Quitting Addiction: How to Avoid Regrets and Relapse After Slip-Ups Along The Way

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on August 18th, 2023 - Last updated: November 20th, 2023
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To be honest I have a few questions, but I don’t know where to begin.

My biggest problem in quitting my alcohol addiction is how to live with regrets. So many things I’ve done wrong, so many people I’ve let down. It just feels like I’m climbing an impossibly high mountain.

I honestly thought things were getting better.

For instance, thanks to my loved one, I’m eating better, I’m exercising every day, and I’m taking my medication for depression and anxiety. I’ve started out on my own as a freelance transcriber and I’m getting very good feedback. I even managed to avoid going out in the week last week.

But I spoilt it again.

I’ve let myself down in the eyes of the person I care about the most. In her eyes, I feel I’m already tainted so any attempt to improve myself is just a pretense. So I guess that’s my question. How do I stop myself from getting demoralized when something goes wrong and feeling that I’m starting from zero again?

– Ron

Stanton’s Response:

Dear Ron,

Thank you for writing, and for your honesty.

First, congratulations for all the positive steps you are taking in your life — for yourself, for your own health and for others.

Please remember that setbacks are normal and to be expected any time we’re trying to make big changes. Having a slip is just a mistake. And that’s how we learn. Making a mistake is not confirmation that we are failures. You haven’t spoiled the good efforts you’ve already made.

You spoke about how you hold onto regret. What about holding onto successes in a similar way?

Now, that second part of your question is important. How do we keep ourselves from feeling like we’ve crashed right back down to the beginning of everything? And possibly convincing ourselves that maybe we can’t even do it?

At most you’ve had an interruption here.

Let me offer an analogy. If you are taking a trip from New York to California, and you get a flat tire in Chicago, you do not have to go back to New York to start again! You just fix that flat and drive on.

Life is like that. We don’t start over and try to have a seamless journey without any bumps in the road, end to end. We can adjust, adapt, keep moving west and try to avoid similar problems the rest of the way.

You mention briefly a relationship with the person you care most about, and your fear that you are a disappointment to them.

Perhaps this is something you can talk with your loved one about. How you fear letting them down. How you don’t know how to handle regrets from the past. This can be a way for you to deepen your intimacy, or perhaps to recognize the deficiencies in your relationship or skills in that area.

This is all part of the life process.

Issues like this in relationships are, of course, central to people’s lives, happiness and addictions. So much so that we have a whole separate program for love relationships and addiction.

One critical end goal in the Life Process Program is changing your identity. You are still thinking of yourself as a recovering addict/alcoholic. It may seem unlikely, even impossible to you now. But there is a time when you will no longer feel like someone who might slip back into their whole previous addicted identity.

Let me just recall my Uncle Ozzie, who smoked four packs of unfiltered cigarettes for 25 years, from age 18 to his forties. For fifty years I would query him about how he quit smoking.

Then, at his ninetieth birthday party, I brought the topic up again.

He looked at me blankly, “I smoked?” After all, it had been fifty years ago. Hopefully you won’t have to wait so long to accomplish this! But it can be done and usually is.

The Life Process Program’s alcohol program is a great resource for helping you challenge your thinking about some of these issues as well as providing support and a practical framework to keep moving forward, with fewer and smaller regrets.

Yours sincerely,

Stanton Peele


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Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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