Joel walked into my office looking tense and uncomfortable. He was there for his weekly therapy session where we have been addressing his amphetamine use and depression. His eyes avoided mine, clearly he was upset about something.
Joel is just now dealing with his amphetamine use and coming into the realization that he may have an amphetamine dependency. This is a huge transition for anybody who begins to realize that “Maybe I CAN’T control this”.
“What’s happened Joel”, I asked, suspecting the answer would relate to his drug use. “Well, I made a phone call to a Mexican pharmacy. They sent me my order (a stimulant used to treat ADD) and I used them over the weekend. This feels like such a dead-end”.
Joel had relapsed, but had been able to tell me. Relapse and shame tend to go together, as they have for Joel. “I’m glad you told me. Let’s talk about what happened. Does your partner know you used?” Joel and I used the rest of the session to deal with what he shared, and what next steps he might consider.
It turns out that Joel did tell his partner. While I am not working with the couple, I offer ideas to Joel about considering relationship issues in the context of his recovery. Relapse translates to the need to reevaluate the current program and strengthen it somehow.
How can couples manage relapse? One of the strategies I talk about with couples is to have a relapse strategy in place. Once somebody has committed to sobriety/recovery, the couple can talk about what they would do and what would need should the partner relapse. For example, one couple I worked with came up with a plan that should there be a relapse, the addict partner would take the next steps in increasing a recovery plan to include an evening treatment program. His partner said she would need to be able to tell her family, so she could get support. She also talked about her need to be in a couples support group or 12 step program like Recovering Couples Anonymous (RCA). Both partners said they were committed to the relationship and would want to work in ways to manage recovery for the both of them individually and as a couple.
Couples who can talk about relapse – the thing they hope will never happen – are better equiped to deal and manage with relapse if they are prepared. Hopefully relapse fears can freely be talked about, and built into an ongoing dialogue.
Having said that, we still take it one day at a time.