A little relapsy? This came up in an addiction recovery-based support meeting recently and the significance of such a concept is worth exploring. What is a relapse, a lapse, a slip, harm reduction, “abstinence violation effect“, or “a little relapsy”? From an addiction context, relapse is variably defined and even more variably addressed. For example, “relapse is defined as the recurrence of behavioral or other substantive indicators of active disease after a period of remission” by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Put another way, relapse seems to be to continue to engage in self-defined and self-destructive patterns of addictive behaviors after setting the personal goal to abstain from such behaviors. One of the defining criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is: “wanting to cut down or stop using but not being able to”.
“A little relapsy”, slipping or sliding, seems to suggest teetering on the edge of what some may call “a full-blown relapse” or perhaps a “binge” or in old-school language “to go on a spree“. Therefore, it is important to make the completely made-up distinction between being “a little relapsy” and being in “relapse mode”. The distinction can be quite simple and requires three main tools: a) honest self-appraisal, b) honest feedback from trusted others, and c) time, namely, staying present (see tools below). Two of the biggest drawbacks of the rabbit hole of relapse or a potential relapse are secrets and shame. Keeping secrets about one’s return to a self-defined self-destructive behavior and getting stuck in a vicious shame cycle about such a return to unhealthy behaviors are the real fuel for crashing and burning when it comes to relapse.
If someone is feeling “a little relapsy” or suspect that they are “headed for a relapse”, there is no need to despair (although the gift of desperation is totally underrated!). The single most important factor when wading in the waters of uncertainty, of whether or not one is on a path to healing or path to destruction, is the feeling of freedom. If those waters feel like bracing oneself for a wave of destruction, then feel free to walk back up on shore for a while and take in the breeze, the sound of the ocean, and the view of the great expanse. If the waters feel perhaps a little cool, a little choppy, and there are others around to lend a hand if it starts to get a little rough out there, it could be a feeling of freedom from addiction and a connection to the world around. There is so much more to “a little relapsy” or the “psychology of relapse” than is blogged about here. Hopefully, this provides “a little helpsy” for those finding their way in addiction recovery!