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What Does Relapse Look Like?

January 4, 2010

Guest blogger Tom Daniels and his wife Linda work regularly with couples and individuals struggling with sexual addiction in the Raleigh, North Carolina area.  Tom has over a decade of experience leading groups and working with guys in crisis.  He is a personal mentor to me.

Tom answers three key questions about relapse:

MondayWhat does relapse look like?
TuesdayWhat should you do after a relapse?
WednesdayHow can you help a friend who relapses?

 

There is a difference between a “relapse” and a “slip”.

“relapse” –  when you are back to living the lifestyle of the addiction

“slip” –  when you act out but return to recovery relatively quickly

A slip may be one time or a “binge” for a number of days, but it results in a return to recovery and openness about the slip. In a relapse, the addict has returned to the addictive lifestyle and is not actively in recovery. Even if they are still meeting with their accountability partners, going to group, in counseling, they are not open with the level of acting out nor are they doing much to prevent it. In essence, they have ceased to “struggle” with it and have, in large part, given themselves up to the addiction.

Typically in a relapse, the addict is back, or close to, the level of acting out that they were at prior to beginning recovery. In some cases it is even more because they feel like they have to make up for “lost time”. A relapse can last for several days or several months, it really is not defined by time as much as by the lack of recovery activities the addict is engaged in and to what level of transparency.  

Most addicts who relapse do so with the intent of returning to recovery at some point, but that point continues to get further away from them. Usually, they are thrilled to be getting away with acting out without getting caught.  All of their accountability friends, and even their spouse believe the addict is in recovery and hasn’t relapsed. This adds to the sense of freedom to act out at will with no thought to repercussions, even if those had been pretty severe in the past. It is like the teenager who has been caught a number of times taking Dad’s car for a joy ride and now finds out the odometer is broken and thinks he won’t be found out.

THE RELAPSE GETS WORSE
A relapse starts out as a slip, but progresses quickly into a full-blown lifestyle.  A replase transitions from simply looking or downloading pictures/videos to purchasing some videos or an external drive to store downloaded videos on. The intent for the addict is that they will be more permanent. In the case of those who frequent prostitutes, they may re-connect with a former “provider” and setup something regular with them.

The addict in relapse is trying to facilitate easy access to acting out and developing a sense of “normalcy” around it to help keep others from knowing about it. The “rituals” are firmly reestablished and the sense of invulnerability returns with even greater power since they know everyone “trusts” them now and the addict believes that the “mistakes” he made the last time won’t trip him up again and he is safe from being discovered. Of course all of this is a delusion and when he is caught that at last becomes apparent to the addict.

A Key to Relapse Prevention:  Nearly all addicts slip from time to time but most do not relapse if they are in a good recovery program and have setup safeguards and accountability in their life.

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