Relapse and Recovery

Relapse and Recovery

Drug addict on Novokuznetskaya Metro Station i...
Drug addict on Novokuznetskaya Metro Station in Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trembling, I stepped from the hospital a broken man. Fear sobered me for a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink, and on Armistice Day 1934, I was off again. Everyone became resigned to the certainty that I would have to be shut up somewhere, or would stumble along to a miserable end. How dark it is before the dawn! In reality that was the beginning of my last debauch.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 8)

Some time later, and just as he thought he was getting control of his liquor situation, he went on a roaring bender. For him, this was the spree that ended all sprees. He saw that he would have to face his problems squarely that God might give him mastery.

One morning he took the bull by the horns and set out to tell those he feared what his trouble had been. He found himself surprisingly well received, and learned that many knew of his drinking. Stepping into his car, he made the rounds of people he had hurt. He trembled as he went about, for this might mean ruin, particularly to a person in his line of business.

At midnight he came home exhausted, but very happy. He has not had a drink since. As we shall see, he now means a great deal to his community, and the major liabilities of thirty years of hard drinking have been repaired in four.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 155156)

These tidbits of recovery stories are from the story of Bill W. and Dr. Bob (founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps) respectively.  The point here is that a relapse in recovery is not a death sentence (not necessarily a death sentence, there are people who relapse and die). 

I am not a fan of the idea that relapse is a part of recovery, because although the point is not to say that everyone has to relapse to recover, that is what most people hear.  In other words, the idea that relapse is a part of recovery can be used as an opportunistic excuse to destroy your own recovery.

On the other hand, I think that there are cases (as the examples of Bill W. and Dr. Bob demonstrate) where a relapse clarifies how desperate and powerless you really are and forces a person to desperately seek recovery in way that was otherwise impossible.  In other words the relapse forces the person to work recovery with enough seriousness for it to finally work.

That is not to say that you should relapse to make your recovery work better; that is like telling a suicidal person to shoot himself in the head to get over being suicidal.  But a person who almost kills himself/herself and survives sometimes might finally realize how serious the problem is and desperately seek help.

Some of us have relapsed since starting recovery and a few of us may have just relapsed and be in the process of considering what to do now.  Well, the relapse is a terrible stumble and fall in recovery, but that does not mean you have to lie there until you die.  In the second example above, Dr. Bob was going through a bunch of recovery stuff and getting it.  He felt better and was remaining sober, but then had a terrible relapse.

The key is what he did next:  He finally “saw that he would have to face his problems squarely.”  Dr. Bob had decided that he had to face a part of recovery that he had refused to do prior to this:

When our friend related his experience, the man agreed that no amount of will power he might muster could stop his drinking for long. A spiritual experience, he conceded, was absolutely necessary, but the price seemed high upon the basis suggested. He told how he lived in constant worry about those who might find out about his alcoholism. He had, of course, the familiar alcoholic obsession that few knew of his drinking. Why, he argued, should he lose the remainder of his business, only to bring still more suffering to his family by foolishly admitting his plight to people from whom he made his livelihood? He would do anything, he said, but that.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 155)

Dr. Bob was willing to do anything at all in recovery except for what is now known as Steps 8 and 9 which deal with making amends.  Dr. Bob had gotten stuck on Step 8; he was not willing to make amends to them all. 

Due to his relapse he suddenly realized that the pain of continuing to use until his world was completely annihilated was far greater than the pain he faced from making amends.  He finally became desperate enough to do anything to get sobriety even though that is the idea we are supposed to be going into recovery with.

Now we go out to our fellows and repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven’t the will to do this, we ask until it comes. Remember it was agreed at the beginning we would go to any lengths for victory over alcohol.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 76)

This passage (which is actually discussing Steps 8 & 9) reminds us that we start recovery with the idea that I am willing to do anything to get better.  The idea that “I am desperate and do not have the power to stop myself and am desperate enough t do anything to get better.”  This is the starting point of recovery.

If you do not start with this mindset, you are in deep trouble from the beginning.  Recovery is going to require that you face and do things that are terribly uncomfortable.  Some of these things both your conscious and unconscious mind are constantly trying to keep you from facing in any way.  If you are not desperate, when the time comes to face these things you avoid these things and in actuality we often desperately run from these things at all costs.

If you start with this desperation mindset, there is a point for each of us where we reach something that seems to be too much to ask.  This is really a test of the desperation that is the fuel that powers your recovery work.  Some of us run from recovery at this point, some of us hide it and pretend (ex:  Pretend to have listed all the people I need to make amends to, but leave off the ones I don’t want to do or lie and say I made an amends I did not really make etc.), some of us get stuck in some way or other. 

A relapse can be a wakeup call to you.  YOU CANNOT CUT CORNERS IN RECOVERY FOR ANY REASON. 

Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be. We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing. We have to be. We must not shrink at anything.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 79)

If you have relapsed, let it be a reality check and do whatever it takes to get better no matter what. 

