When a loved one relapses, many people may feel disappointment or even anger towards their loved one. Trust issues and old wounds become evident all over again. People take it personally when a loved one relapses. And most people forget or don’t realize that relapse is part of recovery from addiction.
Recovery is not linear. It’s not a straight line. It’s full of ups and downs, and relapse can be part of the process for your loved one.
Acknowledge your feelings and find support
A valuable lesson can be learned from a relapse to transform your loved one into someone better than they were yesterday. And it’s okay for you to be angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, disappointed, sad, shocked—or however you feel about their relapse. But it’s also important to acknowledge these feelings and find a way to cope with them.
Here are some things that you can do to process feelings about a loved one’s relapse:
- Avoid taking your loved one’s relapse personally and blaming yourself. This is not your fault and has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with the loved one who is going through a relapse.
- Have some positive coping skills that will help you deal. Journal about your feelings or do some physical activity like dancing, walking, or working out. Or try mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing. Finding an activity to help you cope with your feelings can help you move forward and not feel stuck.
- Caregiver burnout is real, so it’s very important to take care of yourself. Make sure you engage in self-care. It’s not selfish to have self-care. One of the most important aspects of being a caregiver is to make sure that all of your needs are being met.
- It’s okay to need space from the relationship. You are not failing them by taking time away and giving yourself space to take care of yourself. You can always reconnect with them when you are ready.
- There are support systems for people who have a loved one who relapses. It’s okay to ask for and use support systems. There are support groups such as Al-Anon, Al-teen, and others. They really do help and can offer lived experience advice related to your loved one. You can also reach out to a mental health professional, like a therapist, who can help you process your feelings. And they can also offer an outside perspective about what you are going through.
Reflecting on the relapse
I could see it coming. It’s hard to let them know that it looks like they are going to relapse. If you say that, a lot of times, it makes people mad.
With recovery, relapse can be a part of the equation. Some people need to relapse to graduate into a full recovery, and it might just be part of the process for them. Many caregivers and loved ones want to blame themselves for the relapse, but it’s not your fault, and you cannot control other people. You can only control yourself and your response to the situation.
Most people relapse during a crisis or in times of distress. These can be activators for old behaviors that can cause your loved one to spiral down. Usually, it’s something emotionally uncomfortable that happens before someone relapses.
Why your loved one relapsed is out of your control. But trying to understand why the relapse occurred can help you process what happened and provide support in the future.
Here are some things to consider about relapse:
- Your loved one is dealing with a lot of shame over their situation. Being understanding and supportive is one of the greatest things we can do during this time.
- A difficult/stressful situation can activate a relapse. Stress can be either good or bad. For example, starting a new job or losing a job can both be activators for some people to relapse. Major life changes can create overwhelming and stressful situations.
- Relapse can be part of the recovery process for certain individuals. Just because your loved one relapsed today doesn’t mean they won’t come back from it tomorrow with new hope and a new outlook on life.
- Having healthy coping skills is crucial in recovery. This could include things such as arts and crafts, writing, and deep breathing. Anything that makes your loved one feel good, and they can turn to instead of using, drinking, or other unhealthy coping skills. This can help them on their recovery journey.
You can remind your loved one that experiencing a relapse is part of the process. This can boost their self-esteem and help them get back to sober living. But it’s important not to allow the individual to become dependent or codependent on you. Make sure they can stand on their own two feet without you. With the proper support, a relapse can be a stepping stone, if used properly, into a brighter future and recovery.