Sobriety is challenging to both achieve and maintain. And Kelly Osbourne made it clear in a recent Instagram post that she’s struggled with it. In the post, which breaks down how many years, months, days, and hours, Osbourne has been sober, she talks about being sober for a year after she experienced a relapse.
“This past year has been one of the hardest years of my life and I feel it’s time share that with you guys,” she began.
“To cut a long story short, things got really dark. I gave up on everything in my life but most of all I gave up on myself. Life on life’s terms became too much for me to handle. The only way I knew how to function was to self medicate and go from project to project so I never had to focus on what was really going on with me.”
“Something had to give… and it did,” she continued. “I have spent the past year truly working on my mind, body, and soul! I had to take a step out of the public eye away from work and give myself a chance to heal and figure out who the fuck I really am without a camera in my face.” Osbourne also called out her brother Jack, who she says helped her when she experienced a relapse. “[He] picked me up from where I had fallen yet again without judgment,” she wrote. “He has held my hand through out this whole process.”
Osbourne also had this to say: "I still don’t know who the fuck I am or what the fuck I want but I can whole heartedly confess that I’m finally at peace with myself and truly starting to understand what true happiness is. I’m sorry if I let anyone down it was just time for me to work on me!"
A "relapse" may mean very different things to different people.
Clinically, a relapse usually means that someone has both started using a particular substance again and that they’re showing symptoms of their use disorder, Lucien Gonzalez, M.D., an addiction medicine expert and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School, tells SELF. Those symptoms might include compulsive use or having their use get in the way of their ability to focus on and live their life.
Some people may also use the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) term "slip" to refer to a return to using a particular substance, usually on a more minor scale than a full "relapse."
But your personal definition of the terms matter as well. “Slip” and “relapse” are often used to describe the same thing, Dawn Kepler, coordinator of Michigan State University’s Recovery Community, tells SELF. To certain people “slip” can mean using the drug again but not having the abuse disorder symptoms that come with it, or it can mean using the drug and experiencing the symptoms, Nasir Naqvi, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, tells SELF.
Experiencing a relapse doesn’t mean you or your treatment has failed.
It just means that your current treatment plan isn’t working for you, Dr. Gonzalez says. He prefers to think of it as treatment not working because medical providers haven’t found the best way to support the patient. “I try to remind patients when they’ve had struggles and come back that I’d like to focus on where you want to go and not where you don’t want to go,” he says.
It’s important to help patients understand that recovery is a process of building on personal strengths to create a healthy life, Kepler says. It’s also crucial to meet the patient where they’re at and encourage their efforts, Dr. Naqvi says.
Patients may think that they’ve fallen back into the symptoms of their abuse disorder and that their condition is hopeless while a doctor may view it more as a minor setback, he says. Regardless, it’s important for providers to address that something happened, it’s very serious, and you don’t want it to happen again. “That doesn’t mean you’re completely derailed, though,” Dr. Naqvi says. “Slips are inherent in the process of recovery.”
From there, you and your doctor should work together to try to figure out if you still have some vulnerability that you need to work on, Dr. Gonzalez says. Maybe you’re struggling with depression, problems in your relationship, or unresolved work stress. “Real life is happening, and treatment doesn’t prepare you for every last situation,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to focus on what has worked and to stay out of shame.”
After a relapse it's crucial to engage with treatment, whether you're already in it or need to seek it out again, Dr. Naqvi says.
It's important to be honest with your care provider about where you’re at. If you’re not in treatment and aren’t sure if you need it, simply reaching out to someone you’re close to who is supportive (like Osbourne did with her brother) can be helpful for sorting out your next steps, Dr. Naqvi says.
Whatever you do, get support, Dr. Gonzalez says. “Oftentimes people feel like they did this to themselves and need to try to handle it on their own,” he says. “But don’t do it alone.”