By Michael Weiner, Ph.D., MCAP

My goal is to write a series of articles on important topics. Last week it started with making the decision to begin recovery. What happens next?

After working through your fears and anxieties you decided to go to residential treatment for addiction. Good move!

You may have said to yourself “I need help” and jumped at the opportunity to turn your life around.

Another possibility is that you’re just tired of people nagging at you and you’ll do anything to get them off of your back. Maybe your going to get a better deal from the judge or to keep your job.

I suspect that there is a benefit to to going because you know that you need to.

It’s possible that it just doesn’t matter why you chose to walk through the door. Things will happen that will surprise you in a very positive way.

It’s possible that you think it will be a waste of time. After all, how many people have you heard about who went to residential treatment and now they’re back to their old ways? Have you heard people say something like  “I’ve been to treatment  three times?” Is it a waste of time and money?

The answer is a resounding  “No Way”.

This is when & where your recovery begins. In most cases, residential care is a very positive experience. You will be spending time with a group of people very much like yourself. Over the course of a few weeks you will get to know yourself very well. It’s highly likely that you will come to accept that addiction is a chronic disease. Whether you call it a “disease” or a “disorder” doesn’t really matter; most people accept that it is recurring.

There is a good chance that you will get well, follow a plan, and the addiction will remain in remission forever. Yet it is “chronic.” It’s possible that you may need treatment down the road. It may or may not be residential. It would depend on the severity of symptoms. It will not be starting all over. We always learn from experience.

Writing about “relapse” or a “recurrence” (I prefer “recurrence”)  is a little like walking a tightrope. On the one hand you will hear that recurrences are a part of the disease. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be. I want to send the message that picking up again is not a good thing. However, shame or guilt or a lowering of self-esteem need not be a reason for continuing to use.

There could be many reasons why you picked up. Maybe you just wanted to test yourself. Who  knows? Life may well be a series of experiences to learn from. You’ve learned a few things by remaining abstinent for as long as you have. You’ve also learned about what leads to picking up again. The bottom line is that you’re not starting from the very beginning.

If you are working  12-step recovery you’ll be picking up a new white chip. That could mean a few things. It could mean that you’re starting over, it could also mean “welcome back”.

I think that we, as a profession, need to help people land softly. What I mean is that a “recurrence” does not need to be a disaster. It’s just that that chronic diseases tend to work that way. Sometimes the symptoms of a disease reoccur. It possible with diabetes. it’s possible with addiction.

Abstinence could be forever. That’s the goal.

Yet it’s important to know how addiction works.

“Shame” need not enter the equation