The shortest distance between addiction and recovery is rarely a straight line. Let me explain. Recovery is like boxing. Before a fight one night, Mike Tyson told his opponent, “Your game plan will work perfectly – until you get punched in the face.”
If you are just entering recovery, get ready to get punched in the face.
Recovery comes with challenges, and often, setbacks. We call these setbacks “slips” or “relapses.” While there is no solid data on the rate of relapse in sex addiction, the National Institute on Drug Abuse tells us that relapse with substance abuse occurs in 40-60 percent of cases. It is believed that for sexual addiction, that number is much higher.
We also know that only about 10 percent of addicts get any help (National Survey on Drug Use and Health). So it is not surprising that slips and relapse are a chronic problem in recovery.
Those who enter sexual addiction recovery fall into three groups: those who never slip, those who occasionally slip, and those who chronically slip. This article is for the middle group. If you have experienced solid recovery, but have had one or more slips or a full relapse, keep reading. I will address three critical questions.
- What is the difference between a slip and a relapse?
While there is no quantitative answer to this question, it is important to draw the distinction. A full relapse should be dealt with more seriously than a slip. To determine whether you have had a slip or a relapse, answer these questions.
- Duration: Did I act out quickly or for several hours/overnight?
- Repetition: Was this a one-time event, or did I do it several times?
- Premeditation: Did it “just happen” or was the act planned in advance?
Any acting out behavior that happens quickly, one time, and with little planning can be considered a slip. But those activities that take more time, repeat themselves, and are well-planned are relapses. Let me be clear – you can “do it” just once and it can be considered a full relapse.
- What are the signs of a relapse?
You need to see it before it happens. Often, your spouse can see some of these signs as well. While this is not a pure determination of a pending relapse, these five signs are common to those who fall.
- Overconfidence: a feeling that you have progressed to the point that a slip can’t happen
- Retreat from your support network: no longer engaged with 12-step group and sponsor
- Defensive: can’t take criticism or suggestions; becomes prideful
- Old behaviors: isolation; selfish tendencies resurface
- Quit doing recovery work: no longer working the steps or making calls
While no list is complete, these are some of the signs that you are in trouble. This often happens about six months into solid recovery. Other vulnerable times seem to be 18 months and three years. If you are married to an addict, remember to always believe their behavior, not their words. When you see any of these signs, be ready to respond.
- What are the steps to take after a slip or relapse?
I will address a slip more than a relapse. Keep in mind, the distinction may not be that clear. A word of caution: it is better to respond to a slip as though it was a relapse than to respond to a relapse as though it was a slip. In other words, you can never do too much in recovery.
Never minimize a slip! You must change your routine and recovery plan if you expect better results in the future. As pastor Andy Stanley says, “Your current strategy is perfectly suited for the results you are getting.
Here is my five-point plan if you have had a slip.
- Therapy: See your therapist, preferably a C.S.A.T. (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist).
- Meetings: Add one additional 12-step meeting (SA, SAA, CR) to your weekly schedule for 12 weeks.
- Calls: Add one additional daily call to a member of your 12-step group for the next 12 weeks.
- Accountability: Build a “circle of five” accountability group; meet or call weekly.
- Three Circles: Revisit your “three circles.” For more information, consult AA or SAA material. Define, with the help of your sponsor, your outer circle behaviors (healthy), middle circle behaviors (dangerous), and inner circle behaviors (violation of sobriety).
It is important that you have this plan already in place, in the event of a slip or relapse. Remember, you cannot act as though your slip or relapse did not happen. It did! That does not negate the progress you have made in recovery. Let me say that again. Your slip or relapse does not negate the progress you have made in recovery.
But you need to respond to your slip immediately! Make sure to call your sponsor. Take these five steps within the next 48 hours. Why? Because you are much more vulnerable to losing all the ground you have gained right now – after a slip.
One more word. A slip or relapse is not the end of the world. You only lose if you quit trying. Recovery is hard, but it’s not impossible.
God offers us this promise: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will put you to the test. Be faithful, and I will give you life” (Revelation 2:10).