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Is Relapse Inevitable?



If you spend time in recovery minded circles, you hear, “relapse often happens when you least expect it.” Our culture says that relapse is inevitable when someone is “triggered.” If this is true, what hope is there to stay sober? Is sobriety even possible?


Relapse happens when we fail to maintain our goal of sobriety. Sometimes it feels like relapse happens suddenly, out of nowhere. However, there are factors that contribute to relapse long before relapse occurs. Our culture calls them “triggers.” The culture believes triggers are responsible for one’s relapse. This implies an addict must go through life avoiding all triggers in order to maintain sobriety. Triggers are all around and it is impossible to avoid all triggers. Hope for Addiction believes that the Bible speaks to all areas of life, even addiction and relapse. Scripture tells us that if we are followers of Jesus, through Christ, we have everything needed to live a life that glorifies God, including sobriety (2 Peter 1:3-4). The Bible speaks to “triggers,” but instead calls them temptation. If you believe that a memory, a sound or scent, or stressful life situations will “trigger” you to relapse, it leaves you fearfully waiting for the next trigger to happen and the cycle of relapse to begin. However, if you understand what the Bible says and you have a right understanding of the problem, there is so much hope! Not just hope for sobriety, but hope for change and freedom.


Triggers suggest we are powerless, while temptation is something we can overcome. Jesus died and overcame sin when he was raised from the dead. Scripture tells us that Jesus knows our struggle and He is with us to help us fight against temptation. We have comfort knowing that temptation is common to everyone and we can count on God’s faithfulness to help us endure. For those who are believers in Jesus, we have everything we need to fight temptation. When we look at the powerful truths of Scripture, we find ways out of temptation and realize we are not powerless to “triggers.”


Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:17-18

(Note: propitiation means that Jesus became our substitute and received the wrath of God and the punishment for our sins. If you are a believer in Jesus and follow Him, this is true for you.)


No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13


We all have individual experiences that cause us to relive the things that drove us to find refuge or comfort in substances, or that remind us of the actual using experience. These experiences can cause us to spiral in destructive thinking that leaves us vulnerable to succumb to temptation. The scriptures above, along with practical application will help you to identify the things that tempt you toward drug or alcohol use, pornography or any other sin struggle, and will help you develop a plan to help you instead find refuge in God.  You will be able to develop a personal plan to connect you with and run to Jesus in times of temptation. For the sake of clarity, the rest of this article will use the term “temptation to use” in place of “trigger” or “relapse.” 


Scripture does not shy away from hard subjects. When we define our problems according to God’s Word, it makes a path forward. This passage provides a foundation upon which we will build. 


Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16


As you read the Bible, when you come to the word, “therefore,” it is important to understand that the words that follow are because of, or the reason for what is stated previously. Peter begins chapter one with a long list of promises and truths for those who have saving faith in Christ. Verses three through five provide significant reasons for our response in the passage above. These include: God’s mercy to save us from our sins, we are born again, we have a living hope in Jesus who was resurrected from the dead and we have an imperishable inheritance that is being kept by God in heaven for us. In light of these great truths (therefore), we are to prepare our minds for action, be sober minded, set our hope fully on Jesus and respond in holiness. For someone who struggles with addiction, this is a big ask. But we are not left without hope. Let’s explore the common situations that lead to the temptation to find refuge or comfort in substances, pornography or other struggles.



Isolation

Every relapse begins in isolation. Isolation is dangerous for everyone, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out of all sound judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1) You may feel alone and want to numb pain or drown out dark thoughts. You may feel like you don’t have anyone in your life that can help you. When you feel like no one understands and you just want to be alone, or you become too busy to build meaningful relationships, you are vulnerable to temptation. It is wise and necessary to be proactive against isolation, independence and self-sufficiency. God created us to fundamentally need one another to remind us of who God is, His promises, to experience fellowship and to guard against self-deception.


“God ordained Christian community precisely because I can’t face life on my own. The fallen world will bring me to my knees, and if I did do life my way, it would be a complete and utter disaster.” - Paul Tripp (https://www.paultripp.com/wednesdays-word/posts/a-lifestyle-of-community)


And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42


And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

 

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13


Another important aspect of community is walking in the light. When you are struggling with the temptation toward sin, isolation brings darkness and hiding. Sharing your struggle with other Christians in the church is one of God’s blessings and helps us fight against temptations.


This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7


Practical Application:

You will live in a community. This is how God created you. God intended this community to be the local church. Be intentional to schedule time EVERY WEEK with people from your church. If you are new to sobriety, you need someone to help you with daily conversations about your life, your struggles and disappointments. Addiction does not need to be the topic, rather simply discuss your day, how you feel about things happening and how you see (or don’t see) God at work. Regular social interaction is vital; you learn how to relate with, and open your life to others and even have fun without substances. This is important not only for your sobriety but on-going and lasting change. Strategically build relationships when you are not struggling so you become comfortable to share honestly when you are struggling and will help guard against isolating. This is a battle and you cannot fight alone. If you don’t have a support system, contact us and we will connect you with people who aren’t afraid to jump into life with you.



