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Is It Okay to Take a Break from Recovery?

April 6, 2017

Spring is here, and with the change in weather, it is normal to become restless in every part of your life. Instead of going to work or school, you’d probably rather hang out outside. When it comes to recovery, you can probably come up with 100 things you’d rather do than sit through a 12-Step meeting, meet with your therapist, or go to another doctor’s appointment to manage mental health symptoms.

So can you take a break from your recovery at any point and be safe from relapse? Or is the risk just too big to manage?

Showing Up

Being in the room is the only way that you are going to gain anything from the different therapeutic interventions that are available to you in recovery. When you do not show up, you stagnate – at best. At worst, you begin to lose the progress you have made as your focus shifts to other things. If this happens too early in recovery, before you are stable, it can completely throw you off track. It becomes easy to justify “just one drink” or “just one time” using when you are prioritizing fun and relaxation over the work of recovery.

Though it may seem like you are getting nothing out of it because your mind is elsewhere, you are still benefiting from the structure that these meetings and sessions provide to your schedule, interaction with others in recovery, and that unexpected thing that you hear from someone that makes sense and helps you to stay sober for another day.

Making It Happen

So what can you do to make sure you are sticking to your recovery routine when every part of you wants to get outside or do just about anything else? You can:

  • Enlist a friend’s support. If you have a friend to attend these meetings with or someone you can call who will encourage you to make the effort to get to everything on your recovery schedule throughout the week, it can be helpful. The support as well as the accountability – that is, the fact that someone will know and notice if you are not in attendance – can help you to make positive decisions when you otherwise might not.
  • Talk about it at the meeting or therapy session. No matter what you are struggling with – even if it’s coming to the meeting or appointment – you can talk about it with your substance abuse treatment professionals or share it at the meeting. You are definitely not alone in this, and you will likely find that the other people in attendance at the meeting share your feelings, and that therapists and doctors have hints and tips to help you manage the temptation to take a break.
  • Do both. There is no reason that you cannot take time for outdoor adventures – or whatever it is that is calling you – and still maintain your commitments to your recovery. For example, if you want to take a vacation, you can take a short trip between your weekly therapy sessions, identify a 12-Step meeting every day at your destination, and make sure your schedule includes holistic therapies that will boost your recovery (e.g., yoga classes, hikes, meditation, etc.). It doesn’t have to be an “either/or” issue.
  • Reward yourself. If you feel like your life is turning into a treadmill of recovery meetings and therapy sessions, reward yourself. For example, hit a 12-Step meeting every day, and at coffee afterward, treat yourself to an expensive coffee drink once every few days. Create a goal for yourself – hitting all your recovery-related meetings, appointments, and sessions in a week, for example – and then give yourself a reward when you meet your goal and then again at the end of the month when you have successfully kept up with recovery commitments all month long.

If You Go off Track

Recovery is all about ebb and flow. No one is 100 percent excited about their recovery and committed to staying sober 100 percent of the time. It’s normal to feel bored and/or frustrated or even to question whether or not a sober life is what you want for yourself. If you find that these emotions overwhelm you and you end up relapsing, it does not have to signal an end to your recovery. Instead, you can view it as an opportunity to learn more about how you function in different situations, about what works and what doesn’t in terms of maintaining emotional stability, and about how to ramp back up again and reconnect with your recovery.

As a part of this process, you can:

  • Step up your 12-Step meetings. If you are going once a week, go once a day, and if you’re going once a day, go twice a day. Increase your engagement for a 30-day period so you can fully re-immerse yourself in your recovery.
  • Analyze what happened with your therapist. Do a “post-mortem” and go over what was happening with you in the weeks prior to relapse: specific interactions, feelings, sleep patterns, work schedule, involvement in recovery, etc. When you figure out what led up to it, you will more readily recognize the warning signs next time.
  • Address the situation emotionally. How will you come back from this emotionally? Take a step-by-step approach that speaks to your needs.
  • Create a new plan for managing the situation. Whatever it was that put you over the edge, figure out how to address this situation specifically in the future without relapse.
  • Get back to work. Recovery is all about persistence and continually doing the work. So what if you relapsed? It’s time to get back to living your life in recovery.
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