When entering the recovery phase following treatment, it is suggested that you locate a Twelve Step fellowship group where you will hopefully find a sponsor. A sponsor is also in recovery, usually someone with a lengthy history of sobriety. Sponsors offer their sponsee much needed support and guidance for working the Steps and navigating the recovery landscape.
Of course, anyone in substance use recovery is capable of a relapse. Even someone with decades of sobriety could relapse. However, when it is your sponsor that relapses it can be disconcerting, as you have placed a lot of trust in them and relied on their guidance. In the event your sponsor relapses, it might help you to realize that your trust should ultimately be placed in your Higher Power.
When a Sponsor Relapses
A sponsor can be a highly effective continuing care asset in early recovery. Sponsors act as a coach and a confidante, while also helping you progress through the Twelve Steps. Should your sponsor succumb to a relapse they are trained to reach out to a sponsee and inform them to find a new sponsor. This protocol is in place in anticipation of this possibility, as sponsors are humans and can relapse. But when they do, it is the right thing for them to let their sponsee know and to suggest another sponsor for them. That allows the sponsor time to focus on his or her own recovery and get back on track.
Even so, the sponsee may have feelings of disappointment or even resentment toward the sponsor should they relapse. This is a natural response. But this event can also be a teachable moment for the sponsee. He or she will now have firsthand knowledge of just how fragile recovery can be, and that no one is immune to relapse. The sponsor’s relapse also teaches the sponsee how important it is to be able to recognize the signs of relapse so you can be proactive in preventing one.
Relapse in Recovery
Relapse is an extremely common occurrence in substance use recovery. It is estimated that between 50%–90% of individuals who have completed treatment will relapse at some point. Addiction recovery is complex. It involves not only abstaining from the substance, while the brain and body adjust to this but also unwinding the ingrained thought and behavior patterns that perpetuated the addiction cycle. While treatment can begin the process and provide needed recovery tools and coping skills, transitioning to new thought patterns takes some time.
Meanwhile, the disease may be dormant but it is still susceptible to triggers. The longer you remain abstinent the lower the risk of relapse becomes. However, there are always exceptions to this, as life in recovery can include unforeseen events that might trigger a relapse. The best defense against relapse is a good offense. Next, learn some helpful tips on how to prevent relapse.
Tips to Prevent Relapse
Generally, a relapse doesn’t just suddenly occur out of thin air. Instead, relapse is on a continuum, building steam as defenses fall and resolve wanes. Here are some tips for preventing a relapse:
- Attend Meetings. After treatment, recognize that you are vulnerable to relapse and make the effort to attend regular Twelve Step meetings. Find a sponsor and work the Steps. Be of service to others.
- Consider Sober Living. Transitional housing can benefit those who do not have a supportive home environment. Sober living can provide a safe, substance-free zone that offers fellowship and peer support.
- Continue Therapy. Weekly outpatient therapy sessions offer a source of support to help guide you through the rough spots in early recovery.
- Avoid Triggers. Part of developing a relapse prevention plan is identifying your own personal triggers. Once identified, avoid exposure to them.
- Restore Health. Improving overall health and wellbeing through regular exercise, a healthy diet, managing stress, and establishing a regular sleep routine can help you resist relapse.
Remember that your sobriety should not be dependent on a sponsor, but instead should rely on your Higher Power for the strength to persevere in recovery. If your sponsor should relapse, don’t bottle up your feelings. Share how you are feeling with your therapist or support group, find a new sponsor, and then carry on with your recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.