The Tara Treatment Center Blog

Relapse Reframed: Real Reason is Trauma, Trust


Addiction is a disease.  Like other diseases, this can mean a mix of recovery and relapse.  Instead of arguing whether relapse can be a part of recovery, we should remember that taking a step back is not a moral failing. Relapse expert Lawrence Pender recommends that we should simply consider this an indicator that our recovery plan requires a change. “People who relapse are sick people who need to get well, not bad people who need to be punished.”

Lawrence believes we’ll need to talk about the difficult things in our life with at least one other person.  The disease of addiction is often tied up in trauma, which needs to be ‘processed’ by opening up to someone trusted.

Lawrence believes that all of us addicts need to process some things out of our heads before we get better.  

Relapse Prevention

Relapse Prevention: Lawrence Pender, speaking at Tara’s 2018 Ann Daugherty Symposium: “People relapse over the things they never talked about during rehabilitative treatment. If you don’t get everything off your chest, it will creep back up on you. Treatment doesn’t end with sobriety.”

We asked Spencer about the role of personal trauma in relapse

This was true for self-described “Chronic Relapser” Spencer Medcalf, who reports a pattern of relapsing until he found the courage to address an abusive relationship head-on.  

“It wasn’t until three rounds of addiction treatment that I wondered if a past sexual assault could have factored into my relapses. If I would have addressed the trauma when I first entered treatment and recovery, it would have set me up to be more successful.”

Do you think it’s an ego problem, where we are too proud to show vulnerability?


“Yes I do think that was a big part of it, for me at least. It’s initially embarrassing to say that I was sexual assaulted by another man TO another man. And then you have to have that whole debriefing conversation afterwards.
It’s difficult enough to process it in your own head. But then to “give it life” by speaking about it out loud and going through that whole process was a big obstacle for my pride.”

Do you remember the moment you first opened up about it?


“Yes. It felt disastrous. I was in primary at Tara, about to go to TR. My counselor had no idea why I hesitated to go home with my boyfriend at the time.  She was asking questions to get me to open up. 

Finally I just blurted out something to the effect of ‘I can’t go home with him, he let and watched me get raped.’ All while busting into a sob. She just stared at me for what felt like an eternity. And said ‘Okay, thank you for your honesty’. 

I ended up staying there for several more months. They assisted me in processing through all that, and filing protective orders against him.  That was a big turning point for my recovery.”

Any advice for people who have trouble summoning the bravery to open up?

“My advice would be to take a risk and trust someone and get things off your chest.  The thought processes can’t get any worse than what you’re telling yourself in your head. I had to find someone I was comfortable with sharing initially. It really felt like taking a giant leap at that time, but I now speak about it freely. It no longer defines nor haunts me. I’m not a rape victim. I’m a PERSON who was raped. Meaning, I’m still a person with many other dimensions to my life. It is tragic, but addressing it head-on has helped me recover.”