The definition of relapse is, “suffering deterioration after a period of temporary improvement.” This temporary improvement is something that I’ve learned to call sobriety, and it requires consistent effort on my part to maintain.
August 1st of last year is my original sobriety date and marks my first attempt at getting sober. It was a rollercoaster. First came residential treatment for 30 days, then followed an outpatient treatment center while in sober living. I was motivated and stayed sober for 7 1/2 months. Then I relapsed. Some ask why I fell off the wagon after such a sustained period of improvement. Was it a lack of participation in my program? Was it not attending enough AA meetings? Was it the fact that my sponsor and I were drifting apart and I found it challenging to relate? Maybe it was a combination of all three.
I had returned to work in the restaurant industry and found it awkward and unsettling at first. After about a month and a half’s time back at work, I had, unfortunately, crawled back into the bottom of a bottle. In retrospect, what interested me about my relapse was that it didn’t happen when I drank; it happened long before. I handled the stress from work poorly, I fell away from my program and fellowship, and it was inevitable that I was going to drink. Signs of relapse happen before I pick up a drink, and I was ignoring the warning signs.
I started isolating, stopped attending half of my usual meetings, was failing to practice self-care, acted out by trying to justify old behaviors and was living life defensively on my terms. I fell behind on step work, had no desire to meet with my sponsor, and therefore my entire program came to a halt. People most commonly stall on the 4th and 9th steps of Alcoholics Anonymous because they require looking at our faults. During my relapse, I was stuck on my 9th step, preparing to make my amends. I never made it to the amends, and why, one might ask? It all comes down to one little four letter word. Fear. That’s all it is.
Fear is the root of relapse. When we feed fear it becomes more prominent and stronger, and it is easy to forget that it is merely a shadow on the wall – the actual problem is much smaller than we make it out to be. I let fear control my life. I lived in constant fear at work, fear of not being good enough, fear of being too slow, fear of not being perfect; the list went on. These unrealistic expectations are also a sign indicative of relapse. The warnings were blaring in my face, but I was oblivious to them, and those around me were wildly aware. I stopped taking suggestions, failed to listen to others’ advice, and stopped sharing my troubles with those around me.
Being alone is what took me out, left to my own devices I drank, and I drank for two days. If it hadn’t been for my roommate, I would not have been found out and probably would have kept drinking. But I was forced to get honest about my struggles and come clean to the people who needed to know. Getting honest was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It was up there on the struggle list, right next to getting sober in the first place. But getting honest was the best thing I could have done for myself. The first time I got sober I never fully conceded to my innermost self that I was an alcoholic. When I went out and drank again, and I went straight back to old patterns and habits within the day; nothing had changed. Only then did I realize I did have a problem.
This battle will remain constant in my life, and I have to put as much effort into my program as I did into my drinking and using. Only then might I stay on the path of recovery, helping myself and others along the way. Relapse was necessary for me. Without it, I know I would have eventually ended up a “dry drunk” or relapsing anyways with more time under my belt. I had to hit bottom one more time to fully realize that I am an alcoholic. We cannot come up with a solution unless we can identify the problem.