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The Connection Between Relapse & Resentment - Ascendant New York
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The Connection Between Relapse & Resentment

February 19, 2019

As a culture, we know that addiction and substance abuse is a negative thing. We can point to the devastating effects that the user’s actions have on friends and family members, and to the self-destruction that is inherent in the continuance. We eagerly seek to assist the addict in getting rid of the demon of addiction, often through extending advice and ultimatums. We want them to get help, and by “help,” we mean, “stop using!”

It is less common that we consider why the addict may want to continue to use the substance. While physical dependence is certainly a factor in continued use of drugs or alcohol, this isn’t enough to explain the very common occurrence of relapse. Once the effects of the substance have worn off through detox, most physical dependence causes have been removed from the equation.

A Crossroads

A conundrum, here, appears to be that the former addict, during recovery, is being made very aware of how harmful and selfish his or her actions have been while under the influence. At the same time, the recovering individual is left with a very real sense of, “but, what about me??”

It may seem odd that – following the supposed selfishness of using – the individual might still want something for themselves. Shouldn’t they rather be focusing on making up for all of the damage they have caused? Shouldn’t this be a time of pointed unselfishness?

Testimonies of recovery, such as the one found here, shed light on the danger of this type of thinking. Once the effects of a substance have faded, former users are still left to face the psychological reality of how life exists around them. This reality may not be quite so pleasant. It is during this time that the recovering person arrives at a crossroads of decision: A decision to make changes in personal relationships; a decision to learn to accept some things the way that they are; or a decision to return to using substances as a means of escape.

A Complex Problem

Feelings of resentment are of particular concern when it comes to sustaining recovery. Resentment usually involves the actions and attitudes of others, and we tend to learn quickly that we are not easily able to convince others of our own perspectives as it applies to our past interactions. The human mind is a funny thing, in that it is prone to write – and rewrite – history and information in way that best suits our subjective agendas, and we tend to hold onto whatever ideas have worked for us, before. This is true for both ourselves, and our loved ones.

For the former user, there often exists old wounds of perceived mistreatment, followed by fresh wounds of misunderstanding as the process of recovery continues. As part of their recovery, some may seek to approach former relationships with a new perspective, eager to resolve old issues in a more healthy manner. It can come as blow when the recovering individual realizes that, even though he or she is changing, those around are not.

In relationship psychology, there exists the concept of triangulation. With triangulation, one member of the unit is singled out as being the family problem. This isolation of this supposed source of all problems works as a means of minimizing – or ignoring – any other problems which exist within other relationships. Often, it is the addict who is found to be the scapegoat for the less obvious, underlying, failures in healthy relationship dynamics.

When addicts stop using, those around them face a similar decision of continuing to remain in former mindsets, or to change and evolve more healthy perspectives. For the recovering addict who finds that others are not so willing to change – or are even unable to change, due to no longer being around –  frustration can ensue. This frustration at continuing lack of resolution can manifest as resentment, and can tempt the former addict into entertaining thoughts of escapism.

A Resolution

When the road of changing along with others is closed, and the road of beginning to use again is not an option, there remains the road of acceptance. Acceptance of the fact that we have been wronged – or are continuing to experience wrong treatment – is the first step along the path of properly processing our resentments. Our next steps involve facing the fact that we can only be responsible for changing ourselves.

Holding onto resentment can work as a dysfunctional shield against this reality. When we are intent on focusing on the shortcomings of others, we are blinded to our own failures. When we are blind to our own failures, we are not able to see any need – or, much less way – to change our perspectives or approaches toward life. Being stuck in the mire of resentment can result in years of negative emotions and counterproductive decisions. For the former addict, it can work as the excuse for returning to the substance abuse.

There is an old proverb which admonishes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” What is it that you would wish that the other parties in your life would realize and practice? Would you rather that they possess empathy and insight into the struggles of others? Would you rather that they educate themselves on better means of communication? Would you rather that they attend therapy, or otherwise gain awareness of their own, unhealthy, approaches toward relationships?

These types of desires for change in the behaviors of others can provide us with our own road map to successful recovery and sustained wellness. Through taking stock of what we want others to exhibit, we can begin to actively engage in our own development within these areas. Our own, positive, mindsets and behaviors can work to influence and inspire those around us to embark on their own journeys toward change. And, even if our example does not eventually result in the change of others, we will benefit from the peace that our own, healthy, perspectives bring to us.

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