Emotional

Every battle is between how you feel and what is actually true. Emotional situations are a considerable threat that tempts you to find refuge from pain in substances (relapse). Stress, fear, frustration, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and other emotions lead you to find relief. And you will find refuge somewhere and in something; drugs, alcohol, porn, cigarettes, eating, shopping, binge watching tv, relationships or in Jesus. 


“God has given us feelings and emotions to help us be aware of the condition of our inner person, our heart. Our emotions reveal what our faith and hope is in. They reveal what we believe about God. Wrong thinking will lead to wrong feeling.” - Charlotte Richardson, Center Church Gilbert


In other words, your emotions can be used to discern your heart and intention. Emotions cause you to evaluate what you want and what you truly believe. Whether you stuff our emotions or they are out of control, you can be trapped by them. We all tend to make decisions based on how we feel rather than on what is true. If you are a believer in Jesus, His death and resurrection means that you have freedom. And as a believer, the promises in God’s Word are the truth you stand on. A relationship with Jesus, grateful that He rescued you from your sin, is what equips you to change. Instead of responding to what you feel and finding refuge, escape or comfort in destructive ways, use biblical truth to anchor you, to believe God’s promises and help you respond in a God-honoring way. Simply rehearsing positive affirmations or true things are not enough. You must know what God says in the Bible to truly fight wrong thinking and bring real change. When you think rightly you feel rightly.


Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8


Train yourself to think rightly using scripture. This is hard work and another reason you need Christian friends to help. 


Practical Application:

When our emotions begin to rule, stop and evaluate your thinking. Is this true or is this how I feel? Redirect your thoughts to what the Bible says is true. This is how we train ourselves. (see this diagram about feelings and emotions) 


Be aware of your emotions and get help from others to cope with your feelings and avoid destructive behaviors.



Environment

Another important area to guard is your environment. Drastic changes must be made to avoid people and places that remind you of using or that generate an emotional response as stated above. Sometimes this means old friends and maybe even family members need to be avoided. It is necessary for you to make changes and find new friends that will encourage you in the new life you desire. 

 

Practical Application:

Avoid the places where you used to drink or use drugs. Avoid gatherings where people are drinking socially, especially early in sobriety. Spend time in alcohol-and drug-free zones. You may have to decline a party or get together when you know the temptations will be present. Avoid people who encourage you in your old way of living (i.e. “it’s only one, you deserve to celebrate, etc). Spend time with people who have the successful life you desire. Observe “how” they live. Ask questions. Do what they do. 

 


Relationships

Beginning a new romantic relationship early in sobriety is unwise. You are just learning how to live, learning who you are sober and how to cope with “real” life. Adding the stress and temptations of a relationship is a sure path to return to old behaviors. Until you have an extended period of time in successful living (at least one year), new relationships should be avoided. 


Practical Application

What are the things YOU need to watch out for? Do not trust your thinking. Remember your thinking got you to where you are. Talk to a Christian friend about what you are thinking and ask them if it is wise. If you are serious about change, you will ask someone you know will give you the answer you need, not the answer you want.


The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15



Conclusion

Be honest. Don’t pretend that you have it all together. We all need help. We need reminders of truth when our mind, feelings and thinking is clouded.


If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9


Be prepared. Have a plan. Talk to a Christian friend to help you prepare a plan. (See Plan of Action worksheet here). Choose a Christian friend to be your accountability partner you can trust, someone to walk through life with you. Be proactive by thinking through situations ahead of time. Have a plan (example: If you attend a work event or family gathering, decide ahead of time that you will not take a drink and prepare your response for why you will abstain if asked and/or invite a Christian friend to join you). If the temptation is too big, politely decline the event. Your life is at stake, so one party is not worth the risk.


Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 13:20


Once you understand the things that tempt you to relapse, you can be proactive to overcome them. Be prepared with biblical truth. Celebrate another victory in your journey to lasting change, sobriety and a transformed life, knowing that God is faithful and it is HIS work in you.


Find a local church community. Be connected with a local church and support team. You cannot tackle life or sobriety alone. This is a group project. 


“While God always brings people together, Satan uses anger, guilt, and fear to separate. Such separation is the first step toward despair and the eventual domination by darkness. Addiction is not far behind. If an addict has not sought out the church - God's primary instrument of change - to bring its full resources to bear on his or her struggle, it is a danger sign. The pride, guilt, or resistance to living publicly that lies beneath this isolation from the body of Christ is a possible sign of an impending relapse, if the relapse has not already begun.”–Ed Welch, Addictions: A banquet in the Grave


Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2


Community with Christian friends  is vital to a successful life for everyone, not just those who struggle against addiction.


 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13


There is hope, and lasting change is possible. Join us at a Recovering Hope meeting and find a community that understands your battle is ready to walk with you.





About the author: Liz Beck is the Founder of Hope for Addiction


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