First, let’s examine the definition of lapse. A lapse is “(1) error: a momentary fault or failure in behavior or morality; (2) gap in continuity: a break in the continuity of something” (Encarta® World English Dictionary, Internet Version).

When we think of a “slip up” — a momentary fault or failure in behavior — it is a lapse. One keyword is “momentary” and the other keyword is “continuity.” A lapse is a momentary fault or a break in the continuity of our healing. Even though a break has occurred, it does not in any way mean that we are not still on the path to healing. We can choose whether a lapse is simply momentary or whether we allow it to cause a relapse. When we lapse we regret our behavior, but we can still continue on the healing path.


Now, let’s define the word “relapse.” A relapse is to “go into former state: to fall back into a former mood, state, or way of life, especially a bad or undesirable one, after coming out of it for a while” (Encarta® World English Dictionary, Internet). The key to this definition is to fall back into the former “undesirable way of life.”

Lapse Versus Relapse

The best way to keep a lapse from becoming a relapse is to take a few moments by ourselves and ponder how far we have come in our healing process. We need to accept that this is part of the journey. Just because there has been a lapse, there is no reason to resort to a former way of life. We may have stumbled during the race, but in this race we are only competing against ourselves and no one else. There is no reason we cannot stand up after a lapse and continue on our healing journey.

Give Ourselves Credit

After a lapse, we need to give ourselves credit for all the little things we have done that have put us on the pathway to healing. Through healing we usually acquire new thought patterns, better communication with others, increased responsibility for our behavior, and more. We can take what we have learned and apply it so that a lapse is just a momentary error while we continue on the healing path.

Wrong Exit

To lapse means to make a mistake or detour. A lapse, or recurrence, takes us away from the road to healing. One mistake or detour can be limited to just that if we recognize it as such and move on with our healing. A lapse is not failure unless we allow it to be and it does not prevent us from healing. We can also choose how long we will stay in the lapse.

When we experience a lapse, what should we do? First, we should recognize it as a lapse and nothing more. A lapse is not collapse, crash, defeat, disaster or fall unless we allow ourselves to view it in this way. How we define it is our choice!

We have all had the experience of driving to a new place and missing a turn along the way. The missed turn put us on a temporary detour that costs us a few extra minutes of driving time. Did we say to ourselves, “Oh, now I can’t go on since I have made a mistake. I guess I’ll just have to turn around and go back home.” It can be frustrating when we make a wrong turn while driving to a new place, just like we can get frustrated when we lapse. However, the principle is the same whether we are driving the car or dealing with a lapse — when we make a wrong turn, we learn for our next trip what road to take and how to avoid it. We can do the same with our healing. We now know what error we made and will know how to avoid repeating the mistake.

Healing is a Process

Healing is a process made up of trial, error and a few wrong turns. Healing is not an event, but something that occurs over a period of time.

© 2002 © 2013 Rod W. Jeppsen