Recovery Workshop: Lesson Sixty-Two

Managing Relapse

When defining relapse, we are talking about much more than experiencing a slip. More even than a string of slips. Putting yourself in a position to make stupid decisions is not relapse. It may be a lack of focus. A lack of motivation. A lack of awareness. A lack of monitoring. It may be complacency. It may be immaturity. It may even be down right immorality. But whatever is at the root of the action, it is not relapse.

For relapse to occur, there must be a complete breakdown in the way that you manage your life. This means abandoning all that you have learned about emotional management, disregarding the insights you have accumulated towards values and decision-making, and ignoring the experience you have gained in managing a healthy life. And, you will need to do all this without being aware that it is happening.

For those who were never asked to learn how to manage their life (merely their addiction), relapse can indeed occur with a single slip. But it will not be the slip that defines the relapse, it will be the person's response to that slip. Compare it to a safety pin bringing about the destruction of a balloon a thousand times its size. If, like the pin to the balloon, your entire foundation collapses on a single compulsive act...if you abandon all that you have learned and retreat back to the need for immediate gratification — to your emotions as the primary factor in decision-making, then indeed, relapse has occurred.

You are no longer in this category. You are no longer naive. You are no longer ignorant. Over the past several months, you have been actively developing a foundation of life management that is capable of sustaining a healthy life and so, relapse will not occur with a single pin prick. It will take a slow, methodical deterioration of these life management skills (values, decision-making, prioritization, etc.). Or possibly, an extraordinary trauma that is beyond your ability to cope. But either way, you will not just 'all of a sudden' relapse. There will be many signs of imbalance and deterioration that will be easily seen by anyone watching. And, if you stay true to your health monitoring, you will always be watching. Ready to take action long before a fundamental breakdown occurs.

Assessing Relapse in a Healthy Recovery

When assessing relapse, the underlying patterns associated with that relapse are more important to a permanent recovery than the behavior involved. You are looking to determine how the breakdown occurred (e.g. lack of monitoring, sustained emotional imbalance, self-delusion, etc.) and why the warning signs were not observed earlier. Further, if the warning signs were observed, why the response to those signs were ineffective and/or ignored.

  • Step One: Freeze. Just as when you are asked to create a break from the emotional intensity of a compulsive urge, you must now create a break that will allow you to suspend all judgment, decisions, etc. in order to assess your current state objectively. Freeze all activity relating to compulsive rituals in their tracks so that you can openly assess where you are — without falling further in the process.

  • Step Two: Anticipate feeling intense emotions that can cloud your judgment. Failure. Frustration. Hopelessness. Recognize that these emotions can lead you into making immature and/or emotional decisions that will conflict with your values and goals. Emotions that will blow your compulsive identity out of perspective. Emotions that will distort the role that this relapse will play across your life span. Place yourself in a situation where you are neither thinking of the past or the future...but able to honestly assess where you are out now.

  • Step Three: Recognize that you will need to accept the consequences of this relapse, but that that should not be your focus now. No matter what potential consequences you are facing — loss of your marriage, loss of self-respect, STD, etc. — what is important is to regain immediate stability and focus. It is to recognize what went wrong and strengthen those parts of your life management strategy. It is to permanently halt the deterioration in its tracks and begin the process of construction.

  • Step Four: In assessing the relapse itself, determine whether the deterioration occurred beyond your conscious awareness or whether you were aware but deliberately chose to ignore those warnings. This will require absolute honesty on your part. Prepare yourself.

    When it is the former (a battle between you and the pattern of addiction) it will be far easier for you to pick up the pieces, learn from the experience and move forward. Relapse becomes a true learning tool. When it is the latter (a battle between you and yourself), you will have some real soul-searching to do. Recovery becomes a game and your efforts towards recovery are at best, buffered; and at worst, wasted. When you shift your life management skills back to assessing decisions based on whether or not you will be caught, you've lost. You've lost the foundation of healthy life management and have begun your dual-identity approach to life once more.

  • Step Five: Assess the motivation of the relapse. There are people pursuing a healthy recovery that occasionally engage in behavior that is destructive to their value system; yet they remain on a path towards health. There are others who engage in the exact same behavior, but they aren't even close to pursuing a path to health. Which is which can be found by assessing not the behavior, but the motivation behind the behavior. Take a deep, insightful look into this motivation.

