Lapse Not Relapse

by Dr Ashlen San Letho

I’ve always found the expression ‘falling off the wagon’ kind of upsetting. I mean, you’re rolling along all on track, putting in all that effort, doing all these right things, then suddenly you hit a speed bump – and a jerk and a wobble later you’ve ‘fallen off’.

Is this wagon meant to stop for you then so you can scramble back on, or does it just keep going, leaving you coughing from the dust in its wake? When it comes to change, is that all you get – one chance, one hiccup, and that’s it – you’re back to square one?
Here’s the thing about change (might need a diagram here) – see that mean perfect skinny blue line? So I think I’m going to cross it out right now because, well, no one changes like that – and it just makes people who expect to change like that feel bad when they don’t:


It’s really more like this:

Change over Time Actual Graph

Messy, crooked and definitely non-linear. Speed bumps and hiccups and parts where the line dips down: normal and expected. They are just lapses. Temporary. This is hard to remember in the middle of the dip. We tend to zoom in during the dip (the red square) and magnify it so it feels like the whole graph, like this:

Change over Time Dip Graph

… and it looks really bad and makes us think we may as well give up. Try to zoom out in these moments! Look at the whole graph. Count then re-count all the small and accumulative victories over time. Look at that x-axis – Time. This goes forward, like us.

It is just not possible to go backwards to square one, or at all… time’s not a thing that does that. You can’t unsee, or ungrow, or unlearn. So on a dip day/week/month, be gentle, maybe rest a while, but don’t lose heart – this is just a necessary part of your overall changing and growing. In order to keep going – don’t stop.