Relapse, Wreckage, & Restarting Recovery

As I’m writing, I’m waiting for my next client to show up. I know he’s not going to. I’ve been anticipating this for quite some time. The signs were clear and I made sure he saw them. What I see as cause for concern, he sees as reasons to be ashamed.

Recovery is a process and not an event. What he sees as failed attempts were in fact short term successes.  It really is all in how we look at it.

I keep checking my door and he keeps not being there. This is one of those times when I hope I’m wrong and maybe I won’t finish this blog before he shows up grinning sheepishly and offering a lame excuse about hitting every red light on the way over.

Truth is, he got a “case of the f@ck its.” When an alcoholic refers to “it” they are almost always referring to themselves. When we get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and/or Tired, (HALT) we feel out of control and we’re at far greater risk of relapse.

Ardis White taught me that control is an alcoholic’s number one character defect. The active alcoholic wants to run the show, but he sees others as being responsible for his choices, his mood, and his well being.  He says things like “I just wish…” as though he would be fine if only everyone in his life would do what he feels they should be doing. He alternates between being accountable for nothing and blaming himself for everything. He drives 100 mph on the road to ruin…careening toward the guard rails.

I hope he hits them soon. The thing about guard rails is they keep you from going over the cliff.

After he hits them, he’ll take stock again. He’ll be disgusted and dismayed that he’s somehow repeated the same mistakes and attained the same outcome. Then he’ll have a choice: He can get back into the solution, or he can hide himself and stew in what he sees as humiliation. Meanwhile, his brothers and sisters in Recovery eagerly await his return.

Everyone should have the experience of seeing a returning alcoholic pick up a white chip (symbol for the first day of sobriety). It’s beautiful. They clap. No, really, they do. It’s a “Welcome home!” It’s saying, “We’re so damned glad the disease didn’t claim you.”

If you’re vertical and breathing …then congratulations; you have another chance to get it right.

Shame is an alcoholic/addict’s worst enemy. It will leave us pushing away the people who care and want to help. We feel unworthy and undeserving. We forget that it hurts to be pushed away and convince ourselves that somehow we’re doing folks a favor. We see ourselves as a giant imposition and we figure we’ve blown it so many times we don’t know why anyone should bother with us.

Except they don’t see it that way. Prodigal sons and daughters are welcomed with open arms.

It’s a very strange thing to hate a disease. We will one day find cures for cancer and other merciless conditions. We will never “cure” the disease of addiction. It will always be amongst us. This is underscores in part why we need each other. This is part of why we never give up. My friends in AA remind me, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”

I look forward to his call. I pray it comes because that’s all I can do at the moment. I choose to focus my time and my energy on what I can do. I’m ok with being powerless…most of the time. I just hate when the disease wins.

Until we meet again,

I hope you hit the guard rail before you find the cliff.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.