Slip Sliding Away
I’m all about accountability and every time I think I understand it completely it turns out there’s more for me to learn about it. I learned a lot about relapse from Bob. Bob’s an old school guy with great integrity and the only person he’s ever hurt is himself. I was out smoking with him one day when a friend in recovery approached and said, “Hey Bob I heard you had a slip.” The friend was expressing genuine concern but Fred wasn’t having it. Bob looked at his friend and spat, “I didn’t have a slip. I got fuckin’ drunk.” He scowled and explained to me, “slipping is something you do on the ice – it’s something you don’t mean to do. I meant to get drunk and that’s just what I did.”
Bob moves in circles and the patterns never change. He gets out of jail, gets a job, and does the work of three men. He gets an apartment. He goes to meetings but he won’t get a sponsor or contacts. He says it’s his pride but we both know it’s a combination of fear and shame. After Bob has his legs underneath him he sets out to find a woman. Not just any woman, mind you. Bob goes looking for the biggest train wreck of a woman he can find. She’ll be newly sober and have more problems than you can shake a stick at. Bob rents a white horse and a suit of shiny armor and he rescues her. She inevitably breaks his heart. Bob only knows one way to deal with a broken heart – he drinks. When he drinks he goes to jail. This is inevitable and the cycle repeats. We’re all looking for a different ending to the same story.
Relapse is part of recovery. Just as people with other diseases are at risk of coming out of remission so are we. I love the acronym of Y.E.T. (You’re Eligible Too – for good and for bad).I’m often giving folks a mixed message by pointing out that they’re doing well but that they need to be watching for the pitfalls that lie ahead. Most folks hate hearing this. It scares them. They’re looking for a finish line where they can relax. They’re looking for a lot of things. The biggest problem is that they’re looking to get *there* alone. This is at best lonely and generally involves being dry, hungry, angry, lonely and tired (H.A.L.T.).
There are times in which we expect a person to be at risk. In the first year of sobriety, we expect that every day is high risk and it’s simply a matter of what we do *today* that either safeguards or exposes us. Surrendering and making the choice not to drink just for today can be a daily ritual and one well worth adopting. I recommend starting a spiritual practice that involves acknowledging a Higher Power and that we are not running the show.
We look for folks to struggle for the month prior to their anniversary dates. This is true with sober time but it is also true of dates that match up to our losses. The anniversary of the death of a loved one, or the anniversary of our divorce, the birthday of an estranged loved one, we collected dates through our time in active addiction. Anniversary dates are still points in a person’s life – times in which we naturally take stock and reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. Weddings and funerals are natural still points. The anniversary of going into or getting out of rehab, the day we hit bottom, and worst of all the Holidays – these are unnatural still points for us.
At other times, relapse seems to come out of the blue. I’ve known folks who got drunk because it was a Tuesday afternoon and they just never got the hang of Tuesday afternoons. The reasons why we relapse can be vitally important or not at all important. Simplicity works. Whatever the reason why we drank or drugged; we made a fundamental choice to make things worse.
Sometimes we see it coming. One of the many reasons why we need folks to hold us accountable is that quite often they can see that we’re heading toward a drink or a drug when we can’t or won’t. Relapse very rarely happens in a moment. Just as a volcano explodes quickly it took time to build up to it.
We usually start by spending too much time thinking and too little coping. We’re busy people and we start skipping meetings because we’re not human beings but rather human doers. We flood our lives with distractions to avoid the fears, the pain, and the shame. We start stopping. We stop praying, journaling, talking to our sponsor, and eating right. We let healthy habits slide and get too little sleep or too much.
Sometimes we overcompensate. We realize it’s been a whole week since we hit a meeting and so we read 3 chapters of the big book in one sitting (still choosing not to go to a meeting). We haven’t been to the gym recently so we climb a mountain. Whatever is lacking in our lives we swing from one extreme to the other and inevitably we burn out. We’re good at overwhelming ourselves. We’re good at not knowing and not knowing is great because when we don’t know what to do we do nothing or we do the things that we know start us down a dark road.
The only way I know to go to Hell is to go there alone. If I keep myself in the company of good people and allow them to know me then I can’t go there. In order to hurt myself I have to hide and I have to lose focus. We forego what works for us and we start spinning. When we’re spinning we’re moving very quickly without going anywhere. Anxiety returns. Other times we start sinking, returning to depression as if it’s an old friend. It’s not hard for us to go back when we’re afraid of moving forward. It need to occur to us to be still and reach out. Sobriety can always be done alone. Don’t settle for that. You can have the whole of recovery. You just can’t have it alone.