Lessons From A Relapse
In the summer of 2018, my 2 year sobriety anniversary was approaching, and I was feeling good. I had celebrated 2 years of continuous sobriety a couple years earlier, but I had “slipped” following a significant life change. After a short period of relapse, I regained my senses and went right back to my fellowship. For me, that’s how sobriety works. If I fall, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and return to the thing that truly makes me feel good: my recovery.
This time it was different. I felt fine, nothing significant, nothing “bad” was happening in my life. My boyfriend was away for training as a medic across the state. He returned on occasion for a night in town, and we had fun together, enjoying each other’s company. Sure, sometimes I was lonely, but I’d learned how to deal with that loneliness in a healthy and positive way. But, since my 2 year anniversary of sobriety was approaching, I thought to myself, maybe I can drink one night, enjoy myself, and return to business as usual. So I planned to meet up with the old drinking buddies and my boyfriend and do just that.
Drinking, Relapse, and the Slow Burn of Alcoholism
I went over to my friend’s house and opened a beer, sat on the couch. Not much contemplation went through my head before taking my first sip of alcohol in 2 years. I just did it. I drank 2 beers and had a couple shots before the end of the night. I was drunk, feeling good, but not “out of control.” And ultimately, that was the problem. A lot of people in my fellowship had told me that a momentary relapse would lead me right back to where I started, drunk, miserable, and alone. But that wasn’t the case for me. I had a few beers, a few shots, had some laughs and some fun, and went to bed alive and well, happy and unfazed by my relapse. I enjoyed the time I spent with my friends and the old feeling of a buzz. The next morning when I awoke, I had no hangover and returned to my daily activities, but not my fellowship. I began to think that maybe I was not such a hopeless alcoholic case after all.
The next night I drank again, about the same amount. Enough to enjoy a high but not enough to regret the next day. The same result followed and I again was assured that my drinking was within my control. I felt that I needed to be honest with those around me. So I told my parents that day that I had drank. Their reaction was of anger, worry and frustration. The insurmountable guilt I then felt took over. They banned me from spending time at their house, cutting me off emotionally. This was a blow I could not handle. I couldn't understand why simply drinking made me an unworthy child. I had not stolen money, lied, or misled them after all.
Depression, mistrust, and the true effects of relapse
I fell into a depression without my family's support. I began to isolate because the people around me all were worried and angered by my decision to drink. The drinking became worse, and the hangovers more intense. Over the course of only 2 weeks, I began to see that I would promise myself I wouldn't drink in the morning than magically find myself walking into a liquor store later that same day.
I returned to the fellowship in hopes of restoring my sanity. I was greeted with love and acceptance. But it wasn’t enough, I was stuck in the muddy waters of addiction. I started to realize I was in trouble. That I did not possess the will power to stop on my own accord. Finally after a month of depression, drinking, and a horrible sinking feeling, I accepted that I might need extra help. I began to call around to local rehabs and dual-diagnosis IOP’s. I found a program and quickly enrolled. Once I had accepted that I was alcoholic and could not manage my own life, and that I needed something bigger than my own will power to end the cycle, I was finally able to stop. Just the admittance and committal to a program gave me the strength to find abstinence.
Back on the wagon, back to my sanity
Now that I have again regained my sobriety, I can see that I didn’t just randomly decide to have a drink. That it was a slow slip back into the mentality of drinking. About a year before the relapse occurred, I began missing meetings. I felt like I was doing fine and would often only attend 1 meeting per week. The meetings seemed to drag on, I wouldn’t participate and would avoid talking to other people. At one point I had taken the commitment to lead a meeting and that was enjoyable but when I shared honestly and openly in that meeting, I would complain that I wanted to drink.
My gratitude shriveled up and died. A year prior I had a horrible trauma occur in my life. I became ungrateful for the life I had. Feeling like, even though I had managed to do that right thing, life still wasn’t going my way. And in all honesty the tragedy I endured should never happen to anyone. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t advanced in my career or why I wasn’t making more money. I was disappointed with my living situation, feeling ‘less than’ for the small room I inhabited. I wasn’t grateful for my parents support, my friends, or my past. I felt utterly hopeless, disappointed and ungrateful.
Recognizing the patterns after the fact
Beyond my attitude, my behavior was growing increasingly erratic before the relapse. I began to make decisions based off of paranoid delusions and a lack of caring for my own life. I felt I had no purpose. I could no longer connect the dots between my sobriety and a better life. Bottom line is that I had lost faith completely that life would get better. That depressive and untrue thought ultimately led me to drink. I find in my life, when I can no longer see the purpose of a commitment, I leave. Whether it be a relationship, a specific diet, a hobby, or abstinence. If I can no longer explain why I am putting in the effort, I give up.
Fortunately for me, I found my sobriety again. Looking back I see that it is most important for me to remember why I practice my abstinence. I practice abstinence because the pain of drinking far exceeds the effort it takes to abstain. When I am actively drinking, I become depressed, guilt ridden and often engage in other not so healthy behaviors. When I am sober, while I don’t always feel optimistic and joyous, I am relieved of the insanity of my mind. When I am sober I am okay. When I am sober I at least have the chance to have a better life. My advice to anyone struggling to quit for good is to always remember the pain of your last drink. Pain is a better teacher to us than happiness. To remember why you so desperately wanted sobriety in the first place will help keep you away from returning to a place of alcoholism, addiction, depression and desperation.
-- Emily Ash for Life Assurance Recovery, 2018