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Restarting the Recovery Process After a Relapse

Victory Bay

The Transtheoretical Model, also known as the Stages of Change, is a conceptual framework clinicians who work in the substance use field use to identify best interventions for how to work with those in recovery. These stages of change are: 

Precontemplation (Resistant & Unmotivated) 

Contemplation (Working up to Change, Hyper-aware of Cons of Change) 

Preparation (Building a Plan of Action for Change) 

Action (Consciously Working Towards Change)

Maintenance (Maintaining Change Behavior) 

The Stages of Change can be applied to any behavior that needs to be changed, but is particularly vital for those with addiction. Anyone who works with substance use (or has experienced it first hand) will also tell you about a secret sixth stage of change known as relapse.  

Relapse is defined as a regression after a period of improvement. More specifically, in substance use recovery, relapse is used to describe a person using substances after a period of abstinence. Relapse doesn’t have to be a part of your recovery, but it is a part of recovery as a whole. This doesn’t mean that a relapse has to happen, but rather that the experience should be normalized and helped if it does occur.  

Part of that normalization includes identifying support and tools for how to “get back on the wagon” and restart those stages of change after the use of substances. Relapse has a nasty habit of reverting our thinking, piling us with shame and guilt, and suspending us in precontemplation. If you’ve recently experienced a relapse, there is hope. Follow the steps below for how to start over on your recovery journey.

Recovery Process Steps

Step One: Surrender 

This one sounds easy, and a bit corny, but is absolutely the first step to reclaiming your sobriety. In order to make this necessary life change, self-awareness that control has been lost opens up the bedrock on which a new foundation can be built.

This type of surrender does not need to be correlated to a spirituality of any kind (unless that works for you), but rather is an internal process where you release control over your future and start to allow your perspective to be challenged by those around you. Surrender doesn’t mean giving up, it means joining the winning side.

Step Two: Connect to your Network

Pick up the phone. When you originally sought help for your addiction, you most likely built a network of like minded people who offered you guidance during your recovery. This could be sober friends, trusted colleagues, or family support. Erase your pride, and reach out. Those on the other side of the phone have most likely been waiting for your phone call, and will offer you all the support you need to begin recovery again.  

These are just a handful of symptoms, with some being more or less common based on the type of eating disorder one is suffering from. 

Step Three: Seek Professional Help

Depending on the substances you’ve been using, a medically monitored detoxification process may be necessary to safely re-enter you into recovery. More than that, physical separation from your substance of choice is a time tested way to limit temptation and give you space to get your head clear.  

If entering into a treatment center isn’t an option for you, try searching for a “therapist near me”. Finding a professional will not only offer skills building and emotional support for stress and anxiety during this highly vulnerable time, but also provide a layer of accountability desperately needed in early recovery. Many therapists offer sliding scale rates to those who do not have insurance coverage.

Step Four: Get under the Surface

Take stock of your relapse. What triggers, emotions or thoughts lead you back to your addiction? Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint, other times it’s not as obvious. Using your support system and professional help, push yourself past the surface of your relapse to identify cues and warning signs that may have been missed.

You may find that your previous abstinence didn’t address deep-rooted issues, or the skills that you spent time honing didn’t apply to situations that came up in the future. Give yourself the space and depth to explore what’s happening internally.

Step Five: Identify Coping Strategies

These can be as simple as avoiding people, places and things or as deep as learning to cope with past trauma. Pinpoint the skills and strategies that worked before, and can work in the future. Make a plan for who to call if your cravings start to rise, or develop a practice with mindfulness that allows you to connect to the present moment.

You should start to build an intimate relationship with any skill that will keep you farther from your addiction – especially in early recovery. Make a plan for what skills work for what situation, write it down, and reference it when uncomfortable feelings start to rise.

Step Six: Make Peace with Discomfort

Following our relapse, there is high emotional vulnerability. Shame, guilt, stress, anxiety and sadness play tricks with our head. It’s important to recognize that these feelings are not abnormal. They are a natural side effect of experiencing a relapse.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for this. Which means becoming friends with your discomfort will release expectations over “how you’re supposed to feel”. Starting over doesn’t feel good, but the good news is it doesn’t have to for you to be successful. Experience your discomfort, normalize it, recognize it will dissipate over time, and don’t let it own you.

These steps are highly variable to your personal recovery and are by no means exclusive. You will find tools and skills that become vital to recovering from your relapse experience. The key takeaway should be that your relapse does not define you, nor did it erase the progress you made before it occurred. Relapse is a part of recovery, and offers a new perspective on how to strengthen our recovery practices when you’re ready to start over.

When to Seek Treatment

While eating disorders are serious mental health conditions, there are a variety of treatment options that can help you regain your power.

If you’ve experienced any of the above symptoms, resonate with a diagnosis that was explored in this article, or think you may have an eating disorder, reaching out to a professional is the right thing to do.

Seeking treatment is scary! But it’s also empowering, supportive and growth oriented. Give yourself the freedom to make a new choice and explore treatment options in your area.

Recovery with Victory Bay

At Victory Bay we’re here to help you achieve a new life with a new start in recovery. To learn more about the variety of treatment programs we offer, including mental health, eating disorders, and substance use, contact us today by calling 855.239.5099.