One of the simplest yet most powerful chapters in my book Life After Lust is called Recovering from Relapse. In it I share a tool called the Failure Response Worksheet that is game-changer for anyone seeking recovery and growth (when practiced regularly). May this chapter inspire you to rise from perceived failures into the future you desire most.
Chapter 19: Recovering from Relapse
Skill to Master #16: Minimizing self-criticism
Skill to Master #17: Self-forgiveness
Skill to Master #18: Rising quickly from perceived failures
In recovery, change is a process that never unfolds perfectly. As we learn the recovery lifestyle, it is essential to also learn how to respond if sobriety is compromised. Depending on the degree of our acting out behavior, this experience is referred to as a slip or a relapse. No matter how it is defined, a person’s response to this kind of setback reveals the strength of their recovery process.
Shame is a normal feeling in moments of perceived failure. Self-criticism can naturally result from feelings of shame, yet a self-critical mindset decreases one’s ability to successfully change and increases the chances of repeating the behavior and giving up. Also, those who are more self-critical have less self-control and motivation. Thus, it is unlikely that true change will occur when self-criticism remains the default manner of relating with oneself, especially in times of failure and weakness.
On the other hand, a self-compassionate response, increases one’s ability to get back on track quickly. For those of us struggling with a shame-based identity, a perceived failure can quickly result in the desire to quit. Of course, quitting will not lead to lasting change. But strengthening the skill of responding self-compassionately to setbacks will powerfully propel us toward successful recovery.
Here is an example of how a person in recovery could self- compassionately respond to a slip or relapse, that supports connecting with self and with others:
Failure Response Worksheet
Using a journal, answer the following:
- What triggered me to want to act out?
- What am I saying to myself about my behavior? (Words of self-criticism, shame, self-compassion?)
Practice a Self-Compassion Break (The 3 parts are mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness):
- Close your eyes. Name all of the feelings you feel right now (example: guilt, shame, anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, etc.). Say to yourself “This is a moment of suffering.” This is mindfulness.
Common humanity (this is not meant to justify the choice but to normalize the feelings that result and to decrease shame, which is unproductive)
- Say to yourself the following phrases:
“Suffering is a part of life.”
“Everyone makes mistakes sometimes when they are trying to make big changes.”
“My imperfections don’t mean that something is wrong with me but only that I am human.”
“There are many people who feel this right now as a result of their choices.”
- Now, put your hands over your heart, feel the warmth of your hands and feel yourself breathing (or use another gesture of soothing physical touch that is non- sexual). This gesture combined with kind words produces oxytocin – deepening a feeling of connection and comfort. For many, this will initially feel awkward but I urge you not to skip this significant step.
- Self-kindness message – Say to yourself the following phrases: “May I be kind to myself.”
“May I give myself the compassion that I need.” “May I forgive myself.”
“May I be patient with myself.”
“May I be strong.”
“May I keep moving forward in my recovery.” Using a journal, answer the following:
- What tools can I use next time I am in a similar situation?
- How can I limit access to this form of acting out in the future?
Reach out to someone and tell them about your slip or relapse. Do this as soon as possible. Reconnect with your Higher Power and another human being. This decreases shame and secrecy, disempowering the addiction. Depending on the degree of damage to others, restitution and amends may be warranted. Sadly, we can never predict what pain or consequences will result from our choices. This is the risk of relapse. What we can control is our present response.
Repeatedly using this Failure Response Worksheet will train us to become our own supportive coach rather than a demoralizing critic. This can provide motivation to get up quickly and move forward, increasing the possibility of significant long-term changes.
While slips and relapses are disheartening, in recovery we learn to view them as opportunities for reconnection and learning, instead of excuses to chastise our efforts. We must remember that our worth is not weighed by success or failure. Our worth is innate, packaged in our humanity. Our mistakes don’t define us but they do teach us about our process and our response to them is what matters most.
Do you find yourself staring in the face of a recent failure? If so, this is the moment to act. Think about the inspiring scene from Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddell’s race was interrupted with a sudden fall. The audience stood in awe and anticipation. When Eric rose, his determination was evident. In a burst of intensity, he swiftly restarted his sprint. The crowd cheered as he passionately pursued the finish line, passing all competitors in his path. To their amazement, he finished as the champion of the race. As he lay panting on the ground surrounded by runners and other bystanders, the officiate held Eric’s head up, acknowledging the challenge of his run and the courage of his heart.
If you’ve fallen, be brave. Remember that “a setback only paves the way for a comeback.” Get up quickly. Practice self- compassion. Examine your blindspots. Reconnect with others. Forgive yourself. Finish your race and finish strong.
This post is a copyrighted excerpt from the book Life After Lust: Stories & Strategies for Sex & Pornography Addiction Recovery.
Benedict, F. (2014, August 16). Recovering from Relapse. Retrieved from https://lifestarcentralvalley.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/recovering-from-relapse
Eisler, M. (2017, January 11). A Meditation to Get Your Goals Back on Track. Retrieved from https://mindfulminutes.com/meditation-get-goals-back-track/
McGonigal, K. (2012). The neuroscience of change: a compassion-based program for personal transformation. Sounds True.
McGonigal, K. (2012, February 01). The Willpower Instinct. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5BXuZL1HAg&t=1s
Quote by Evander Holyfield
***Failure Response Worksheet created by Forest Benedict, adapted from Dr. Kristin Neff’s Self-compassion Break, Used with permission