Wait…Does This Count as a Relapse?

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I woke up in a panic. I hadn’t had a drink in almost a year. Why was I in the hospital, and why did I feel like I was in withdrawal?

Gradually it all came back. Due to a very early stage cancer, I had to have surgery. But the feeling of panic I felt from the drugs that they gave me…it was like coming off alcohol.

What’s the Definition of Relapse?

There’s a lot of controversy in the recovery community about what constitutes a relapse, but using drugs as prescribed for medical procedures is never a relapse.

Before my surgery, I spent time talking with my doctor about my history of alcohol use. We decided – together – to skip the narcotics that most patients take and I would try to handle the post-surgical pain with over the counter medicines.

I was very fortunate in that I didn’t have much pain. But for those who do have pain, it’s essential to talk openly with your doctor and make a plan. It’s very unlikely you’ll get addicted to pain pills if you’re only taking them for a short time. However, too much pain can delay your healing process.

The same is true of accidental ingestion of alcohol. A lot of people worry that if you have a dessert that’s been cooked with tequila, you’ll lose your sober time. But an accidental lapse isn’t a relapse.

Learning From Your Mistakes

In SMART Recovery, we like to look at lapses of any kind as a learning opportunity. What matters is that every day you’re doing something to grow your real personality, the one that addiction takes away from us. If you somehow find you’ve gotten a drug into your system, just make sure that you don’t have more. Don’t use a lapse of any kind as a reason to go on a bender.

In my opinion, it’s simply a lie that one drink will send you down the path to institutions, jails, and death. However, if you wholeheartedly believe it will, then it might. If you’ve chosen abstinent recovery, the best next step is to go back to all the things you’ve learned in early recovery and pay extra attention to your self care. Meditate. Pray, if that works for you. Cry, because that works for everything.

Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up. Building up your self-esteem, not tearing it down, is what leads to long-term, successful recovery.



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