriety.

As we mentioned above, recovery takes a lot of time, and it is a process of changing your old lifestyle into new to make addiction controllable. Here are some of the rates of relapse in different conditions:

  • 40 to 60 percent of those who abuse different substances may experience a relapse at some point in their lives.
  • 30 to 60 percent of people who have Type I Diabetes are not following the meal and exercise plan prescribed by their doctors.
  • 50 to 70 percent of those who have asthma disregard their treatment pills and does not take them timely.
  • 50 to 70 percent of those who have high blood pressure does not comply with the requirements set by their healthcare professionals.

No matter how low or high the rate of their non-compliance to their doctor’s prescribed treatment, a person who has diabetes who eats a slice of cake does not translate to being a disappointment who needs to stop trying to get well.

Related article: Prescription Drug Addiction: How to Prevent a Relapse

What should you do when relapse occurs?

When you are recovering, and your risk of relapse is definitely high, you should do one thing to keep enjoying your sobriety — Concentrate on your program and do not give in to temptation.

You will not act like you didn’t suffer from the addiction. What you should do is to continue moving forward. For the meantime, do these tips to keep your relapse at bay:

  • Be composed. Having relapse does not necessarily mean that you’re full recovery is already impossible to attain.
  • Do not overthink and try to get out of that situation.
  • Inform your family and those who are involved in your journey.
  • Avoid being alone. As much as possible, keep your support system around you during these times.
  • Attend meetings and group therapies. Be present to as many meetings as you can ever attend. Most of the time, what they say in there may change your perception.
  • Read magazines or newspapers about recovery.
  • Do not fall into the mistake of wallowing in self-pity, guilt, and shame.
  • Do not let yourself off the hook. When you’re always cleaned up and fresh, it affects your overall mood.
  • Eat healthy kinds of food. Your hunger can sometimes be mistakable to substance cravings.

When you’re planning for the long term, one of your goals should be redirection in your recovery program. Do not hesitate to bring up any concern or problem that you experience to your counsellors and therapists. They have dealt with relapses before, and we’re pretty sure they know what to do in yours.

If your program for sobriety has already ended and you are not confident enough to go out and live normally again, you can ask your sponsors and your support system if there are other ways for you to re-enrolled in another course or program. It is important that you get to know what they say about it first.

How do you start over and live a new life after the relapse?

When all you see are problems and difficulties while you’re recovering, it may be pretty hard to hope for a new and clean life after the relapse. Although addiction is a persistent disorder which may involve relapses, being an addict for drugs again is a huge disappointment.

However, the good news is after one relapse; you don’t have to live in the dark phase of your life as an addict. You can bounce back!

The ultimate question when planning to bounce bank is how? How do you fight back and start in a clean state after stopping your alcohol and drug intake when the people around you have something to say, and you feel extreme guilt and shame? Read on to learn more on how to surpass different challenges after the relapse.

Overcoming Guilt and Shame

When you’re working in your recovery, and you went through a relapse, the life after that may be uncomfortable because of the feeling of being a failure. This is especially true considering the effort and amount of time that you put in your recovery.

Being guilty and shameful is pretty much common and understandable when you just went through a relapse. However, you don’t have to let them overpower you. Giving them power is like putting all your hard work to the trash as they can impact your choices and behaviour in the future greatly.

Put in mind that if you let guilt, shame, and the overwhelming sense of being a failure to govern your life, you are most likely to increase the chance of another relapse to happen.

Putting that in mind, here are some of the most practical tips in disregarding guilt and shame:

  1. Don’t point fingers. Although it might be very tempting to put the blame on yourself or to another person, don’t do it. Owning your mistakes doesn’t require wallowing in self-pity and lowering your self-esteem and more importantly doesn’t mean that you need to look for someone whom you can just easily blame. When you’re done going through a relapse, take responsibility for your actions but don’t pass the blame on someone and most importantly on yourself.
  2. Forgive yourself and other people. All of us commit mistakes. Aside from taking responsibility for your actions as a way of starting a new life after the relapse, you can also sincerely let yourself and those who you think triggered your relapse. With that in mind, a good thing to do is write a letter addressed to yourself as a way of reminding yourself how far you have moved from the nasty experience and encourage it to keep exerting efforts on your recovery. Forgiving yourself may be hard when you’re always alone, that’s why you have to attend group therapies as you can learn this from there.
  3. Learn to let go of negativity. Guilt and shame may manifest right after the relapse that can trigger another relapse when not processed and let go the right way. It is better when you shove these negative thoughts and feelings right away. Although letting go is easier said than done, you may need to exert effort in really throwing them away by using either one or both of these methods:

– Talk to your counsellor about it to help process the feelings (preferably one who specializes in this part of curing addiction).

– Spend at least 10 minutes meditating and visualizing how you tend to let go of these things.

  1. As much as possible, eliminate the” all-or-nothing” mindset. Although thinking that you are now back to where you started in recovery may be tempting, don’t give in. You are most prone to this when you think that starting over again is a rock-bottom place with nowhere to go but up. Actually, one relapse may just be a pair of steps back towards the overall course of recovery. When you catch yourself thinking about “all-or-nothing,” reconstruct your thoughts and don’t dwell in this idea. Be more positive and think about things that you want to accomplish when you fully recover from addiction.

Call Inspire Change Addiction Rehab in Vancouver for addiction treatment programs.


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