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3 Steps to Avoid the Ditch of Relapse

Last Updated: September 9, 2020

Mark Denison
Mark Denison

Mark Denison, D.Min., along with his wife Beth, is the founder of There’s Still Hope, a national sexual addiction recovery ministry. Mark has a Master’s in Addiction Recovery, is a certified PSAP (Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional), and is an active member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Mark is a former church planter, pastor (30 years), NBA chaplain, and university board chairman. Mark has written four books on recovery: Porn in the Pew, 365 Days to Sexual Integrity, A 90-Day Recovery Guide, and Porn-Free in 40 Days.

In recovery literature, you don’t have to look too far to find really good counsel on how to get sober. What you won’t find is enough material on how to stay sober. Sadly, anyone who has attended more than a few 12-Step meetings has heard these discouraging words: “My name is ___________, and this week I had a relapse.”

I wish I could offer a bullet proof plan to avoid a relapse. The fact is, no matter how far you travel down Recovery Blvd, the ditch is still just as close on either side of the road. But, there are some things you can do that will put you in the best position for success. Let me offer three steps to avoid a relapse.

Step 1: Build a wall of protection.

In the Old Testament days, national leaders built walls around their cities for protection. There are at least twelve Hebrew words for “wall” in the Bible. The most common is “chowmah,” used to describe a physical wall 133 times. But the word is also often used metaphorically. Solomon wrote, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28).

About 2700 years ago, King Hezekiah found himself on the wrong side of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, when he stopped paying tribute to his empire. Hezekiah knew that Sennacherib wouldn’t stand for this civil disobedience, so he had to act in order to protect his people. The old wall around Jerusalem was obsolete, so the need was urgent. “Hezekiah built up the wall that was broken down, and then he built a second wall of defense” (2 Chron. 32:5).

Did you catch that? Hezekiah built a “second wall of defense.” One wall is not enough. Let me suggest some walls of defense you may need to build:

  1. Covenant Eyes protection on all of your devices
  2. Recovery meetings
  3. Working the 12 Steps of addiction recovery
  4. A specific recovery plan (Our ministry offers a 90-Day Recovery Plan).

Related: In Case of Relapse

Step 2:  Stay connected.

Edmund Hillary is famous for being the first man to scale Mt. Everest in 1953. Hillary said that before he could conquer the mountain, he had to conquer himself. Acclaimed for his amazing feat, Hillary credited Tenzing Norgay for his success. Norgay was Hillary’s climbing partner.

In recovery, you need a climbing partner.

God calls each of us into a personal relationship with his Son, but he doesn’t call any of us into a private relationship with his Son. The Bible says, “Two are better than one. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Eccl. 4:9). Even Jesus had an inner circle of three men.

When we withdraw—from our group, sponsor, or ally—we put ourselves at grave risk. I’ve witnessed the pattern too many times: addict gets help, addict finds recovery, addict drops out of his or her group, addict loses sobriety.

In order to avoid relapse, you must stay connected.

Step 3: Maintain specific habits.

I have seen hundreds of addicts relapse. But none one of them fell for lack of knowledge. The problem is not one of information, but perspiration. We are a product of our habits. We develop our habits, then our habits develop us. What we do, day after day, dictates who and what we become. There are no exceptions.

What are these specific habits we need to maintain? Let me list a few:

  1. Every day: read recovery material, read from the Life Recovery Bible, pray, exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, make one call to someone else in recovery
  2. Every week: attend a recovery meeting, attend church, do a recovery night with your spouse
  3. Every month: evaluate your recovery progress, set aside a “recovery day” to focus on sobriety, read a book on recovery

To maintain recovery, you must do what it took to find recovery in the first place. Jesus said, “If you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you” (Luke 4:29). It is not enough to adopt a new lifestyle unless you maintain it.

Related: How Can I Prepare for My Husband’s Next Relapse?

I am often asked, “How long should I attend recovery meetings?” My answer is, “How long should you eat a healthy diet and exercise? If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol issues, how long should you take your medication?” In order to avoid relapse, you must establish—then maintain—specific habits.

The end result is what matters the most.

Martin Lloyd Jones said, “There is nothing which so certifies the genuineness of a man’s faith as his patient endurance, his keeping on steadily in spite of everything.” Relapse doesn’t have to happen, nor does it happen by accident. Relapse is the result of poor effort and a lack of discipline. You can maintain sobriety, but only if you follow these three simple steps: build a wall, stay connected, and maintain specific habits.

Amelia Earhart said, “In flying a plane, as in other activities, it is far easier to start something than to finish it.” Anyone can start recovery. It is finishing strong that counts. To do that, you must avoid relapse—one step at a time.

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