A Relapse Carol


The AODA groups I speak to are overflowing right now. The relapse assassin seems to be working overtime, picking off recovering alcoholics and addicts, who were overwhelmed by temptation or trauma, shame or blame, guilt or jilt. My doorway was certainly not passed over by the dark angel of relapse during my past recovery. I found that I needed persistent vigilance on my part – I needed ongoing, meaningful mental exercise, so I didn’t became complacent, plump, slow and easy prey for the relapse wolf. I regularly utilize the features of rewind, pause and fast forward in my recovery and allow the three relapse ghosts of past, present and future to walk me through the “carol” of my recovery.


One of the first monsters to conquer in recovery is to stop forever living in the past or reliving the past. It’s counterproductive and self-destructive to be constantly agonizing over past mistakes, failures, bad choices, etc. Those were all just part of our life story that shaped us into becoming who we are today and they don’t really need reliving. However, when it comes to general recovery and especially temptation to use, it can be beneficial use the ‘rewind feature’, and remember back to how we became alcoholics and/or drug addicts in the first place – when physical/mental addiction and the overwhelming desire to escape reality buried our desire to live in it. We can also remember holding that crushing weight of despair as we sunk to our rock bottom. If we had sobriety and caved in to that last relapse, we can remember how we felt ashamed, frustrated and disappointed with ourselves. But all these journeys backward are of good use only if we glimpse at the past and never stare at it because where we are going is way more important than where we’ve been.

Driving vehicle through Grand Teton National Park


When faced with a current temptation to use, we can use the ‘pause feature’ to have an “attitude of gratitude” and be grateful for exactly where we are and how we feel today vis a vis swimming in that sea of shame, guilt, frustration and despair of  yesterday’s addiction.  We can think about how we do matter and are needed by the people in our lives where we are right now, not where we could be or should be if we would have done this or didn’t do that.


We can consider that whatever bad things might be currently happening in our lives, they don’t compare to that rock bottom of our past. We can use the past to give us appreciation for the present, to appreciate ourselves for how much we have been through, and are still standing.



Working recovery isn’t all about just constantly thinking about how to avoid using or  perpetually thinking about how to suppress the desire to use, because both just keep the mind revolving around using and are different eggs from the same chicken. It also isn’t about just working recovery while we give the rest of life our partial attention. But when faced with a “trigger”, we can use the ‘fast forward feature’ and play a relapse forward, because we all know from experience exactly how that would play out – we know that if we relapse, it is absolutely guaranteed to make whatever problems there may be today 10 times worse tomorrow. As long as we’re still alive, it’s always possible to dig a deeper rock bottom than the last one, which is what a relapse would likely do.



Our sense of identity, self-worth and self-esteem is not tethered by some umbilical chord to our alcoholism/drug addiction or our recovery from it. We are recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction, but that’s not what defines us and that’s not all we are.


We deserve and are entitled to the same self-respect that everybody else out there has. The past is what made our present, and what we do with our present is what determines our future. But we want to avoid wallowing in the pit of the past or living the future in anticipation before it even happens, which is just disappointment under construction. A healthy connection to the past while keeping ourselves always in the present moment, gives a sense of balance and overall well being going forward into our bright futures, filled with kindness and compassion and it keeps empathy pulling our train through the world of recovery.


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