Relapse: Going “Back Out” & the Powerlessness of We who Love You

You know how you know something but then you see it and it’s more real than it was when you just knew it? I saw something recently that broke my heart and kicked me in the gut in the same moment. It’s real simple. I watched a man near and dear to my heart – a recovering alcoholic…drink.

I don’t go to bars, mostly because I don’t drink but also because I dislike them. I went into a good local restaurant this week that happens to have a bar. I didn’t notice him sitting there at first, but my blood ran cold when I saw what he was doing.

It’s not like I didn’t know. I just had never watched it. When people go back to drinking or drugging long term they tend to avoid their addictions counselor. So I knew…but I’d never been face to face with it. I sat and I knew that I would say nothing and do nothing because I’m ethically bound not to but more importantly because I’m powerless over his disease.

I sat and I prayed and I asked my Higher Power to have the shell that is that beautiful man notice me. I wanted him to see that I still care and that I’m waiting patiently for him to be back amongst the living.     I see you, brother and I care.

When people in Recovery relapse we sometimes day that they go “back out.” There’s a recognition that we generally can’t reach them until they come back. They’ve returned at least temporarily to insanity and destruction. They’re profoundly lost and overwhelmingly ashamed.

At other times, folks run and hide not because they’ve gone ”back out” but because life’s gotten too hard. What most often happens is that we get triggered. Scary or painful things that happen today connect us to our pasts and we become overwhelmed. Our suffering is disproportionate to what’s happening because the raw emotion we buried in the past catches up to us today.

I lost connection to another man near and dear to my heart this way recently. I kept reaching out and leaving messages, hoping he’d accept an invitation to be back amongst the living. Silence is so damned loud. I felt a profound sense of powerlessness as he continued to isolate and not respond. I asked him to simply message me and tell me that he was alright. The message came through today. All it said was:

“Fuck. I’m alive.”

I was overjoyed to hear this and I immediately heard Eddie Vedder singing in my head:

“You’re still alive, she said
Oh, and do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And if so…if so…who answers…who answers…?” Pearl Jam – “ Alive”

Today I know that God and good people answer and I get to honor what they believe about me even when I don’t feel worthy of it. Both of the men I’m telling stories about are very good men. One I know I’ll get to hug soon. The other I can only pray for.

There’s a sign I often see on Catholic churches that says, “Catholics can always come home.” I’ve always liked that. I know the same is true about my brothers and sisters in the halls of AA & NA. They’ll welcome you back and thank God the disease didn’t claim you. I wish every person had the experience of watching a group of people in Recovery applaud when someone picks up a white chip (for one day of sobriety). It’s f@cking beautiful and it’ll make you feel closer to God.

We’re all prodigal sons and daughters.

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.