Quitting maladaptive daydreaming – how to cope with a relapse

You’ve realised your daydreaming is out of control and preventing you from living in the real world. You’ve made the decision to stop. You’re certain this is the right thing to do. You’ve managed not to daydream for a few hours or days, and you’re proud of your progress. And then suddenly something happens, the urge becomes overwhelming and before you know it, you’re back in your paracosm. And it feels so good while you’re there. But then, when you come out of it, you feel terrible. All that effort, all that progress, all that determination, gone in a moment of weakness.

When you’ve had a relapse, it’s all too easy to feel ashamed and demotivated and afraid that you’ll be trapped in your maladaptive daydreaming forever. But the truth is, everyone who quits any addictive behaviour will have a few relapses along the way. So, how do you pick yourself up, put the relapse behind you and recommit to your recovery?

Step 1 – Be kind to yourself

Relapses happen. You’ve probably been suffering from maladaptive daydreaming for years. You’re not going to break this addiction overnight. Recovery is not a linear process. You’ll have good days and bad days. That’s OK. On the bad days, the urge to daydream will feel overwhelming. That’s OK too. Sometimes the urge will be so overwhelming that you’ll give into it. And that’s OK as well – provided you don’t let it derail your whole recovery.

You probably started to lose control over your daydreaming when you discovered you could use it to avoid negative emotions. Whether you consciously realise it or not, feeling bad about yourself is a powerful daydreaming trigger. When you don’t like your real-world self, the temptation to escape to your paracosm is overwhelming. Because when you’re in your paracosm, you don’t have to be your real-world self for a while. So if you get angry or frustrated or disappointed with yourself when you’ve slipped back into daydreaming, you can see what’s going to happen. You’re just going to want to daydream more.

The way you break out of this spiral is by forgiving yourself for the relapse. Accept that breaking an addiction is hard – not because you’re weak or a failure, but just because it’s a hard thing to do, for anyone. And when something’s hard, we very rarely get it right first time. Congratulate yourself on having the self-awareness and motivation to try to quit in the first place. Acknowledge the progress you made. Yes, you slipped up, but you also went however many hours or days without daydreaming before that slip, and that’s just as significant.

Step 2 – Get curious about why you relapsed

You didn’t relapse because you lack willpower or because you’re weak or because you don’t deserve to get better. You relapsed because your circumstances weren’t supporting your recovery, and you need to understand why not.

Are you sure quitting completely is right for you at this time? Is your real life somewhere you want to be? If you’re still facing the problem that drove you into maladaptive daydreaming in the first place, do you have a healthier coping strategy you can turn to? Are you dependent on your paras to meet an emotional need? It doesn’t matter how much you want to stop daydreaming, if you still need to daydream, relapses are inevitable.

Also, real life, unlike our daydreams, doesn’t always work out the way we want, which means we can sometimes end up feeling rubbish because of something we had no control over. Other people take their bad moods out on us. Accidents happen. Trains get delayed. Stores run out of chocolate. Whatever it’s going to take to ruin your day, once in a while it’s going to happen. And on those days, you just need to make it through the day as best you can, safe in the knowledge that tomorrow will be better. If you relapsed on one of those days, it was because of what happened, and it says nothing about you or your ability to recover.

Step 3 – Put the relapse behind you and move forward

Once you’ve broken the downward spiral by forgiving yourself for relapsing, and you’ve reflected on why the relapse happened when it did, you’re in a great place to recommit to your recovery and get back on track.

Maybe your relapse has shown that you aren’t yet in quite the right mindset to stop maladaptively daydreaming. If that’s the case, the relapse has done you a favour by highlighting the areas you still need to work on. Alternatively, if something happened in real life that sent you into daydream mode, you can make a plan for how you would cope differently if that happens again. Should you phone a friend instead of talking to your paras? Should you listen to a podcast instead of your daydreaming music? Should you go to the gym with a workout buddy instead of pacing the streets on your own? When your relapse was a response to life events, you just need to distract yourself from the daydreaming urge long enough for it to pass.

Remember, your relapse was just a temporary blip. It doesn’t have to be the end of your recovery process. You can learn from it, put it behind you and start again. And next time, you’ll do better. Because when you see each relapse as a learning opportunity, it goes from being a step backwards to a leap forwards.