    Places to look would be in the 'setting up' of the behavior, the extensiveness of the behavior and the cover-up of the behavior. When lies are used long before the engagement of the behavior to help set-up alibi's or excuses...this is not part of a healthy relapse. When the behavior being engaged in is a "multi-level" type of behavior...with numerous stimulating elements and numerous decisions having to be made in order to continue this behavior...this is not part of a healthy relapse. And more than anything else, when personal attention turns to covering-up the behavior, rather than is not part of a healthy relapse. All of those behaviors suggest a pattern of someone who wants to retain their secret life...while pursuing a public recovery. However, when the 'relapse' is of a more sudden, spontaneous manner...triggered by emotions...without premeditation...and followed by true remorse and a recommitment to ending their addiction...then it is most likely part of a natural, healthy recovery process.

    Behavioral relapse is not an expected part of a healthy recovery, though it can be common. Emotional relapse, on the other hand — struggling with thoughts and desires and urges — this is an expected part of a healthy recovery. It will be experienced by everyone as they transition from a sexualized mind to health.

  • Step Six: Adjust. By this point in your recovery, you know what tools you need to manage a healthy life. And, you should also know at this point in the relapse assessment, what parts of your life management strategy failed you. Fix them. Whether this requires a few tweaks to your action plans, a recommitment to your monitoring system or whether it requires a complete overhaul to your priorities and values — make the adjustments.

  • Step Seven: Accept the consequences — whatever they may be. At a minimum, these consequences will likely involve a hit to your confidence and self-respect. At worst, these consequences can throw your life into complete chaos. No matter what consequences you may face...face them with your head held high and your recommitment to moving forward intact.

  • Step Eight: Let it go. Not what you have learned from the relapse — that should become a part of your overall awareness forever. But the guilt, shame, insecurity, fear, etc. — let it all go. You have relapsed. You have not yet mastered the skills of living a healthy life and that has led to a collapse in how you have recently managed your life. Fine. Accept the consequences and move on. Remember, your goal is not to live a perfect life, it is to live a healthy, fulfilling life. Those goals are still intact and your job is to reconnect to this awareness at your first opportunity.

Determining Failure in Recovery

Relapse is not failure. The only real failure in a healthy recovery is when you consciously use deception to provide yourself with either an opportunity or an alibi to act in a way that you know that you shouldn't. When you intentionally abandon your responsibility to protect your value system so that the threats to that value system can thrive. Think of it as follows: you are a teacher and a stranger pays you $1,000,000 to turn your back while he kidnaps a few of the children in your care. While it goes against your higher values, the thought of having so much money is enticing...and so, you turn your back. In life, you have to protect your values. You have to generate enough integrity to not sell them out for immediate emotional gain.

Remember, there is nothing shameful about relapse. Even in the healthiest of recoveries, situations can arise where relapse happens. When the foundation that you are building collapses. When it is insufficient to manage your ever-changing life. This is not failure. Relapse is not failure. The failure comes when, in the throes of relapse, you turn your back. You stop fighting. You stop protecting what needs protection.

Lesson 62 Exercise:

Develop three-five 'most-likely' scenarios where you might face relapse. Role play (in your head or with someone you trust) how you will manage these situations.

Explore one unlikely situation where you might face relapse. A situation that you couldn't possibly prepare for. Will your Relapse Plan allow you to manage it? Why or why not?


1. Once a person has created a vision for their life, extracted the values from that vision and prioritized them, it is safe to assume that the majority of that person's meaning and fulfillment should come from the top fifteen or so values on that list. This is one of the things that you should continue to monitor in your own recovery on a weekly basis: where is the majority of your meaning and fulfillment coming from. From a life management perspective, you should by now see how important it is to have a foundation of values that expand beyond a single pillar. That, when you establish a life based on say, six to eight pillars...any stress/trauma can be more efficiently absorbed by shifting the weight of that stress/trauma on to other pillars of your foundation. That's reactively. Proactively, you should also recognize the importance of deriving ongoing meaning and fulfillment from a staggered set of values — this, as opposed to establishing a dependence on establishing all of your meaning and fulfillment from a limited set.

2. Examine the top fifteen values (Lesson Five) of someone else's prioritized list. Consider temporarily adopting these values as your own to determine if they would be capable of sustaining a healthy life. If they would be capable of re-establishing balance in a life that has lost focus. If so, offer this feedback. If not, offer where you would make changes (e.g. make them more practical, more varied).

3. In your response, share a personal example of a time when you used this expanded foundation of values to help you manage a life situation. For instance, helping you to manage a death in the family. Or getting laid off from work. Or even something small, like an argument or misunderstanding.

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