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My relapse and what I’ve learned from it

Hi, I’m Joy. I’m a recovering ice addict and recently I relapsed. I’d like to share my story of how the relapse occurred and what I’ve learned from the experience.

I attended the Hader Clinic Queensland sixteen months ago for ice addiction treatment – you can read about my recovery here.

Unfortunately being an addict the potential to relapse is always there.

It’s important to realise that a relapse doesn’t mean failure, but rather gives you and your family an opportunity for further personal growth and understanding around the nature of addiction.

Recovery can be likened to gardening  – a garden requires watering, care and maintenance. If a garden is not watered or cared for, the plants become sick and have the potential to die. If an addict does not continue to work on recovery, they have the potential to become unwell again very rapidly.

Prior to the relapse, I’d been clean for 16 and a half months.

They say in that in recovery you need to do five things

  • go to meetings
  • get a sponsor
  • get a home group
  • do service
  • do step work

So I was keeping up with doing these things, most of the time.

I originally did three months of residential addiction treatment at the Hader Clinic Queensland, then three months in their transition house and three months doing an outpatient program at the clinic.

For the remainder of my time clean I was working the program myself.

I was trying to get back into “life” and I was working at my step father’s café.

The shifts were pretty early – I started getting up at 3.30am to be there by 5am and I was working nine or ten hour days.

It was exhausting, and the last thing I felt like doing after work was heading off to an NA meeting – and this began to slide.

There is a saying that “whatever you put in front of your recovery, you lose” and in this case work became my number one priority.

I thought, “I really need to focus on my job”. My step dad was thinking of taking on a new café and wanted me to be involved. It sounded exciting, but I didn’t realise that in terms of my recovery, I was getting a bit ahead of myself.

So this, in a way, created a bit of a storm.

I was vulnerable, and although the signs were there, I brushed them aside.

I had learned from my time in rehab that you can often see a relapse coming before it actually happens.

I was overworked and overwhelmed.

In recovery we used this acronym, H.A.L.T.S – which encompasses the feelings of hungry, angry, lonely, tired or stressed.

I reckon that I was all of these before I picked up the drugs again.

The relapse started by heading away to Byron Bay for a weekend with a good friend, who is also in recovery. 

By that stage I’d let my meetings slip away and had lost contact with my sponsor, so all of those recovery tools that I’d worked at and tried to solidify had started to fall away.

So when I did go away, I felt like I had no defence against that first drink. A bottle of champagne that I knew would be there and that usually wouldn’t bother me was consumed rather quickly.

At that time I didn’t consider myself to be an alcoholic, or even an addict anymore because after a certain amount of time in recovery you feel like you’re on top of it all. Alcohol wasn’t even my primary addiction.

However once that bottle of champagne was consumed I found myself drinking another bottle, just as fast.

Then, I was suddenly down at the bottle shop buying a four pack of Cruisers.

Then there was some rum and coke and more wine.

I knew that wasn’t normal consumption. I felt terrible, so ended up getting some MDMA capsules down in Byron. The next thing I knew the horrible drug fuelled obsession had come back.

After the weekend was over, I tried to rationalise it, telling myself that “I had only drunk alcohol and taken MDMA, but I hadn’t done ice and I was fine”.

I started going back to meetings, pretending to be clean. But it wasn’t helping me.

Two weeks later I was drunk again and when my inhibitions were low that I thought I’d call my ice dealer again.

And that was it – back on the ice.

My relapse continued for seven weeks.

Towards the end I was lying to my mum about it. I didn’t want to have to go back to rehab so I told her that I was going to get well on my own, that I was going to go to meetings, that I was going to get it together.

However, in that last week, I used every single day and lied about going to meetings.

My parents weren’t fooled.

You go from sixteen and half months sober to not coming home and behaving erratically. Yep, all the signs were there.

I’m really glad they pushed me into recovery again because addiction can really spiral out of control, quickly.

I went back to into the residential addiction treatment program at the Hader Clinic Queensland.

I felt guilt and shame going back but it was worth going back.

I did five weeks up there, a month in the transition house and now I’m doing an intensive outpatients program. 

I feel that was the refresher I needed – and I encourage anyone that relapses to keep going back.

When I went into the residential program for the second time, my mindset was different.

I felt that sharing my message and experience could really help others – especially around the mindset of “I only have a problem with drugs, not alcohol” – I relapsed on a drink, and it took me straight back to my drug of choice.

I now have a better understanding of what it means to be an addict and I’m more accepting of it.

I understand that the compulsion and obsession to pick up the drugs is still there but I have more insight than I did previously.

It humbled me to be back in early recovery again, you forget how hard it is.

What I really took away was the notion of abstinence.

We can’t have “just one” of anything, as it will make us really sick. I really try to keep focusing on that.

Being a “success story” was another pressure I didn’t expect.

People looked up at me. I’d gone back up to the rehab to “give back”. I’d spoken at institutions and shared my story and here I was – relapsed and feeling unsuccessful. It was a big blow.

I’ve come to realise that it’s OK, that I’m human and flawed, and don’t have to be perfect.

It’s not about falling, it’s about getting back up.

It’s about staying connected with my family and support group.

Addiction hates connection – I should have picked up the phone at the start because everyone has been so supportive – my NA group friends, my family and the staff at Hader Clinic Queensland. 

It was a case of me coming clean and being honest.

Yes, I f****d up but I’m so glad I got past it and did it.

Moving forward, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other again.

I’m looking forward to my future and taking it one day at a time.

I have an amazing sponsor that I travel to see weekly.

I’m willing now to take my recovery even further than before.

I’m trying to see the relapse as a blessing because any hesitation I felt about being an alcoholic has been put to rest. I know now that I can never touch a drink ever again.

I am also very grateful. Many people die when they relapse because they go back to using the same amount of drugs that they were doing at their worst and overdose.

I shared my experience of relapse at a Hader Clinic Queensland’s family night. It was good because it’s important for family members to know that relapse can, and does, happen.

I’m still doing the intensive outpatient program and I’ve reduced the amount of hours I’m working.

I have learned that I need to continue to put my recovery front and centre in my life if I’m to continue to stay well.

My family are very accepting of the fact that I need to take time out for my recovery.

I’m still planning on staying in contact with my sponsor – I admire what she’s got and the support she gives me.

But let’s face it, addiction is a disease. Even when I’ve been clean for ten years I’m going to have to be vigilant.

When faced with being “all or nothing” it’s better for me to choose “nothing”” and be OK with that.

That’s the reality of addiction and part of who I am.

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