At Christmas Eve dinner, the topic of addicts and their recovery came up. It wasn’t out of the blue exactly. I was with seven people I had not known before they sat down at the table. We were all participating in a Christmas Eve mini-retreat. It was hosted at a local religious institution which also houses a substance abuse program. We had just finished Vespers and were now being treated to a delicious meal that could easily have challenged any restaurant in the area. Our servers were men from the program. I would have never known this had one of my dinner companions not made us aware of this fact. Our server looked not a day over 21, was meticulously dressed in a blue and white striped shirt like all the other servers. They all also wore some sort of badge around their necks. I later read that these badges held a picture that was captured of them on their first day of arrival at the clinic.
At hearing that the recovery program housed here was one of the most successful, one of my dinner companions asked what the definition of success was. I had learned from reading James Frey’s book “A Million Little Pieces” that the best recovery centers only have an 18% success rate – as in 82% of the participants will relapse within the next year. I mentioned that I had heard this, and another woman at our table confirmed the fact. As it turns out, she had worked in a recovery program for over 10 years.
“Relapse, though, is part of the recovery,” she explained. I had never heard that before, and neither had my dinner companions. She went on to tell us that it is best to let the addicts know this up front, so that when they relapse they acknowledge that it’s part of the process and can hopefully identify it as such, and then choose to try once again to come back out of the hole.
I was later relating this conversation to a friend of mine. “Relapse is part of the process,” I explained to him. “You know,” he said, “that can be said of a lot of things we try in life.” As he has a habit of doing, he stopped me in my tracks. I’d never thought of it quite like that. How many things had I attempted to change in my life, succeeding for a little while, only to fail eventually and then beat myself up over it? But what if I told myself from the beginning, “Relapse is part of the process.” Wouldn’t it be that much easier to accept my failure as temporary, as part of the process, and then move on?