Falling off the Wagon of Recovery

No one wants to relapse. When we give something over to recovery, we mean it when we swear off the behavior or the addiction. WE REALLY MEAN IT. When we make those promises to ourselves and our loved ones, we believe every word—each and every promise, that comes out of our mouth—the promise to be better, to do better, to act better; however, for many of us that promise alone is not enough to keep us from relapsing into old behavior and patterns.

For me, the promises to change came easy, and I meant them wholeheartedly when I would promise them. Invariably though, life would get complicated and the familiar pattern would begin again, leaving me powerless to stop myself from seeking comfort from my pain. I had no defense against falling off the wagon. For while I had no intention of breaking my promises, I couldn’t stop myself either. No matter how much pain I knew that I was going to cause my family, no matter how much pain I knew that I would suffer at the hands of my own self, I broke the promise every time.

I did not understand why I would fall short every time, why I would cause the pain to my family again. I would do my very best to keep my promise, but I would always fall short. I would follow the same pattern every time, the same cycle of behavior, and the most insane thing is that I could not see the pattern that I was following even though the cycle followed the same pattern every time.

My cycle looked like this: Life would become complicated, with a real or even perceived struggle, and I would begin to stress out. Feeling overwhelmed would trigger emotional reactions that would increase my feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed and I would begin to use something to cope—substances, anger, food etc.…. My life would begin to get even more complicated, resulting in the need for greater amounts of what I was using to cope, and the cycle would just continue that way until I would finally break down and begin to make the promise to change. Seeking change, I would get into recovery and stay good for a while, until life would get complicated and I would begin to feel overwhelmed, eventually leading me to break my promise to change once again. Once I broke my promise and used again, once I fell off the wagon of recovery, the feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse would return making me feel even more overwhelmed, kicking off the whole cycle again.

For many of us who struggle with addiction and are in recovery there is a history of trauma in our lives. Whether it was physical abuse at the hands of a loved one or trusted friend, or emotional abuse that leaves scars that are unseen, the trauma cycle is generational and can devastate entire generations if left unhealed. The cycle of addiction that I struggled with closely mirrors the family dynamics of growing up in an abusive, alcoholic home. The pain that I have caused my family is the same type of pain that I experienced as a child and swore to myself that I would never repeat with my own family. On my own, I had no way to stop the cycle of trauma; however, I have found that there is help for those who struggle. If you or a loved one are struggling with this same cycle of addiction and trauma, please reach out to someone for help. Find a local 12-Step meeting, attend a Celebrate Recovery meeting, seek counseling to heal some of those childhood wounds. Get free from the pain and misery of addiction and the guilt, shame and remorse that comes from falling off the wagon. I did!

Wade Cordell

Director Continuing Care


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