Why We Relapse
1 Corinthians 15:31 I die every day!
I have lost a thousand pounds and found almost all of them. I have many times, dieted for a few weeks, only to go right back to eating normally, erasing any progress I may have made. In my drug addiction, I quit using hundreds of times, relapsing daily. Every day, I stopped, promising myself I was going to get clean. I managed a few meager hours and then was back at it. With food and drugs, I could go days or weeks, but eventually, I always found my way back. Why? Why could I abstain for a while but always relapse?
Why does treatment work so well while the addict is there? Why do so many fail when they leave? In treatment, like on a diet, a person commits to radical change for a short amount of time. In treatment, one leaves behind the life of using and commits (hopefully) to pursuing recovery. In doing so, one finds short-term success and sobriety. Like going off the diet though, when one leaves treatment, he or she often returns to the same life with all the same defects. Thus, it is not surprising that so many people relapse when they get home.
An addict will often describe how he stayed clean for weeks in treatment, only to find himself planning his relapse before he even got home. Like the dieter who plans on rewarding himself with cake, donuts and ice cream after losing a few pounds, the addict knows that he will return to the life once he has done his time. Neither the addict in short-term recovery nor the dieter have actually committed to life-long change.
Paul understood what it took to change radically. Once committed to killing and imprisoning Christians, He found Christ (or Christ found him) and repented. In becoming a disciple, he understood that to truly follow Christ, he must die to himself daily (Luke 9:23). If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13). Paul knew that though he had been granted God’s perfect spirit life, he still carried it in an imperfect flesh (2 Cor. 4:7). Paul taught that as the flesh life was continually at war with the spirit life (Gal. 5:17), he must commit to radical violence against his flesh nature, killing it daily.
What does it mean, to put to death the flesh nature? Is this whips and self-flagellation? Is this living on a mountain top, wearing a robe and eating only bread and water? For most of us, it will look nothing like that. Dying to the old self daily, is not more complex than figuring out that which I must continually do to leave behind the old so I can follow the new.
With my addiction, that meant first, going to treatment, leaving my old job and then committing to a new life daily. I do not go on a short-term diet from pills with the plan to someday return. I commit to a life of no drugs and daily, I get up early, point my life at God and do my best to follow him instead of me. I go to meetings to remind me that this change must be permanent. As my flesh nature will not be gone until my flesh is, I do not get to let up someday. If I want to follow Christ, I must die daily.
This process will not look the same for everyone. Not everyone has to go to treatment for every problem. We may commit to a new way of eating without leaving home. Make no mistake though. If we want radical change, we must make a life-long commitment to that change, continually dying to the old self so that we may follow Christ.