Relapse

I’ve always wondered what would happen and what I would do if I ever relapsed.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I can now answer that question.  When I first went through the 12 steps almost 2 years ago I had such a miraculous spiritual transformation I was convinced I would never struggle again.  And then I quickly realized that struggle was part of the human experience but as long as I stayed true to the maintenance steps I would struggle but with the help of God, not fall.  I read that half of addicts struggle to gain full sobriety off and on for a number of years before finally finding recovery and staying recovered the rest of their lives.  I was so thankful that wasn’t going to be me, or so I thought.

It’s been about 6 weeks since I first started this post.   A lot has happened since that time.  Some good, some not as good.  The best part is that this has definitely been a learning experience.

Let’s start with the bad news.  The cycle of acting out in your addiction is well documented in many books, including the AA Big Book.  I won’t say much more about it other than it’s horrible.  First the cravings start and you do everything you can think of to try and control them. For me this included lots of prayer, talking to my support group, talking with my wife, making sure I was doing my studies, trying to serve others, etc. For whatever reason (I know now why and will explain later), the normal things I do to stay in balance were not working. It was about a week of struggling and I finally caved and had a relapse. Then follows the self loathing, despair, anger, etc. Then I finally got my senses about me and started the process to work back to sobriety. One of the hardest parts was letting go of the disappointment of losing almost 2 years of sobriety. The truly hardest part was hurting my wife. Especially when I couldn’t find my way back to sobriety. I kept slipping about once a week for several weeks. They were minor events but still very painful to my wife, very frustrating to me, and I even began to wonder what was wrong and why I couldn’t get back on track.
Fast forward to today and I’ll share some things that I’ve learned throughout this whole ordeal (these are not ordered, just as I think of them):
  • Having a relapse is a tough ordeal but it is NOT the end of the world. Only 50% of addicts who have a psychic change through the AA Big Book 12-step program gain sobriety on their first try and never slip again. The other half it takes a few tries before they gain their permanent sobriety. As much as I had hoped I was in the first group it looks like I’m in the second one — and they still are successful and I’m no worse off than they were. It will work out in the long run!
  • Hurting your spouse over and over again is a difficult thing to go through for both of us. I love my wife with all of my heart. I wish I did not have this illness. Or, rather, I wish I could stop hurting her because of my illness. It makes her very sad and it makes me sad. But that’s part of our human experience and it’s impossible to avoid all sadness and pain. I hope and pray that she will find the healing and peace that she so deserves!
  • I called into one of the teleconference saapp.org calls (saatalk.info specifically the Sunday morning Big Book study and the Saturday morning steps 1-3 foundations meeting) and during fellowship asked what others had done that had relapsed and struggled to get back to sobriety. Overwhelmingly the advice was to choose a new sponsor and re-work the 12 steps. They all indicated there was a good chance that I had some deep rooted resentment or fear standing in the way of me becoming sober again and that the 12 steps would help me find it quickly.  The new sponsor was not because my previous sponsor had done anything wrong, but because a new one would have new perspectives to increase my experience.
  • I was super nervous and worried that my fellow ARP group members would be disappointed in me because I fell. I don’t know why I thought that other than simple pride, but when I shared it with them they were fairly non-disturbed, took it in stride, and we’re super encouraging that I would get back on track. That was a completely unfounded fear.
  • I also met with my psychiatrist to discuss what had led up to my relapse. As he dug around in recent events his conclusion was that I had a more extreme case of anxiety than I had had before and that I didn’t know how to come down from it and handle it and turned to what had worked for me in the past. In a more recent meeting he said that it looks like I’ve had this constant companion of anxiety for most of my life. Learning to deal with that through good exercise, sleep, and guided meditation (that’s a new thing for me and I like it!) was super helpful.
  • Although a positive environment and definitely helpful, for me, I do not feel that my church’s Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) is enough. I feel more connected to God and recovery when I participate in the AA Big Book primary purpose recovery meetings (saapp.org). I will keep attending the ARP meetings and the post meeting support group but I will also add back in the saapp meetings as well. I need both apparently.
  • Going through the 12 steps again is actually a really great experience!
  • I realize that I’ve not been giving my will to God (step 3 and step 11) and I am recommitted to do that as best I can with a focus on doing whatever He asks of me. When I fear being able to do it, I will simply ask for His help to do His will and then go give it my best shot.
  • My wife still hurts. A lot. This is probably the worst part of this whole experience. Even worse than the despair and self-loathing I went through. I wish I could wave a magic wand and take all of her fear and pain away — but I cannot. Only my higher power can and I have to have faith and leave it in His capable hands. All I can do is try my best and keep praying for her.
I’ll close this with a few final thoughts about relapse and some info on where I’m at today. First, as I said before, relapse is not the end of the world. I pray I never have another one, but if it happens I know I can and will survive it and will press on — I will never give up! Second, making amends is hard to do — we want to clean up our mess and undo the damage done, but the only thing we can do is apologize, be sincere and kind, increase love and service, and give the healing to God for that power does not belong to us.
Finally, never, ever give up. Sobriety is worth it. You are worth it. There is a Higher Power. He can save us when we cannot save ourselves. I feel balance again.
If you have slipped into a relapse my advice is to just get back into your program, right away! Call your sponsor. If it’s been a while, find a new sponsor and restart your 12 steps (it has been really good to do them again). Go to as many meetings as you can. Call into the teleconference ones, they’re fantastic!
Best wishes and keep sharing the message with others!
My name is Mike

4 thoughts on “Relapse

    • It perplexes me how any time I fall and go through that horrible self-loathing phase that I completely forget how much God loves us. I don’t know why. But it does feel good to be back in a place where I remember and can feel His love again. Thank you for your encouraging words! They mean a lot to me 😄

      Liked by 1 person

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