Addiction does not just end. Everyone seems to know this, from addicts to their loved ones to people with only a passing association with addiction. When someone leaves rehab, there is a not insignificant chance they will return at some point.
The natural question after relapse is: what makes this time different?
This is one of the toughest questions recovering addicts grapple with. This time, I am determined to change. But I was determined to change last time, too. This time, I see no other option. But I saw no other option when I last left rehab. This time, I will work the program without fail. But I made the same commitment last time.
It is incredibly demoralizing to find yourself back in rehab, knowing that even if you succeed in getting and staying clean, there’s no guarantee it will last forever.
However, this reality points to one of the foundations of addiction treatment. In fact, recovery often hinges on this particular point.
Out of control
The term “out of control” is often used by non-addicts to describe the behavior of addicts during a bender. They have no control over their actions, which is why they are in a downward spiral. In recovery, however, our lack of control becomes healing.
Many of the 12 Steps revolve around the admission that, most of the time, we have no control. We are powerless over our addiction, which is why we are in rehab. We can’t fix this ourselves, which is why we submit to a higher power. And, crucially, we have no control over the future, which is why we focus on the present.
One of the most frightening realities of relapse is realizing that our days, months, or years of sobriety are back to zero. Sobriety was meant to last forever, but we’re so very far from forever. In recovery, we learn that forever is meaningless.
Giving up on forever
As long as we’re hoping to be sober “forever,” we are trying to force the future into our control. Recovering “forever” is impossible, and that ambition means that we can only be successful at the end of our lives. Do you really want to be living for that moment?
The key to recovery is coming to understand that the only moment we have is the one we are in. It is the only moment we have any power over. It is as important a moment as any. And it is the moment in which we can choose sobriety.
Finding yourself back in rehab is so demoralizing because you start seeing your time spent sober in the light of your relapse. But any time sober is not compromised by a relapse. What makes this time different is that this is now and that was then. This is the only time we have.