Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Relapse is Inevitable

In all processes of recovery, the experience of relapse is pretty much unavoidable. This is as true of recovery from addictions as it is of physical conditions.

I've been struggling with a tendon injury for the past 3 months. Who knew that something so small, as a little tendon near my elbow, could rock my world for so long?

I injured myself by 'pushing through pain' to achieve some gardening goals. I could never have imagined how my life would be disrupted by insisting that I meet that goal on time!

Slowly, but surely, my arm has been getting better, but every once in a while, I do something that is a bit too much for it, and it 'flares up.' I have to give it a little time before I regain that lost ground. It is all part of the process.

As frustrating as the process has been, particularly the length of time it is taking to complete, this one has been pretty understandable.

My back, however, is another story. I've struggled with pain in my low back/hip area for many years. I worked with a chiropractor for a year and improved a lot, and now have been working with a physical therapist for 6 months and it is markedly improved! I'd say I'm at ab out 85% of my pre-injury as far as pain free time is concerned.

Two weeks ago, however, I had a major set back. I've traced it (with the help of my personal trainer) to a rather vigorous core/ab workout I did. It was just a little too much for the unstable area of my back, and it whipped me back to the early days of pain that I suffered with for so long.

Herein lies one of the other aspects of relapse. I was terrified! I couldn't believe that I could so easily 'go back there' to that level of pain. Less than one hour of activity seemingly erased all the gain I'd made in the past year and a half. I was frustrated and really scared. What did this mean to my future? Would I ever really be 'well?' How long would it take me to get back to where I was only days before? All that swirled in my mind as I visited the physical therapist twice in a week to try to untangle the destabalized mess in my back.

After only 1 week, I'm pretty much already back to where I was before that fateful 'ab/core day.' How cool is that?

I can see now that my fears, while very real, were not based in a true grasp of the situation. Something did indeed get shifted out of place, and it did take some work to get it back, but the 'progress' I had made in the past 18 months was not lost in that one activity. It was a setback, but did not erase all I had accomplished.

This is the most important thing to remember in relapse. The climb back to where we were will not take us what it took the first time around. We knokw more. We have earned our place. The restoration process will go faster!

There are lessons to be learned in relapse. My biggest lesson is that I still need to be religious about my core stability strengthening exercises. Sometimes, because the pain is so radically reduced, I get lazy and don't do my exercises. There is a price to pay for laziness. Doing what I know I need to do will firm up the foundation upon which my recovery is situated. I may 'feel' better, but there is still work to be done.

It's kind of like taking antibiotics to kill an infection. You might start feeling better after a day or two, but the infection is not completely gone yet. One needs to finish the entire course of treatment to make sure the infection is truly gone and isn't lurking in the system somewhere.

Relapse can teach us that point. We need to keep doing the work to stay on a path of recovery and healing, even when we are looking and feeling lots better.

We certainly don't want to invite relapses into our processes, but if we can embrace relapse when it does occur, our recovery process can actaully be fortified by it!

Happy recovery!

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