Relapse is without a doubt the most difficult part of recovery. The pain it causes not only to yourself, but to those who love you, is torturous. It’s like ripping a scab off of a wound which seemed to be healing nicely. The shame, guilt and self-hatred which accompany a relapse is suffocating and nearly impossible to silence.
I know this feeling well, and regrettably, all too recently. If you are anything like me, after a relapse you want to just crawl into a hole and die. The sense of profound failure is crippling. It’s impossible to look anyone in the eye. Edgar Allen Poe’s infamous, incessant, beating heart beneath the floor boards gets louder and louder in my ears and I’m convinced everyone sees me as not just a failure, but a murderer of all that is good and holy. It’s how I see myself in days and weeks following a relapse. It’s how I all too easily assume God sees me, too.
That last bit is the worse, and potentially the most debilitating. In my experience, how we understand God’s relation to ourselves in our highs and our lows, our recovery and our relapses, makes all the difference in how quickly or how slowly (or if ever) we get back on the horse and the road to sanity.
Understanding God as One who is for you, not against you; who is immovable and unconditional in his love towards you, is essential, in my opinion, to rebound from any relapse. Holding on to this fundamental understanding of God is difficult to do, however, when the accuser of our souls is working overtime to bury us in shame and despair. Sometimes this accuser’s voice comes through people we’d least expect, those who hold trusted positions in our lives such as family members, pastors, counselors, and friends. It might sound something like this text I received from a family member just weeks after she learned of my relapse:
My thoughts today are that you should just be done with God. Obviously he cannot help you. He is powerless to set you free so why bother with him? You cannot serve flesh and God simultaneously and you always choose the flesh! So denounce God and then you can continue your life without guilt. Without the struggle. Seriously. Your life is a testimony that God is unable to set the captive free so stop the struggle and just give in.
Yuck. Even typing that out makes me feel like I need a bath. The accuser, scripture tells us, will often masquerade as an angel of light. Sometimes we will hear these lies from people we think should know better. It’s bad enough that these lies are replaying themselves in our heads like a tape on repeat when we relapse. It’s almost unbearable when they come at us from people we love and who claim to love God and us.
The best way I know how to defeat the enemy is expose it to light. If you are hearing the voice of the accuser in the midst of relapse – or any struggle – talk about it. Share your thoughts with trusted friends in recovery. I am so grateful for my brothers in recovery who heard these words and graciously spoke truth and love over me. They helped me start the process of letting go of resentment towards those who know no better and speak from their own places of pain and humanity (still working on this!). They also reminded me that my higher power is not in those words and to seek out what it is he has to say about me. Words such as these:
Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light (Micah 7:8).
for though a righteous man falls seven times, he will rise again (Prov 24:16).
The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand (Psalm 37:23-24)
The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope; you give them their food as they need it. When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing (Psalm 145:14-16).
“Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: “‘When people fall down, do they not get up? When someone turns away, do they not return? (Jer. 8:4)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).
There are countless more truths found in Scripture which reveal a God who does not abandon us in our weakness but who, paradoxically, is made strong through them (2 Cor. 12:9-11).
A relapse is never the result of God’s weakness or inability to save us. It is always a result of our own frailty and powerlessness, revealing wounds we’ve yet to allow the Healer to touch. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow in our walk not just in recovery but in Christ, and an opportunity for saints around us to practice the art of gentle restoration (Gal. 6:1).
I hope someone reading this finds hope in the midst of relapse. Know that any voice that sounds like condemnation is not from your Father in heaven. Run to the One who while we were yet sinners – enemies of God – laid down his life for us that we might walk out of our pit and into the light. He is always ready and willing to help the downtrodden and the poor in spirit. He does not grow weary in doing good towards us and his thoughts towards you and I today and always are bountiful, infinitely rooted in love, peace, and hope.
Grace and peace,