Relapsing is a healthy part of recovery

If you have been following my journey through 2019 so far, you will by now know that I have made a lot of BIG changes in my life.

You probably also noticed that the tone of my blogging has changed in the last two months or so. Where the first few months of blogging were very much enthusiastic and positive, and the most recent months are portraying a darker, more depressed vision of my life.

In all honesty, I’ve been giving myself a fair amount of grief about this change of tone. That little voice in my head has been accusing me of giving up. Telling me that I’m failing at this healing thing. Making me doubt some of my decisions – because after all, if I have felt so shitty recently, then surely it must be my fault. It must be a result of my actions. I must be doing something wrong, yet again.

I’ve battled with this little voice for the last fair while. And it got even harder to battle this voice when my roommate went away for a few weeks, because left alone with that voice, it seemed to have amplified and gain some ground in the battlefield that is my mind.

Last week something happened, though. I got some very hard news that affected me in a very dramatic way. I can only described the intensity of my emotional reaction as though I had been kicked in the emotional balls.

The news sent me down a very dark and deep hole. And it happened so fast and so hard, that it honestly scared me.

The day after I got the news, I found myself in the shower, hysterically crying, emotionally so hurt that it’s as if I could feel my heart tearing in my chest. I struggled to catch my breathe as I felt intense waves of sadness roll through my body.

And you can bet that the little voice took this opportune time to make itself heard. While my defenses were way down, I struggled to let go of what that voice was saying. But it was just too much.

You’re broken, it told me. You are not wanted – obviously. You’ve been replaced by someone more worthy of their love. You always end up here, anyway. Who are you to think that you could “change your life” and “heal your wounds”. Pathetic.

So with the intensity of the sadness, compounded with the incessant chatter in my head, I had a really dark thought.

I feel embarassed, to even admit this. Again – it’s probably the little voice in my head telling me that I am dramatic. But here it is: I had a thought, for a moment, that I just couldn’t cope with all of these intense emotions. That I just couldn’t put up with this pain anymore. That I would never actually move past this. And that maybe, just maybe, I would be better off dead.

Suicidal ideation. The Big Bad Scary.

It was the first time in a decade that I had those thoughts. And the little voice in my head was quick to jump on board and add: “See! I told you! Weak. Crazy. Thinking of killing yourself? Who could ever love someone so pathetic”.

But with all the work I have done this year, I knew better than to stay alone with those thoughts. So I reached out for help.

I called friends. I chatted with my roommate. I went for a walk. I went to my brother’s to help build a deck. I met a friend at the gym for a dance class. I even pushed myself and went on a date. I reached out to my old life coach. I fought.

I fought, with all my might, until those feelings dissipated. Until I could see things for what they are: I got hit right on my biggest emotional wound, and it hurt like a bitch.

So when I talk about relapse being a part of recovery, I’m not talking about drugs, or a substance. But it may as well be. I think this relates to any “thing” we reach for when we need to numb overwhelming emotions.

We all do it, and we all have our “drug” of choice. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s booze. Maybe it’s sex. Maybe it’s cleaning. Maybe it’s keeping insanely busy. Maybe it’s binge-watching TV. Or scrolling endlessly on social media.

And you know what, it’s okay.

We are humans, we are not perfect. And I’ll be damned if I continue to set myself up for failure by setting absolutely unrealistic expectations for myself.

I am healing, I am growing, and it is a process. There will be ups, there will be downs, and there will be relapses. But those lows will be fewer, and farther apart. And I will stay present in the lows, so that I can grow through them.

And you can too.

I want to move away from numbing the hard stuff, so that I can start to really enjoy the good stuff. Because, as Brene Brown points out in a lot of her writing, “we cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions”.

So yes, it may seem like a step back, to have had such a dramatic reaction to bad news, and to have experienced suicidal thoughts for the first time in a decade. Some may call it a relapse of sorts.

But the growing, the healing, the massive take-home for me is this: I can hold myself in compassion, even when the going gets tough.

And so can you.

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