Coping Skills & Early Recovery

Blog post author header image John Makohen recovery coaching in nyc

John Makohen
Arise Recovery Coaching in NYC

Knowing the difference between a lapse and relapse could be the difference between you finding fulfillment in recovery or hell in full-blown heroin use.

I had an emergency meeting with a recovery coaching client the other evening.

He called me after he slipped. The trigger overpowered him and backed him against a wall. He used. Felt guilty afterward and called me to ask me what he needs to do.

He didn’t do everything right, but what he did do was not let his shame and guilt about using turn into a full-blown relapse.

Before you learn a coping skill emergency plan to deal with a lapse before it turns into full-blown relapse lets discuss 

The Difference Between “Lapse” and “Relapse”

Lapse vs. Relapse: According to, “A lapse represents a temporary slip or return to a previous behavior that one is trying to control or quit (usually a one time occurrence), whereas a relapse represents a full-blown return to a pattern of behavior that one has been trying to moderate or quit altogether (Marlatt & Donovan, 2005).”

It is a horrible feeling to struggle day in and out with the temptation to use, or just wanting to fix up a shot of heroin one last time. These thoughts are normal. You are not weak; you are normal. When you first stop using heroin or other drugs, you will experience a period of grief. 

I’d be lying if I said, I never thought about using heroin.

My triggers still create thoughts to use. Most of the time, a feeling to use comes over when I’m feeling bored, happy, or after I crank out an amazing, noisy, set with No Fucker.

Heroin, my reward for feeling good.

What a fucking joke!

You decide when you are in recovery and how to define recovery.

Always keep in mind, it is your recovery. Recovery is a gradual process, and it is never perfect. You may slip and use, especially in the first few months, but the point is that you get back up, dust off, and start again. 

However, this doesn’t mean you will slip or that relapse has to be part of YOUR recovery. 

Everybody’s addiction is different. 

Therefore everyone’s recovery is unique too.

When you’re in recovery and use one time or several times, it does not mean that you have set in motion a path for relapse. Your slip is not a total screw up. Your shame or guilt will attempt to make you feel like its the end of the fucking world, but you haven’t lost it all. 

It is negative thinking attempting to drag you down and begging you to retreat to a place where you feel comfortable. Face it. Change is difficult. Waking up each day and doing the work to create new patterns of thinking, takes hard work. You know as well as I do, that it’s easier to stay stuck in old patterns of addiction.

Theodore Roosevelt quote for blog post  The difference between lapse and relapse

When you use, mess up, slip, once or twice, it is called a lapse. uses some relevant keywords when defining “lapse” Please take notice of the word TEMPORARY.  Therefore a lapse is not permanent, it is fixable, and it is only a momentary deviation from your new standard, which is recovery. 

Let’s look at a lapse from the perspective of losing weight. Many dieters who slip feel that they blew it. Instead of recognizing that they are human and are learning new behaviors and relationships with food, immediately feel defeated and start binge eating — unfortunately, the pressure and temporary failure signal self-defeat. Nonsense, I know all about emotional eating, trying to lose weight, and changing my relationship with food.

I know a helluva lot more about changing my relationship with heroin, lapse, and relapse. 

When you don’t pick yourself up and jump back into your system of recovery, it is called a relapse.

The definition of relapse is scary. Words like deteriorate, vice, the return of a disease, all loom over you like a pendulum waiting to crash down upon your neck. 

Only you have the power to keep a lapse from turning into an ominous relapse. I only know a few people who have stopped using heroin their first try. I know more who never developed a habit of heroin and can take it or leave it. But these folks don’t count when speaking about recovery. They are a special breed of people who aren’t plagued by addiction. Man, I used to resent friends who could shoot dope and walk away without waking up in the morning with the devil himself standing upon their shoulder, screaming,  “Do more dope, everything will be fine.”


Key Takeaways:


I cannot stress enough that learning to live a fulfilled life in recovery takes hard work and practice. If it were easy, everyone would throw caution to the wind and live out their Dionysian fantasies without fear. 

Yes, some humans can use drugs without care or concern and then return to their usual standard of life once the party is over.

Other of us aren’t so lucky because you use for different reasons. We party like it’s New Year’s Eve every day, to fill a void, push trauma deeper down and escape the crippling pain of life. The party has become or usual standard.

Attempting to break a habit, such as heroin addiction, comes with physical pain, mental anguish, and grief, but once you reach the other side, the world never looked so good. Music never sounded so crisp and clear.

Changing habits takes work, and at times, you might lapse into old patterns of thinking or experience a momentary lapse of reason and use. Keep in mind a lapse is temporary.

If you recently lapsed, remember you can keep your minor slip up from turning into a relapse. Full-blown heroin addiction and dope-sickness don’t have to be the ending to your story.  

If you failed for some reason to work through the shame or guilt of the lapse or just gave up and returned to daily active heroin use, it is a relapse, and you should consult with a physician to find the correct path for you to follow. 

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Your new path might include methadone assisted recovery or detox and reside in a sober living environment.  The choice and path you choose to set out on are yours to decide. All I ask is that you reduce harm from your active use while deciding to get sober again

• Use single-use needles and clean equipment

• Never shoot up alone,

• And befriend your local needle exchange program.

You only have one life, and you deserve to live your life to its fullest.  Don’t believe for one second a lapse means total failure, ruin, or devastation.

Recovery is not perfection. It is progress.

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