Rescue from Relapse

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,


5 thoughts on “Rescue from Relapse”

  1. Wow!! Such powerful and potent words. I would like to add somethings,plus piggyback on what you said. First, without knowing who it was that wrote that note,text or words to you,I sense the hurt and pain behind the words. Even though those words were hard to read,sometimes whats harder is to see the reflection of ourselves in them…eeekk. Yes, one of the greatest blessings I’ve found in my life is truly looking at the wretched side of me and knowing that my only HOPE is Him!! The darker the night the Brighter the light!! The more I realize I need him the more. Second, I am reminded of Jobs wife,who told Job to curse God and die! How could such a righteous mans wife speak such cruel words? She was speaking from a place of pain and hurt…seeing the one you love so dearly go through such horrendous pain can overwhelming. There’s many now at hospitals contemplating the ultimate decision to pull the plug on love ones,or to continue to watch them suffer. Which would be better? The loss is horrendous but to watch the suffer is even more tortuous.I get it,but sometimes what we consider harsh is loving and painful at the same time. I agree, God is loving and merciful. The fact that we are breathing this very day attest to the fact that he is! Given the hurtful things we do or did in his very sight as he watched on. We must fight for the truth and let God peel off our eyes the scabe that has grown over them. Yes,what we might see about ourselves will be crushingly true but we serve a Savior that already knows what we are TRULY like and continues to call us toward him!! Lets give him our shame,guilt, hurt,anger,failures and lets lay exposed and naked in his arms,knowing he will clothe us with his own love and righteousness!!

    1. Thank you David for your comment. So very true. As I shared with my group the other day when I read those words, the reality is that that sort of misunderstading of God is part of me, too – it’s in my blood. I can all too easily fall prey to a performance based religion where it is all about me and how good or bad I am doing, and I blame God for both. It’s a toxic cycle, but one I have to unlearn.

      I’m grateful for people in my life who never stop holding the door open for me to experience more of the richness of God.

  2. I too am blessed to work with women who struggles with a “dry sober” a place where they just want to find comfort in their compulsion of choice. Healing is as hard as getting sober. Beginning to understand that God see the sins of an addict the same way as the sins of addicts love ones. It is only by God’s Grace that any of us are not bound in addiction. Thanks for sharing Chad.

  3. Chad, we are all in need of healing. We are all embraced by the love of the God of creation who loves us in spite of ourselves. As we are reminded, “how deep the father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.” You are in my prayers.

  4. Chad, we are all in need of healing. We are all embraced by the love of the God of creation who loves us in spite of ourselves. As we are reminded, “how deep the father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.” You are in my prayers.

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