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Recidivism in Recovery

We think of recidivism as a bad thing when it comes to criminal offenses – it means we’ve reoffended and are facing even harsher punishment. When it comes to recovery, recidivism means we’ve relapsed and are returning to treatment again, sometimes after multiple attempts to get clean. In this case, recidivism is actually a good thing. It means we’re still trying. It means we haven’t given up. It means we haven’t entirely given up our hope or our faith in ourselves. Even better, it means we haven’t succumbed to overdose.

To help ourselves understand recidivism, we can look at all the things that might cause it. Sometimes the first time we tried to get clean, we attempted to do it alone. We didn’t seek out helpful resources or professional help. We didn’t ask our loved ones for their support. We maybe were convinced we could do it on our own. Perhaps things had gotten so bad for us that we became totally fed up with our addictive patterns and were ready to finally make a change. Maybe we hit rock bottom and that was the final straw. We felt that was all we needed to turn things around for ourselves. We thought the pain we were feeling was enough to make the difference that was required. We had been pushed to our limit, and we felt like enough was enough. We were finally ready to quit.

We sometimes assume that because we know our addictions so well, we are equipped to handle our recovery on our own. The truth is, we often still have much to learn. We have tools and skill sets we still need to develop. We need the support of a community around us. We need therapists, sponsors and recovery coaches. We need a back-up plan for when we feel addictive urges coming on. We need to create a relapse prevention plan. We need to get out of our patterns of self-isolation, that often make our addictive cycles and mental health issues worse. And we need to shed the pridefulness and the fear of judgment that are often keeping us from getting the help we need in the first place.

Another cause of recidivism is, understandably, insufficient healing work. We haven’t fully confronted the subconscious fears driving our addictive patterns. We haven’t healed our wounded inner child who is still trying to seek our attention by acting out, causing us difficult emotions and engaging in risky, dangerous behaviors. It is our wounds we are often trying to fill when we self-medicate with our drugs of choice and addictive habits. Our feelings of deep sadness, fear and shame are compelling us to self-destruct. The disappointment we feel in ourselves makes us want to run and hide, to escape our pain. Our fears that we’re inadequate, unworthy and inferior cause us tremendous suffering, and we try to numb our pain with our addictions. Sometimes we can get sober without doing all the work. We might have gone on a binge with our drug of choice and are so exhausted and worn out, and fed up with ourselves, that we naturally need a break, so we take a break and are able to get sober, but we aren’t quite ready yet to go the distance. We’re not ready to quit for good.

Yet another cause of recidivism is our erroneous belief that we’re not addicts. Many of us go years convincing ourselves that we don’t actually have a problem. We may have even been able to quit successfully in the past and maintain our sobriety for a substantial amount of time. We may have told ourselves that if we’re able to get our addictions under control, we must not be true addicts, and we can go back to drinking or using, but in moderation. We tell ourselves we’ll be able to control ourselves this time, that we won’t let it get out of control. We tell ourselves we’ll just drink on the weekend, or we’ll just drink socially but never alone. We tell ourselves we’re not nearly as bad off as the other addicts we see, the ones who are destitute and homeless on the street, the ones who have nothing going for themselves, no work or families to support, or the people who are hooked on harder drugs than the ones we use. We tell ourselves we’re not criminals, we’re not dealers, we’re not hurting anyone. We even manage to convince ourselves that we’re not hurting ourselves. We think we have more control now, and that we’ll be fine. Inevitably, though, we fall back into the same old patterns. We do lose control. We do hurt ourselves. We continue to hurt and disappoint the loved ones who were so happy to see us finally get clean. Our lessons have a way of returning, over and over again, until we learn them. They will keep trying to teach us the things we have yet to learn, until we finally open ourselves to them, accept them and let them in.

Sometimes our recidivism is teaching us humility. It is telling us we need to humble ourselves and stop thinking that we have everything under control, that we don’t need help, or that we are experts on recovery. It is teaching us how to ask for help and then how to receive that help, both of which are quite difficult for many of us. When we do humble ourselves and shed our pridefulness, what is waiting for us are the support of people who genuinely care, communities that can help us, and professional treatment that can make all the difference in our recovery. What we stand to gain by going back and getting help, again, are inner peace, renewed faith in ourselves, increased strength and improved resilience. We prove to ourselves that we can in fact recover, and we stop holding it against ourselves that it took us more than one attempt to get there.

Riverside Recovery is a drug and alcohol treatment center offering a full continuum of care for people suffering from addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. We understand the emotional challenges of addiction recovery and are here to support you. Call us today for more information: (800) 871-5440.