Some people say that relapse is part of the journey of sobriety – that everyone has to go through it. Others are “one chip wonders.” They decide to get sober and that’s it. They never touch a drink or a drug again. Relapse is not part of their story.
Relapse is part of my story (a huge part of my story). And I do not wish that hell on anyone. It is such an enormous guilt – such an overwhelming shame – to admit that you have fallen yet again. What you promised – what you swore – you would never do again, you have done.
You got drunk. Or you got high. Or both. You gave in to that primal urge that begged you to stroke the pleasure centers of your brain…for what? A few moments of bliss for sure. And when you wake up – a drained bank account and a pissed off family. And so much guilt and shame.
Relapse sucks hard. I’ve been there.
I’m there now.
Two days ago (this past Saturday), I relapsed.
I feel terror. I am terrified the people in my life (my family, my husband, the people I know in AA) will leave me – will give up on me. I’m disgusted with myself for not having more willpower. I am beating myself up within an inch of my life.
I am in dangerous territory. I’ve already had one drink (well, two shots and a bottle of wine). I’ve already broken my sobriety. I’ve ruined everything. Might as well go on a bender!
That’s what I used to do. But instead, I came here to write. Instead, I called my sponsor and told her what I did. Instead, I was honest with my husband about what happened. Instead, I’m owning up to my actions.
I went to an AA meeting and picked up a white chip.
I’m starting over.
There are positives that can come from relapse. When you’ve recovered, look back. What triggered you? Was it a place you went? Music you were listening to? Food you were eating? Something put you back into that place when you were drunk/high and triggered your craving for your drug of choice. Psychology Today has a great article that explains it very well.
In my case, it was a few things. I was in a stressful situation (involving family), and I was sitting alone in a Mexican bar and grill. My husband and I used to frequent a Mexican chain restaurant. We would put in a takeout order and then sit at the bar and order tequila shots and tall, frosty beers while waiting for our food.
For the few minutes that I sat at that bar, snacking on chips and salsa and waiting on my sister, I did not accept that I was an alcoholic. I gave into the craving for release from my anxious emotions and also the craving for nostalgia.
I should have called my sponsor. At the very least, I should have walked outside for a few minutes until I could get my shit together and remember all the hard work I’ve done to prepare for situations like these. I should have…
But “should-ing” all over myself is not going to help me recover. I can beat myself up till I’m black and blue, but that’s not what I need.
What I need is to practice loving acceptance of myself and my disease. I drank because I have a disease called alcoholism. I am an alcoholic. Give me the opportunity to take pills, and I’ll take them in a heartbeat because I’m an addict. It would not have mattered what kind of restaurant I was in or whether I was there to meet a good friend or my worst enemy. When given the opportunity to drink or take drugs, I will.
But now I have a little bit more self awareness. I can do a few things to keep myself safe and avoid situations that trigger my cravings.
This relapse is not a step backward. It is an opportunity for growth. It is an opportunity to reconnect with my Higher Power (I haven’t been praying lately). It is an opportunity to go to more AA meetings (I’ve only been going to 2 or 3 per week). It is an opportunity to start taking better care of myself instead of letting the stress of day-to-day life wear me down to the point where drinking seems like a good idea.
Yesterday, I told my husband that I drank. Today, he is upset. Nothing I say will help him stop being upset with me. But what I do – my actions – will help him see that I am truly committed to a sober way of life.
Relapse is part of my story. It doesn’t have to be part of yours. But if it is part of your story – know that there is a way out of the endless cycle. Sobriety is possible! A better life is within reach!
It’s not about willpower (though it does take some). It’s about acceptance and surrender. I accept, again, that I am an alcoholic and an addict. I surrender to the grace and strength of my Higher Power. Now it’s time to get back to work.