Codependency Relapse: Step 1, We Meet Again –

4 min

I’ve been in recovery for a few years now, and I thought I had it all together. Then BAM! Without warning, I had a relapse and my life is once again unmanageable. Here’s what sent me back to Step 1 and how I’m dealing with it.

What A Drug-Free Relapse Looks Like

I struggle with codependency, so when I relapse, I return to behaviors. My behavior of choice is control. I want to control every detail of my life, starting with everyone else’s behaviors. This week’s “victim” was my teenage son Keith. (Although I feel like the real victim here.) Keith regularly lies to me and tries to manipulate me into catering to his every whim. I don’t give in, but the strength it takes to stand up to this kid is ridiculous. Some days, I feel like he’s a narcissistic vampire who’s sucking the life out of me.

I felt my grip to control HIM tighten like a noose around MY neck.

Before I knew it, we were feeding off of each other’s need for control. I finally reached my breaking point late Tuesday night and turned Keith over to my husband’s jurisdiction.

Relapse Warning Signs

For several months, I thought I was just having a some bad days. I tried a few things to get me back on track, but nothing brought back the serenity I experienced in early recovery. Researchers Terence T. Gorski and Merlene Miller identified a set of warning signs or steps that typically lead up to a substance or alcohol use relapse. I was surprised at how many of these relapse warning signs were also present in my relapse.

1. Change In Attitude

This warning sign specifically refers to a change in attitude regarding my recovery program. It’s the one warning sign I didn’t have. I’m still going to meetings every week and talking to my sponsor.

2. Elevated Stress

I knew I was stressed, but I didn’t know how to deal with it. In the last six months, our family bought a new house, totaled a car, and one of us is a teenager. I kept saying my life is unmanageable, but I thought it would pass –  on it’s own without any change from me. Another clue I needed to take Step 1. If nothing changes then nothing changes.

3. Reactivation Of Denial

The reactivation of denial isn’t denying the addictive behavior. It’s denying the elevated STRESS from the prior warning sign. Seriously, this warning sign is a flaming red flare that I completely missed. I was in complete denial as a few bad days here and there melted into bad weeks.

4. Recurrence Of Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and memory loss can occur long after a person quits drinking or using substances.  I find this warning sign so interesting because I suffered from all of these withdrawal symptoms for years. Once I entered recovery, they subsided. The sleeplessness has crept back into my nights, and my anxiety is off the charts, yet I had no idea they were telling me I was in real trouble.

5. Behavior Changes

In early sobriety, we often make positive changes to replace compulsive behaviors. One of my early new habits was journaling. I spent hours journaling my about my past, problems, and worries. Slowly, I let that healthy habit go because I was doing so good. I didn’t need it. Apparently, it was more beneficial than I realized. The good news is, at least now I know how to journal. Back when I first found recovery I was actually afraid I would journal wrong. Not all progress is lost.

6. Social Breakdown

This one is huge for me.  Before recovery, I was too anxious to drive myself anywhere. I almost never went out with friends and hated talking on the phone. All of those old habits are back. I only have one friend I see once every other month, and my husband drives me to meet her. He also drives me to meetings. Of course, I knew this was happening, but I didn’t realize it’s significance.

7. Loss Of Structure

I must confess, I’ve quit making time for daily reading and reflecting. Since I write about addiction and recovery, I thought my work would count. It hasn’t.

8. Loss Of Judgement

This warning sign includes trouble making decisions, becoming easily confused, and feeling overwhelmed. Check, check, and check. Making decisions is impossible for me right now, and I tell my husband this no less than 20 times a day. Earlier today he asked if I wanted chicken for dinner. It’s already cooked. All we have to do is heat it up, but making this decision was too overwhelming for me.

9. Loss Of Control

This includes making irrational decisions and cutting off people who can help. So, if I’m being honest, I have strongly considered jumping on a plane for Phoenix or L.A., but I haven’t yet. I have completely quit answering any of my son’s questions. My standard answer is, “Ask your Dad.” That might qualify as irrational.

10. Loss Of Options

Typically, loss of options is to quit attending meetings or treatment. I haven’t done that, but I regularly feel like a caged animal ready to attack. I’m highly triggered and actively looking for reasons to lash out at the people I love. This was my life every day before I found recovery. I can’t believe I’m back here again.


The final stage is relapse. At first, I thought I could avoid using the R word. Perhaps I could just explain my behavior away as experiencing a new level of awareness, but this isn’t a new hurt or habit for me. It’s the return of many familiar ones.

The good news is this time I know what to do. When I first started, I had no idea what the 12 Steps were or how to examine my motives. I was so enmeshed with my family that I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to eat. This isn’t a total loss. I know which tools helped me in the past and I know where to find them.

I have set a lot of boundaries, and almost all of them are still in place. I haven’t totally abandon my self-care routine, and I have a network of recovery friends. Getting back to serenity will be much faster and easier than it was the first time.


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Grace Silverstone
Grace Silverstone is an adult child of an alcoholic, wife and mother. She's also recovering from co-dependency. Her path to recovery has included many 12-step meetings and mochas.

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