A Relapse Isn’t a Start-Over


From my archives …

relapse 2.jpgSpiritual author Henry Nouwen writes:

“When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. Your healing is not a straight line. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don’t say to yourself, “All is lost. I have to start all over again.” This is not true. What you have gained, you have gained.

“Sometimes little things build up and make you lose ground for a moment. Fatigue, a seemingly cold remark, someone’s inability to hear you, someone’s innocent forgetfulness, which feels like rejection–when all these come together, they can make you feel as if you are right back where you started. But try to think about it instead as being pulled off the road for awhile. When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started.”

That’s so important to remember: Whenever we start to slip and lose ground, we aren’t sent back to the starting line. No way. We’ve made too much progress to be dumped back there in the garbage pit. We’ve just lost a few inches.

I struggle with this often, especially as I’m surfacing from a depressive cycle. I have two good days followed by a day where I’m back to counting the hours until bedtime, repeating four of my favorite mantras: “I am okay.” “I am enough.” “Peace.” “I wish I hadn’t stopped drinking.”

I can clearly see the progress in my friends when something like a relapse happens. Like the one who lost her husband a year and a half again. The other day she felt the same heart pangs or intensity of grief as she did those first days as a widow.

“I’m back at the beginning,” she said to me.

“No you’re not,” I said. “You haven’t called me in tears for over four months. Do you realize that? Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t had more bad days like this. You just feel like it’s the beginning because, compared to how good you’ve been feeling for the last few months, it is a huge disappointment. But you’re not at the starting line. Nowhere even close.”

Today I’m reminding myself of the same thing.

All of my boundaries have ditched me for a party somewhere I’m not invited. My discipline applied for a foreign-exchange program abroad and has been gone for the last month. And my happy cap got eaten by the dog, with all the other clothes he’s managed to chew up.

But I have to remember in this backslide that I’ve only taken two steps back, not 1,000 meters. Even though, to my mind, it feels the same.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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3 Responses
  1. Elizabeth

    I so needed to be reminded of this today. I’ve had some major struggles with anxiety and OCD lately that have left heavier (and I’m already heavy) and sick with headaches and now a sinus infection and tonsillitis. I have been telling myself what a failure I’ve been to “let this happen” and feeling so guilty for not managing my anxiety better lately. I tried, I really did but I suppose sometimes life is too much to keep up with. I’ve had major work related stress these last two months…. it’s been a roller coaster ride of emotions for me.

    You have reminded me to pull out my “Inner Voice of Love” book that I bought a few years ago thanks to your many quotes from it. I need to get back to the basics and focus on feeling better physically this weekend and resting and then I need to work on shedding some weight and getting healthier with my food and exercise. You are living proof of how important it is to eat right and exercise. Perhaps if I focused more on these two things and less on using food for comfort, my anxiety wouldn’t take such a hold of me.

    1. Hi Elizabeth~I have checked out Overeaters Anonymous, a 12 step group, and it is a great resource. Also, Myfittnesspal.com is another great resource if you can get with tracking your food~~it is not as hard as I thought it would be. Hope all our weekends bring restful blessings.