Honest Talk About Relapse: An Interview with TK Alumnae Coordinator Jena Morrow Margis

If you’re hoping to have a perfect recovery experience, Jena Morrow Margis has some bad news for you.

“If perfection is our goal, we’re absolutely destined to fail,” she said during an Oct. 27 interview.

Jena, who serves as the Timberline Knolls alumnae coordinator, made this comment while speaking with Kirsten Müller-Daubermann as part of TK’s weekly Instagram Live interview series.

The Oct. 27 discussion addressed relapse, failure, and the dangers of perfectionism. While this might not sound like the most uplifting set of topics, Jena and Kirsten approached them from a perspective of both honesty and optimism.

Everybody Struggles

Every person who is walking the path of recovery will encounter obstacles and experience setbacks. But having a temporary slip-up doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. Neither, for that matter, does having a full-blown relapse. What’s important, Jena said, is how you respond.

“You’re not alone. Don’t think you’re a failure if you relapse. Don’t think you’re doomed if you … struggle,” she said. “Everybody struggles. Everybody has bad days.”

Sometimes, a bad day may involve a momentary lapse in judgment. In times like those, the best response may be to contact your sponsor or another trusted member of your personal support network.

Other types of bad days may signal that you’re returning to a pattern of maladaptive behaviors. In those cases, you may need to think about returning to treatment.

To be sure that you respond in the healthiest possible way in all scenarios, you should have a plan (“an actual, written-down plan,” Jena emphasized) to determine when you should reach out, who you should contact, and even what you should say.

You Know You Can Do It

If you’ve fallen into a pattern of maladaptive behaviors, and you’re not able to get back on track after reaching out to your personal support network, Jena advised, then you need to give yourself permission to return to treatment.

While some people unfortunately view returning to treatment as a failure, Jena takes a decidedly more positive view about this choice. Returning to treatment, she noted, is a bold and wise decision that reflects significant self-respect.

Also, reentering a treatment program doesn’t mean that you’re starting over from square one.

“Your recent experience … does not negate all the ground you gained,” she said. “You’re starting at a different point, and usually with some additional wisdom.”

Perhaps most importantly, she added, when you return to treatment, you bring the understanding that you are indeed capable of living a healthier life without using alcohol or other addictive substances.

“You start over with the knowledge that it’s possible,” she said. “You know you can do it.”

Falling Forward

Throughout their Oct. 27 conversation, Jena and Kirsten reiterated the value of self-acceptance and the necessity of not judging yourself based on what others have done or what others think you should be doing.

“Everyone’s recovery is different. It’s not linear. It’s all over the map,” Kirsten observed. “We’re all human beings, and we’re all imperfect in our own ways.”

Which brings us back to that elusive (and counterproductive) concept of perfection.

“If we give ourselves permission to be imperfect … we can then have a better chance of falling forward when we do fall down,” Jena said.

Achieving successful long-term recovery requires us to cast aside expectations of perfection, realize that we are all fallible people, and embrace the opportunity every new day offers.

Or, as Jena put it: “It is not possible to do it perfectly, [but] it absolutely is possible to do it.”

Watch the complete Oct. 27 Instagram Live conversation between Kirsten Müller-Daubermann and Jena Morrow Margis on the Timberline Knolls YouTube channel.