Recovering from an addiction is difficult. One of the most difficult aspects of addiction recovery is the seeming inevitability of slips and relapses. Loss of sobriety does not necessitate losing your hope that lasting change can take place. What if our slips and relapses could provide something for us? We may be powerless to our addictions, but we are not helpless nor hopeless.
Slips vs. relapses
It may be helpful to define some terms before we go any further. A slip is a single instance in which a person engages in an addictive behavior. Relapse occurs when a person returns to addictive behaviors with regularity. So, for a person who struggles with pornography addiction, what is a slip and what is a relapse? Looking at porn and then reengaging in recovery work is a slip for the porn addict. Repeatedly looking at porn over an extended period without engaging in recovery work qualifies as a relapse. You may find people who define these terms differently but, when I use them this is what I mean.
Now that we have our terms defined, what should happen if you have a slip in sobriety or you have an all-out relapse period? Below are some suggested actions that you can after a slip or relapse occurs.
Action One: Believe
The first action is not an action but a reorientation of beliefs. Wrong actions always flow from wrong beliefs. So, after a slip, it is imperative to assess what were the false core beliefs you were operating out of. In my own experience, a false core belief I have functioned with is that I am a failure. If I believe I am a failure, I will inevitably fail.
The goal is to replace false core beliefs with true core beliefs. Right actions always flow from right beliefs. In my own life, if I replace the belief that I’m a failure with the belief that I can succeed with God’s help, then I will be able to succeed.
Action Two: Reach Out
Slips and relapses happen in isolation. It is important to remove yourself from isolation after a slip by reaching out to a trusted person. This may be someone in recovery, a sponsor, a pastor, or a close friend who knows your struggle. Calling to tell someone about a change in your sobriety helps to deflate the shame and guilt that grows in isolation. A trusted person can hear your confession and remind you of the truth of the gospel (1 John 1:9)
Action Three: Limit what you do
If you slipped, shame and guilt may make you want to act out again. This reaction to shame and guilt will temporarily feel better but, it will only lead to more shame and guilt. So, to escape the cyclical insanity of shame it is important to limit what you do. Simply because you have slipped does not mean that you must have a full-on relapse. Or just because you have relapsed does not mean that you must stay in a state of relapse. Limiting what you do will prevent you from feeling more shame and guilt.
Action Four: Learn from your slip
Our slips are only negative if we fail to learn from them. It is important to reflect on what was going on before the slip happened. Here are some helpful questions you may want to ask yourself. Were you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Were you feeling depleted, dissociated, unconsciously aroused, futile, lustful, or angry? Had you isolated yourself from others? Were you doing recovery activities?
Slips and relapses do provide for us, just not in the way we want them to. Acting out is a teacher if one is willing to learn.
Obviously, having a break in sobriety through a slip or relapse is never desirable. These helpful suggestions will enable us to respond quickly, so that we can get back on the right track. Recovery is difficult but its not impossible. God has given us all the tools we need to live a peacefully sober day today. We are powerless but we are not hopeless or helpless.
Clark Hasler is the Assistant Director for Awaken. He has personally benefited from Awaken’s ministry as it has helped him to navigate his own addiction to pornography and sexually compulsive behavior. Now Clark seeks to walk alongside other men to help them find freedom from sexual brokenness. He has been married to Katie since 2016 and together they have an awesome cat named Remy.