Relapse Prevention

For some reason, the topic of “Relapse Prevention” strikes fear in the hearts of all who have suffered the pain associated with betrayal. The thought that this could happen again is frightening indeed. However, the relapse itself is not the main obstacle to eventual recovery. Rather, it is the response to relapse that determines the outcome of recovery. It is not uncommon for human beings, in a moment of mindlessness, to do things they never intended. However, I have learned in my recovery that “behavior doesn’t equal motive” and “temptation doesn’t define me.”

How many of us have ever done something that we really didn’t want to do. In a moment of impulsivity, we made a choice we later regretted. For example, my intent was to stay on the diet, but ….somehow that didn’t happen. Now some of you may be saying, “a diet is one thing, but infidelity is another,” and you’re right, but the same forces that cause the fall from the diet are at work in our recovery from an affair. As the apostle Paul explains in I Corinthians 7, once we decide not to do something, another force goes into effect and we want that thing more than ever. This is human nature. It’s not that we want to do the wrong thing, in fact we want to do the right thing, but the very decision not to do that wrong thing creates the ravenous desire to do that very thing.

Now don’t freak out. I’m not saying your mate is ready and willing for a repeat performance. In fact, most of us feel little or no desire to go there again. Furthermore, our research shows that if people return to old behaviors, they don’t just pick up where they left off. Instead, they get back into the water slowly. Initially, we are dead serious when we determine never do these things again. At the same time, as we discussed in Week 2, my best efforts have a way of ending in failure, because the best of the flesh is the worst of the flesh. My efforts to change can actually set up my failure.

We are only as weak as our strongest point. That may sound funny, but it is the honest truth. At the root of all relapse are our best efforts. It is “our” attempts at self-control, “our” attempt at self-reliance, and “our” attempts at self improvement. Please do not think that I am saying that all will relapse. That is not the case, but when relapse occurs, it is always based in pride. We believe that we should be able to do this, that if we try hard enough, we will overcome. We are carried away by our confidence in our own ability. We want to be normal and to be able to assume that this will never happen again. As the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Couples in recovery have an abundance of good motives and good intentions, but as mentioned above, “behavior doesn’t equal motive.”

I say all of this, because I think it is important to assume that relapse can always occur, although that is in no way an excuse or permission to relapse. You see, we must follow the paradoxical path of weakness rather than of strength. As the apostle Paul stated, “Where I am weak then He is strong.” My goal in recovery and the attitude that has helped sustain my sobriety for over 18 years is an attitude of weakness. I recognize that I cannot handle it, rather than believing that I can or should. It takes humility to stay in a place of weakness, and knowing that it is best simply never to put myself in high-risk situations.

My own relapse, at 5 years, came not because I wanted to go back to an old behavior, but rather because I thought I was “all better” and would be able to handle situations that I’d never been able to handle in the past. I certainly didn’t start back where I had left off, but I knew, once I started that I had opened Pandora’s box. My second mistake was the same as the first, I thought I could stop it again only to find that as in the past, it controlled me.

The problem with my journey back into old behaviors was not so much what I was doing as it was me trying to handle it by myself just as I had before. It really wouldn’t have mattered what exactly, I was doing, what mattered was how I handled it. As before, I was trying to protect my image by keeping the problem secret. Infidelity is the keeping of secrets, and once again, I was keeping my wife in the dark. I couldn’t be free until I let go of both my pride and shame and began to live in honesty and acceptance again. Likewise, my wife would never be safe as long as I was keeping her in the dark.

That event was over 18 years ago, and I’m happy to say that it was my most recent run in with a behavior that, unfortunately, I am more than capable of repeating again. It’s just that now, I never assume I’m better. Instead, I accept who I am and what I am capable of and I live accordingly. It is not a bad way to live, but it is different from the way of life that the world presents as “ideal.” I understand that I’m a human wrecking ball and I am more than capable of destroying the lives of everyone who is associated with me. For that reason, and with that knowledge, I walk in daily surrender to God asking him to be to me all that I am not, and daily admitting that this is as good as I get. Apart from his power in my life, I’ll once again put those I love at risk.

Use wisdom in your recovery. Don’t put yourself in high risk situations. Instead, be always aware that you are capable of relapse and live accordingly.

September 2007

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