What Do I Do If I Relapse?

So you “messed up”???

Feeling pretty terrible, I bet.

Feel like you threw away all those days of success?

Feel like you’re starting all over again?

It’s normal to feel lousy after a relapse, but a relapse doesn’t have to turn into a disaster. 

Relapses are inevitable. 

They’re going to happen. No one has EVER quit porn cold turkey.  If someone says they quit cold turkey, they’re either lying or God performed a miracle.  They’re probably lying.  

There is no quick fix for porn addiction.  It’s not something that you can just “stop”.  It has such a deep hold on our hearts and brains that it makes it not only incredibly difficult to find recovery but makes relapses all but inevitable. 

Relapses will happen.  But they don’t have to derail you.   Once you understand this, you can even plan for them and be prepared for when the unexpected happens.

Relapses do not mean you have to “start over”

Let’s say you made it two weeks without looking at porn or masturbating.  That’s great!

Then you relapsed.  Not so great.

You may feel like you threw away all those good days or it was all wasted.

No, they’re not.  Those are 14 straight days of success.   You won the battle over addiction 14 days out of 15.  That’s a .933 batting average.  Pretty damn good.  

You’re still winning far more than you’re losing.  Relapses are reset, but you’re not starting back at square one.  They’re a setback, sure, but they don’t have to be catastrophic.  

Consider a small relapse a speed bump in the road to recovery.

Remember, two steps forward, one step back, is still moving forward.  You’re trending upwards.  Keep going.

It’s ok to feel bad about a relapse.

In fact, you should feel bad.  That means you’re convicted that what you’re doing is wrong.  If you didn’t feel bad, what’s keeping you from doing it again and again?

But instead of allowing that shame to fester, use it to drive you to keep fighting and do better next time.

Where relapses become dangerous is when they multiply.  You have to avoid allowing once slip up to become several.  Often we have the thought, “Well, I already messed up, so what’s the hurt in doing it again?”

It’s in these small mental battles where the victory over addiction is won.  It’s so easy to spin out of control after a relapse, you need to be aware and right the ship immediately after it happens.  Don’t let the negative feelings push you back into the shame cycle of feeling bad, using porn to feel better, then feeling worse all over again. 

How do you keep this from happening?

Learn from your relapses

I often say that it’s never truly a failure if you learn from it.

So when a relapse happens, take some time for self-reflection to analyze what went wrong.

This is where journaling is HUGE in recovery.    After a relapse, write down what happened.  Where were you? What time of the day was it?  What were you feeling prior? Anger? Loneliness? Rejected?

You need to retrace your steps and find out where things went off the rails.  Was there a point where you could have stopped?  Was there something you could have done to avoid looking at porn?

Learning from relapses will help you to identify triggers, learn how to respond to them, and make better decisions the next time you’re in the same situation.

Finding long lasting recovery requires this principle:

STOP focusing on how many times you failed and START focusing on how many times you were victorious.

You have to stop beating yourself up every time you make a mistake.  Even if you slipped up once this week, that’s still winning 6 times out of 7.  


You must shift your focus from the negative to the positive and celebrate every win.

Make it through the day?     That’s a win.

Fight off an urge?     That’s a win.

Finish your daily journaling?     That’s a win.

At the end of the day, record how many wins you had.  You’ll soon start to stack up a lot of wins.  Use them to build momentum in your battle with addiction.

A relapse isn’t a death sentence to recovery.

Confess it

Learn from it

Use it to push you harder.

You’re going to face relapses in your battle with porn and sex addiction.  But you can’t let them stop you.  

In battle, sometimes you lose ground.  But that doesn’t mean you abandon the field.  Get back up, keep fighting, and never, ever give up.

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Published by Timothy Reigle

I’m Timothy Reigle, the founder of Into The Wilderness Ministries. After overcoming a fifteen year addiction to porn and sex, I have made it my life’s mission to help other men break free from the bonds of addiction. As an author, coach, and chaplain, I work with men to transform their lives by renewing their faith, re-energizing their families, and restoring their masculinity.

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