Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Relapses in Recovery

Many of us who are in recovery have relapsed or " gone back out" as they say. If you are in that category then this blog post is for you!

First and foremost, if you are reading this, there is hope for you.

 Let me tell you about my friend "Ben". Ben was a tavern owner for many years. He had the perfect alcoholic job! Since he made his livelihood selling booze he was a happy camper for a while. But then, like many of us, he lost everything.

Another thing Ben lost track of was his number of relapses. He did, however, remember how many half way houses he had lived in before he finally got the program. The total was 13! He would get settled in, drink, get asked to leave, then start the cycle all over again. This process took years of his life and frequently rendered him homeless.

When I met Ben he had over 20 years sober. I saw a responsible member of society. He was sponsoring other men, and he was enjoying life. When Ben passed away a few years ago he died of natural causes, not alcoholism. His legacy lives on for me, because I will never forget his 13 half-way houses! I can only imagine the number of people that Ben helpedpeople who had thought they were hopeless.

Galatians 6:9: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Secondly, I wish to remind my readers not to be ashamed to come back. We love you, and we need you! Helping new-comers as well as retreads does two things for us. It brings us joy, and it keeps us sober. Have you ever considered the fact that your participation in the program actually helps your sponsor?

Remember the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. After disrespecting his father and squandering his inheritance, the hard-partying son came back with his tail between his legs expecting a harsh reprimand and a lowly position. What he got instead was an embrace and a full restoration of his former status. We do the same in the rooms! Instead of a gold ring we give you chips and key tags, but the love and the acceptance are the same.

"Karen" was a friend whom I saw at meetings regularly. She had an advanced degree and held a respectable job. She disappeared from the rooms for a while, then returned full of tears and remorse. She spoke of how embarrassed by her relapse she was. 

Do you know what was on my mind the whole time Karen was sharing? My first reaction to seeing her after her long absence was delight, followed immediately by a sense of relief. I couldn't wait to give her a hug and invite her out to coffee. Unfortunately Karen snuck out before the meeting ended. She had let shame get the best of her. Don't be a "Karen!" Give yourself the opportunity to reconnect.

My first sponsor always told me that relapse is not a requirement, but it is so common that for many of us it has become an important step towards the acknowledgment of our powerlessness. Some folks even make light of it and refer to it as "research and development".  But we must be cautious here, and not give ourselves permission to relapse for we can't ever forget how deadly this disease is.

This brings to mind "Alex". He used his youth as an excuse. In his early twenties, he went on one last outing with his party friends. He had just completed a 30 day inpatient rehab, and was planning on starting the steps after his little trip. Alex thought he had all of the time in the world, but he didn't survive that weekend. Being young doesn't mean you are allotted more relapse time!

And finally, when we do return to the program, we must share our struggles and be thoroughly and rigorously honest! Of course, the intimate details we save for our sponsor's ears(This is accomplished by a fourth and fifth step as it it outlined in the literature.)but it is beneficial to ourselves and to others to share in general what type of problems we may be tackling at the moment.

Since my story is one of devastating loss( the death of 2 of my children) I have the privilege of reminding others that it is possible to stay sober while enduring every mother's worst nightmare. Ben's story was a shining light for the habitually homeless. Your story will help someone too! You can turn your relapse experience into valuable insight for others.

Let me conclude by telling you about my dear "Dana". At the time we both had about 5 years sober, and I identified very closely with Dana as our stories and backgrounds were very similar. Dana was chairing meetings, sponsoring others, and doing service work at the central office. One day I walked into our local recovery club and saw Dana's picture on a table with a candle next to it. She had put a gun to her head.

In tears, I asked a mutual friend, what could have possibly gone wrong? Fear gripped me. "Am I next?" I asked her.

"No way, Maribeth," she replied. "You share your pain at the meetings. You see, Dana was always 'fine' every time someone asked her. She hid herself in service work and never looked at her own issues." 

So when you do come back after a relapse, please come back all the way! Get a sponsor, follow the directions, and share your story. Remember, half measures availed us nothing. We will be waiting with open arms. 

Matthew 10:27: "Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God;all things are possible with God."