Picking up the Pieces after a Relapse (Part 1)


Melissa Killeen

One of the worst feelings your client will have is waking up after drinking or drugging for a week straight and realizing that their hard-won sobriety has veered into the ditch. Not only do they hate themselves for relapsing, they know they have let down you and their loved ones, as well. I have seen men break down and cry knowing that their kids won’t allow them to come back into their lives, their wife is filing for divorce or their mother will never hug them again. Often this was their “last chance” and they blew it. It’s now time to make some hard decisions and that is where a recovery coach really can help their client.

The recovery coach has to be there for the client, because the client fears everyone has abandoned them. Show the client you are there, whether it is a text two or three times a day or a phone call that goes into voice mail. But be there. Say something welcoming in these messages; show your client you have not left them. You want to help them to right this ship, to allow them to resolve this temporary setback. Emphasize the phrase: temporary setback.

Let’s say I just left a message on my client’s voice mail, urging him to stop isolating, stop hiding the fact he has slipped and immediately seek help regaining his sobriety. I tell him to go to a meeting, have a cup of coffee with another member, and call me, his recovery coach! He knows there is a great deal of hard work ahead of him. Even though he may not want it, sobriety is the only answer. He already knows how difficult the first few days and weeks of sobriety are. He’s been there before, at least once. So he can do it again. And that was just one message. I will three the first day, and will continue every day until I hear from him.

Making a return call is going to be difficult; your client will feel terrible and shame-filled. There’s no getting around that. But it is a call they will need to make. If they can’t find the courage to speak about relapse on the phone, text or email, it may be the end of your recovery coaching contract with him. However, if they do call, make yourself immediately available for a face-to-face meeting. Perhaps the client was discharged from an Inpatient/Outpatient Program (IOP) or other outpatient program due to the relapse. Helping the client find another program is important, and a program’s group therapy sessions are an integral component of recovery. Meeting with a therapist certified in addictions is also very important. Have a list of the therapists in the region and give this information to your client. A recovery coach should have an ample supply of agency addresses that can offer low- or no-cost outpatient treatment. Bring that information with you at your meeting with the client.

There are a few other pieces that will need attention. The family is always disappointed. This is where a recovery coach can help. Speaking to a spouse in the company of the addict/alcoholic, or perhaps alone with the spouse so that they can open up an avenue of discussion previously not raised. When beginning the discussion first quote the research that shows that 80% of recovering people relapse within the first year after treatment. It isn’t a matter of your client begging for forgiveness. It is a matter of your client resolving to make things right and taking the necessary action to do so. Urge the family to begin focusing on their recovery, taking care of their needs, and therefore releasing the addict/alcoholic to focus on their recovery.

Family Recovery Coaches are a perfect solution for helping families recover from the presence of an active addict in their household. Ala-Non or Nar-Anon are certainly important components of support for the family. Recently Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL Groups) and Families Anonymous groups can be seen springing up for all families with an addicted loved one. Therapists are also receiving certification in Family Reunification. Originally Family Reunification Programs were offered by a State’s Child Protective Services. The services were aimed at working with families in which one or more children have been placed in foster care and are coming back into the home. The effectiveness of these programs with reunifying families has subsequently led to adapting this program model to serve families affected by mental health and substance abuse problems.

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