One of the emotions that victims of addiction often experience is hopelessness. This is particularly true after a relapse or slip. After days, weeks or months of sustained recovery, the addict may find themselves using again. All of the effort at change and recovery seems to have been wasted. Just when you thought you were making some real progress in your recovery, you end up back in the same old self-destructive behavior pattern. It is often at times like this that the victim of addiction begins to wonder if they will ever be free of their drug of choice.
In one sense, many professionals believe that the addict will never be entirely free of their addiction. This is why many people describe themselves, even after years, as being ‘in recovery’. In many 12 step programs, members refer to themselves as ‘recovering’, not as recovered. There are a couple of reasons why this may be a useful attitude. First, as soon as you think you’re over your addiction, you may let down your guard or even begin to think that maybe you can handle just a little of your drug of choice. Second, especially in the case of opioid addiction, neurological changes may have occurred which can take years to recover from, if full recovery ever happens.
Even if total recovery never happens and lifelong vigilance is needed, that does not mean we are hopeless. Victims of addiction can learn the skills needed to manage their lives and make better decisions. In addition, slips are really opportunities to learn. The more a victim of addiction can learn about their triggers and weaknesses, the more they will be able to avoid risky behaviors. A slip is a chance to learn more about your addictive behaviors and patterns.
It is a matter of where your focus is. If you focus on the slip or relapse, you may likely begin to feel hopeless. If your focus is on moving forward into the future, then that slip or relapse is a chance to learn how to do better in the future. You can look backwards and be tempted to despair or you can look forward and renew your hope. Remember that you cannot change the past but you can change the future. Our God is the Lord of History, past, present and future, but He will not undo our past. He will empower us to move forward in hope if only we seek His grace.
Here’s a link to a website with more to say about the importance of hope for recovery: http://www.recoverytimes.com/newhopeda.html