My father used to always tell me that there are two ways people learn:

  1.    People learn from their own mistakes
  2.    People learn from the mistakes of others

If you are in recovery and have not relapsed, think of how many people (some stronger than you) thinking the same things you are thinking right now have relapsed.  Consider those people and let their example help you understand your own desperation so that that can be the fuel to face the uncomfortable and sometimes painful process of recovery as if your very life depends upon it working.  The truth is that your very life does depend upon it working.

 

Stay Sober My Friends…

Wade H.

How To Survive The Holidays – Part 1

How To Survive The Holidays – Part 1Toilet Paper Trap

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

The holidays are a time of celebration, of receiving and giving, of family gatherings and when friends get together to celebrate.  For those of us in recovery there are any number of challenges that arise from all of this.  Some of us associate all of these things with using and get a strong urge to use.  Some of us get so angry or hurt by what we get as gifts or don’t get as gifts that we cannot function well.  Some of us do not have the heart or mind for the giving part, while others of us give for the wrong reasons and end up frustrated.  Some of us have a strong urge to relapse at the mere thought of family gatherings for all sorts of different reasons.  For some of us gathering with friends is a recipe for relapse and others of us are depressed by the idea because we do not perceive ourselves to have any friends to gather with.  Some of us just simply hate the “holiday season” altogether or find ourselves depressed for no apparent reason during this time of year.   A few will find ourselves enjoying the holidays only to find that all of a sudden we cannot handle the feeling of enjoying ourselves and will have the urge to self-destruct our own enjoyment.   The way we tend to see things seems to be amplified this time of year and may seem like an inevitable train wreck waiting to happen.

The temptation is to focus on the negatives and sink into some kind of pity-party or try to act like the thoughts and feelings don’t exist.  As far as focusing on the negatives, we know that many of us that have been alcoholics or addicts can’t seem to be able to stop ourselves from seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full.  The truth is that realizing that the half empty glass is also half full is a good start, but is not enough.  For us there needs to be action to fill the glass the rest of the way also. Changing how we see things is good, but changing the parts of the situations that we control (ourselves) is better.

One of the simplest ways to begin to work through the holiday season before it overtakes you is to focus on Step 10 all day every day starting right now.

  1. Carefully watch yourself for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.
  2. When you notice any of these stop yourself; take a moment and ask God to remove whatever it is.
  3. Have mentors, sponsors, or wise persons of some kind that you can talk to regularly ready for your call, email or visit.  Whenever you feel one of these come up talk to one or more of them about it as soon as possible.
  4. If you did something that was wrong to someone else in that situation (even if that person did a whole lot more to you before you did anything and you feel he or she deserves what you did) you must make amends quickly.  Don’t let their crazy become your relapse because you are determined to prove some point (that would in reality be your crazy)
  5. Have somebody or a couple of people you are helping through recovery (sponsoring) during the holiday season.  You need to be the mentor, sponsor, or wise person of some kind that someone else can talk to regularly ready for your call, email or visit as well as working that person through the steps through the holiday season.
  6. When you perceive that someone else or some group of “someone elses” is throwing crazy into your world remember that love and tolerance is our code.  That means to respond lovingly and be as tolerant as is humanly possible of whatever it is that is going on.  Remember that other people’s crazy does not have to be contagious.  If they are in fact acting crazy, that is their sickness, if you get sucked in and start acting crazy also their sickness has spread like some plague to you with the potential of wreaking havoc in your world and possibly even causing your death.

A huge point to take away from all of this is that you have to start responding to the problem before it starts to build up.  Plan these things and make sure the people described are in place now.  Intentionally start living this way daily for the whole day so as the holiday season kicks into full gear you will already have the habit of living this way. 

…we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 84)

Change your mindset about all of the things listed from some things you do or from a Step you have to do or finish and begin to think of these things as a “way of living”.  You have to be so in the habit of thinking and acting in these ways that they simply become who you are and what you do.  These not only become how you think, but these things become the reasons behind why you think what you think.  You have to progress from:

  1. Have to – You do these things because you are told to in recovery and you realize you have no other good choice
  2. Want to – You do these things because you have done them for a while and you have started to feel good when you do them and to be able to handle hard to handle situations.  Doing them begins to be associated with feeling good.
  3. Is you – There is no longer any thought that goes into doing these things.  You have done these things so consistently and for so long that they are as natural as breathing.  These things kinda just happen (even if you don’t feel like it)

Also, take a second to ponder the word “vigorously” used in the previous passage.  In that “have to” phase (when you first start trying to develop these habits) these things seem time consuming, like a lot of work and possibly silly to some of us.  It will seem like really hard work to many of us at first to do these things.  You are going to have to “vigorously” push yourself to do these things in spite of how you feel.  Keep in mind that our feelings are important, but are often not the best guides for our lives.  Just because you suddenly feel like using or like punching someone in the face, that does not mean you should.  Just because you don’t feel like doing some of the proven recovery stuff doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either.

In the words of some excellent tennis shoe marketers:  “Just do it!”

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Grow this way of living.  Why?  Here is one person’s answer:

I have since been brought into a way of living infinitely more satisfying and, I hope, more useful than the life I lived before. My old manner of life was by no means a bad one, but I would not exchange its best moments for the worst I have now. I would not go back to it even if I could.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs. 4243)