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Changing the ‘Flat Earth’ Concept of Relapse

It takes a lot of courage to admit when we’re beat and need help. This is especially true for those struggling with addiction. After all, people with addictions don’t usually get much sympathy from the general public. Just listen to call-in shows on the radio for proof. Too many people still confuse a lack of willpower with addiction. Stereotyping people with addictions as lazy is one of the reasons that our clients stop calling or emailing us after they’ve relapsed. They feel ashamed, like one big disappointment. Just when they need to reach out, they hide out. It’s a problem that faces every drug rehabilitation program.

One of the biggest misconceptions about relapse is that it means that previous treatment episodes weren’t effective; that it was a waste of time. Many believe that going back to treatment is basically like starting over. Surprisingly, I find that many doctors and therapists hold this view. So if healthcare professionals struggle with a clear understanding of relapse, there must be something more to it than just a lack of education.

The Influence Of ‘Worldview’ On Society

Sometimes we need to look at the big picture to explain why people think and act the way they do. Our worldview, or the way we as human beings see the world, is influenced by the culture we inherit. Unfortunately, our worldview is so pervasive and hidden that most people don’t even realize it exists. Since I became aware of its effect on my thoughts and behaviour, I have tried to understand it and, hopefully over time, have some control over how I respond to it.

How Astronomy Has Shaped Our Notion of Life

Interestingly, I have found that you can look at just about every discipline and see its influence on our worldview. Astronomy, for example, can provide clues to the mystery of why we are stuck in an outdated, unexamined understanding of life. In this video, scientist Nassim Haramein concedes that while most of us no longer believe the earth is flat, we still see the solar system that way (think of a photo in a magazine).


As the video shows, the earth is actually spiralling, not orbiting, around the sun with the other planets. Until I saw this video, I must admit that I had this image of the earth and the other planets orbiting around the sun in a circular motion. In other words, my view of the solar system was flat and static.

The Flat-World View of Society’s Understanding of Relapse

So I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that our one-dimensional, static understanding of our solar system is also present in the way we see relapse.

Here’s my analogy:

The Dimensions of our Understanding of the Solar System

  • 1-Dimensional: Earth orbits around the sun in a flat plane
  • 3-Dimensional: Earth spirals around the sun in three dimensional space

The Dimensions of our Understanding of Relapse

  • 1-Dimensional: Addiction is simply a matter of quitting; anyone can quit if they want it bad enough
  • 3-Dimensional: Addiction is a complex condition that is caused by multiple factors

Movement of Our Solar System Through Time and Space

  • Static Perspective: Earth returns to the same point in space after one full orbit (one year)
  • Dynamic Perspective: Earth is never in the same point in space, it moves millions of miles every year

People Who Relapse Moving Through Time and Space

  • Static Perspective: Clients who relapse haven’t changed and are back to square one in their recovery.
  • Dynamic Perspective: Clients who relapse are like every other human being, they are constantly evolving. A relapse indicates that there are still factors in a person’s addiction to address, not that previous treatments were ineffective.

How A More Contemporary Understanding of Relapses Shows Up in Treatment

For clients who return to our addiction treatment programs following a relapse, we make a point of thanking them for coming back and reminding them that there’s no shame. They need to hear those words. Unfortunately, associating relapse with failure is so deeply engrained in our society that the message doesn’t always get through.

When our clients relapse and return for treatment, we do not have them repeat the same program with the same length of stay. Instead, the clinical team acknowledges areas where the client has succeeded, identifies areas where more attention is required, and works with him to create an individualized treatment plan.

Oh, and we manage to pull it off without so much as a mention of classical astronomy!

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