Picking up, going out, falling off the wagon; whatever you call it there are no pretty words to describe relapse. According to the online dictionary (Houghton Mifflin), relapse can be (a) fall or slide back into a former state; (b) to regress after a partial recovery from illness; and (c) to slip back into bad ways; backslide. All of these work but I particularly focused on the second definition (b) because it reiterated what I already knew and that is my addiction (alcoholism) is an illness. I learned that when I was given my Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and was told to read “The Doctor’s Opinion” before anything else. “Partial recovery” prior to regression could mean five days or five years as we recover more every day but knowing full well it is never over.
Chronic relapsers truly never get Step One. That does sound rather simple at first but admitting your addiction, taking that first step out of denial and staying there is much more difficult than it sounds. We who have taken that step know that to be true. We spent years getting ready to say we are powerless so feeling it to the core of your being takes some much longer than others. Every fellowship has chronic relapsers but the miraculous thing is that many do keep coming back. It doesn’t mean they stay long but they do return. When I hear anyone who has come back share that “it’s different this time”, I cringe. I’m not sure why but for whatever reason those words tell me they are not here to stay. Unfortunately, addictions kill. The saddest part is that they were given the solution but could never accept the problem.
This article isn’t about the chronic relapsers, though. This is about the men and women who “go out” after a few months or years. Maybe you hardly know them or maybe you know them well. Maybe they are relative newcomers or maybe they are one of the men or women who at one time, you wanted whatthey had. Maybe they are quiet or maybe they share with remarkable insight. Maybe they have sponsees and maybe you are one of them. It doesn’t make any difference who we are, what we are, how long we have been in recovery; we are all equal. Every single one of us is given “opportunities” to relapse. It is how we handle these that keep us in or out.
Before I decided to write about relapse, I wanted to get some hard, cold facts and do you know what? I realized that the facts I got were based on those admitted into recovery houses and rehabs but this is a small group compared to the number of addicts out there. The number of alcoholics and drug addicts is a statistical guess because most of us will never be counted for a variety of reasons. So, I decided to just give you what I know or have found that would be helpful. Anyway, facts are too cut and dry and God knows, addiction is anything but cut and dry!
Here is what I do know. I know that when a person relapses, they had been working on that for a long time before it happened. Picking up a drink or a drug is almost the end before the person, hopefully, begins again. It is relatively simple to give you some of the reasons why a person relapses. They relapse when they do not go to meetings, do not ask for help when they need it, do not work the steps with a sponsor, are not of service, are complacent, and probably a few others I can’t think of. When these types of things begin, old behaviors follow like self-pity, dishonesty, frustration, selfishness, boredom and any variety of defects. Or maybe this is a chicken/egg thing. Maybe the personal behavior breaks the person down so that they do not go to meetings, etc. In other words, we aren’t perfectly fine one day, pick up and then regress. We are usually in the process of regression, are weakened and then pick up. It is not one person or situation but many things that have built up over time. Then, one day the straw that broke the camel’s back appears!
There are the more obvious things that can trigger a relapse; for example, habitually being in the presence of drugs or alcohol. You know there is a saying that if you hang around the barber shop long enough, you will get a hair cut. Other examples: pain killers even when prescribed, H.A.L.T. (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) on a regular basis, physical pain, any crisis (death of a loved one). All of these sound more like excuses to drink or drug but they can’t be isolated from all of the other reasons for relapse.
In my reading about relapse, I read that self control is the best relapse prevention. I feel like an expert in addiction (and we all are) and I have to say I was upset with this statement. If I had self-control I wouldn’t be writing this article in the first place. I had to learn more than that. I had to know I was powerless today and for the rest of my life over my addiction. The fact that I may never be presented with a temptation does not mean I will never pick up. It is much more involved than that.
Following a 12 Step Recovery program, going through ALL of the steps with a sponsor, attending as many meetings as you can possibly attend, being of service…you all know the “suggestions”. Following these every day, one day at a time, with prayer and meditation, and keeping that conscious contact with God is how we get our daily reprieve.
Anyone of us could relapse today, tomorrow, next year. The important thing is that if we do, we get down on our knees and pray for the humility and strength to get back into the recovery room. We call our sponsor and friends for their support. And when we do, we can with firm resolve know we are powerless and be able to say, “I am ----- and I am an alcoholic (or whatever your addiction).” You will be home…AGAIN!
Namaste’. May you walk your journey in peace and harmony.
Like Grateful Recovery on Facebook. Kathy L. is the author of "The Intervention Book (Conari Press)