I was first introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous when I was 18. Addiction runs in my family, and my parents warned me at an early age that I might have “the gene.” This warning had little effect on me since: A. I didn’t know what it meant and B. I didn’t care. I thought I was invincible and that drug addiction and alcoholism would never happen to me. Like Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, this was my ominous warning which I failed to heed.
I ended up admitting myself to rehab on my 18th birthday for alcohol abuse as the result of an ultimatum. By senior year of high school, I was drinking, smoking pot and cigarettes daily. I received my acceptance letter from my dream college early decision in December. I figured I could party hard and skip school with no consequences for the remainder of my senior year. My brother found out I was drinking every day and told my parents, a resentment I held on to for years.
I admitted myself into treatment. Most of the other patients were heroin addicts, and this was the perfect excuse for me to say I didn’t belong. I wasn’t as bad as these people, and I don’t stick needles in my arms. I like to party like every other typical teenager. I don’t have a problem. I only saw the differences. I called my mother and told her I wasn’t like these people and to come and get me. She told me to stay the night, and we would talk about it tomorrow.
I’m not sure what happened that night, I think it was what some refer to as a spiritual experience. But I thought, well, if I’m here maybe I’ll give this thing a shot. And I did. I ended up throwing myself into the program and listening to people I trusted, I followed direction and stayed sober. I stayed sober for about a year. I started my freshman year of college three months sober, and things were going well, but I didn’t do the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous, and I failed to enlarge my spiritual life.
The summer between freshman and sophomore year of college I convinced an old friend of mine to smoke weed with me. From there it was a quick spiral downwards. Within a year and a half, I was drinking every day, smoking pot every day, taking pills every day, doing acid, mushrooms, cocaine, and ecstasy. My grades were plummeting. I could barely show up for class, and I was performing on stage high and drunk. I was making horrible decisions, putting myself in dangerous situations, lying, cheating, stealing, waking up from blackouts not remembering where I was or what I had been doing. I had lost most of my good friends and replaced them with sick uncaring people. I was a mess. How did this happen? How did I get so far away from AA? How did I relapse? I didn’t see it coming.
In the back of my mind was the thought, if it gets bad enough I will go back to AA. It was not that simple though, not at all. Once the cravings began, once I was physically and mentally dependent on drugs and alcohol the last thing I wanted to do was go back to AA. I tried desperately to convince myself that I didn’t have a problem. I tried desperately to convince everyone around me that I didn’t have a problem. I couldn’t hold down a job, any money that I made from working went straight to drugs and alcohol, and I started to experience traumatic events. One night, I got drunk and high and decided to walk to my boyfriend’s apartment at 3 am. I had a weird feeling and thought perhaps it was not a good idea, but that thought was fleeting.
As I turned onto his street in Boston, a man ran at me from behind, physically assaulted and mugged me. I didn’t see it coming. I remember feeling mostly shock, surprise, and confusion about what had happened. I ran screaming to the door of my boyfriend’s house and quickly called the police. They came, nothing happened. I was drunk, how could I even be believed? The dangerous situations I put myself in when I am drinking and doing drugs become painfully frequent, so frequent that I forget that they’re dangerous. I begin to accept them as my new normal.
I was holding onto school by a thread. I was scheduled to go on a trip abroad to study drama in London with my class. I knew I needed to get sober. I was miserable. I would wake up in the morning and swear that I wasn’t going to smoke pot that day and then half an hour later I was getting high thinking to myself, “how is this happening?” I had no self-control, I was depressed, alone and lost.
It is more common for recovering addicts to relapse after treatment than it is for them to stay sober on their first try. In fact, professionals estimate between 70 and 90 percent of all people who complete an addiction rehabilitation program will have at least one mild to moderate relapse before they can remain sober for an extended amount of time.
Relapse is common in addiction treatment. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Relapse rates are commonly between 40-60%. This rate is very similar to rates of relapse with other chronic diseases like hypertension, asthma or type I diabetes.
After a series of what I now believe to be divine interventions, I admitted I had a problem and sought help. I flew to London and was utterly terrified of my disease. I knew I had no control. I had admitted to the innermost part of myself that I was a drug addict and an alcoholic and that I would have to get sober again. As soon as I got off the plane, I went to an AA meeting. The AA community is quite spectacular, and I will never forget the London AA community that swept me up, supported me and assisted me during my study abroad in London. I would go to class and get picked up by a fellow in the rooms afterward. I went to meetings every day, sometimes two. I got a sponsor right away and started the steps. I was protected, safe and did not drink.
I work in the addiction field now, and relapse is a very common and frequent happenstance. It is devastating because our disease is deadly and frightening and it only takes one time, one moment, one drink, one drug, one poor choice to end our lives. I know how painfully difficult it is to seek help after a relapse. I felt ashamed and inadequate. I felt like a failure. I felt overwhelmed and scared and furious with myself as if I had any control over my disease in the first place. I admire people who come back after a relapse because the sad reality is that most people do not come back because they are either too humiliated or because they are dead. We must view relapse as a realistic possibility of our disease and encourage and congratulate those who come back to try again because that is where the real recovery begins.