“Why would you throw your life away like that?”
“You worked so hard to rebuild, you were happy, why would you make that mistake again?”
Our society has written its narrative for relapse:
The person with addiction tries to recover.
The person with addiction gets weak, or lazy, or just decides they want to throw away their growth.
The person with addiction relapses and hurts themselves as well as the people who care about them.
That is what society suggests relapse is-
This is what addiction and relapse really is:
Addiction is having to carry a 50 lb weight over your head every day. It’s heavy, overwhelmingly so, so much that your first few months of carrying it you often need physical support from others. Even after you train, after you educate yourself on the best ways to carry it, even after you practice on your own, carrying that weight is burdensome. Day after day you have to lug it around. You need to stay alert. You need to keep it balanced. One wrong move and that weight could drop.
Then one day that weight does drop.
50 lbs becomes too heavy.
You’re only one human being and you have been hoisting that thing around for days, months, years, decades.
-That- is relapse.
When the overwhelming burden of carrying something heavy just gets to be too much and you need to put it down for a moment. It can be because you lost your footing. It can be because you got distracted by other things in your life and you skipped a few weeks of training. It could even be because your arms simply gave out.
You didn’t make any poor choice, you just had a single moment that you couldn’t carry that extremely demanding weight any more.
My question to the critical folks – don’t you also get tired?
Don’t you also get distracted?
Doesn’t “life” also happen to you and you lose control of some areas because you are working on others?
People with addiction are the exact same way. They’re human. However, they’re humans who have to learn to navigate a life where if they don’t constantly train to balance a heavy weight that heavy weight may drop. Then, if that weight drops, the repercussions involve a whole lot of shame and judgement from everyone who notices.
Rather than society being understanding, or looking at the person who relapses with compassion, we chastise the sufferer. We criticize the person with addiction for not being strong enough. We act as though that 50 lb weight suddenly became a 2 lb weight and carrying it wasn’t a daily burden.
I know we all have our struggles, but imagine the heavy weight of addiction and then combine it with the weight of being stigmatized, punished, alienated, and taken away from all of the things that you need to get better.
I offer you this analogy in hopes of reframing your own narrative the next time you encounter a loved one relapsing. Or even if you, yourself, have experienced relapse. While no one wants to drop the weight, and certainly no one wants to deal with the repercussions of dropping the weight, we can at least remove the burden of shame and guilt. Just like no one would judge someone who is new to a workout routine for needing a break from the heavy lifting, and no one would judge someone who is two hours into a workout for needing a break from the heavy lifting, I am not judging the person who relapsed. Society shouldn’t judge the person who relapsed.
People with addiction carry the baggage of 50 lbs on a daily basis through obstacles, pain, and every facet of life. They didn’t ask for that challenge, but they find acceptance and carry it anyway.
Remember, in reality, when the true narrative is revealed, and the fake narrative is shattered:
Relapse if not a reason for shame,
Relapse is a moment of exhaustion,
And human beings can come back from a moment of exhaustion.