Relapse and Aftercare
A person who is recovering from a life-controlling problem should always be aware of the possibility of relapse into former ways. The writer of Proverbs says, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly" (26:11). This is particularly true of those who are prone to extreme emotional highs and lows in their walk with God. Some may be overconfident in their recovery process to the point of not guarding against relapse. Crisis situations may trigger a person into relapse. Hidden fear or repressed anger may also lead to relapse.
Goals of Aftercare
Help for a person who is recovering from a life-controlling problem should focus on a vital relationship with God, freedom from the problems that have mastered his/her life, and personal self-esteem. Focusing on a person's relationship with God is a top priority in the individual's recovery.
Sobriety and sober thinking certainly must occur; however, this alone is not enough. Without an ongoing relationship with God, a person is likely to switch addictions. For example, Sam has been abstinent from alcohol for six months. However, his introduction to a higher power was void of a personal walk with Christ. Although he was abstaining from alcohol, he switched his dependency to ungodly sexual behaviors. Jesus deals with the principle of an unoccupied spiritual house in Matthew 12:43-45.
When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, "I will return to the house I left." When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.
In addition to an active relationship with God, there must be continued abstinence or freedom from the life-controlling problem. A person who continues to drink alcohol, use drugs, or view R- and X-rated movies (or whatever the dependency is) cannot expect to remain in recovery. Fellowship with God will become strained as delusion once again dominates thinking. Self-esteem is directly related to the person's relationship with God and personal abstinence or freedom from the problem that has mastered his/her life. Since God is perfect, He is the only one who can communicate personal significance to the person in recovery. Helpers should emphasize the self-worth that comes from being in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:3-14; Philippians 1:6, 4:13; Colossians 3:3). Paul writes: "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11).
A feeling of being no good or of having no competence can be a difficult burden for a person struggling on the road to recovery. The helper can encourage the discouraged by helping the person understand that competence comes from a greater power. Paul writes: "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God" (2 Corinthians 3:4-5). A person's self-worth will suffer if he or she relapses into a former lifestyle. Since former values will be in conflict with new goals and lifestyle, feelings of failure and difficulty forgiving self will soon surface.
Ways to Attain Goals
An atmosphere of surrender should be encouraged whether it be in a group setting or one-on-one. Individuals who suffer from dependency should be encouraged to live their lives one day at a time (see Matthew 6:33-34). Honesty with themselves, God, and others helps prevent the growth of delusion. They should be encouraged to deal with their feelings and defenses. The helper should encourage persons dealing with relapse to communicate openly with God, asking for His forgiveness. "But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One"(1 John 2:1). An attitude of humility and responsibility to a local church body that holds the dependent accountable for recovery is an essential element in a recovery program.
Being aware of the various triggering devices that lead to relapse can be helpful to the person in recovery. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11: "I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." The helper should encourage the person to take a personal inventory of past experiences that enabled the use of a substance or practice to become a mastering behavior. For example, some people are tempted to relapse at times of celebration while others are more likely to fall during times of depression or stress. It is possible that the presence (or absence) of certain people, odors, music, or visual stimulation may contribute to a setback. A person should be aware of these devices and prayerfully take precautions against those things that may trigger a relapse.
A person who covers up an urge to relapse into a former lifestyle will probably begin to display observable negative behavior and return to the former state of denial. A first step is to start missing church services or support group meetings. When I was working in high schools with students who were chemically dependent, there was one sign exhibited by all who relapsed. They would immediately begin to avoid me in the hallways, cafeteria, or at ball games. They would also begin to drop out of their support group.
Socializing with the former crowd is another strong sign of relapse. An individual cannot stay straight and continue to hang out with former friends who project a negative influence. Being influenced by negative peer pressure will cause a gradual withdrawal from church and support group friends although some persons will continue to talk the talk but not walk the walk.
Ways to Deal with Relapse
It is important to keep communication lines open with those who have relapsed. In an effort to prevent delusion from growing, I would make eye and verbal contact with students who tried to avoid me. Practicing tough love, I would go to their homes when they skipped school and their support group meetings. I would level with them about observable behaviors that concerned me along with supporting data and specific dates.
A person who has relapsed should be encouraged to share feelings about the urge to use a substance or practice a mastering behavior. Encourage the person to continue work on recovery in a local church small group that can offer support and accountability. The helper should set goals of recovery and establish responsibility for meeting them.
Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
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