I had a conversation last week, with a young woman who had fallen off the wagon. She said, “I feel so horrible. So guilty. I feel like I have to start all over.”
I tried to come up with the right words for her. I know that like other chronic diseases, addiction involves cycles of relapse and remission. In The Bahamas they say, “Shit happens,” and I certainly know that to be true (although it’s not great advice for a young woman who is feeling like the worse kind of shit happens to her alone). I did have the wherewithal to say, “You are not starting over. You have a wealth of knowledge about addiction and lots of tools to use to get yourself back on track. Take this seriously, but think of it as a bump in the road.”
I don’t know if my advice gave her comfort or not. The name of this blog is Waking Up the Ghost – another colloquial reference to my time in The Bahamas. It refers to the inability to stop once you start. It really applies to anything addictive (white wine, the ponies, a party pack of Lays, calling him again…). I say I never relapsed, but I stopped drinking at least 20 times in the years before I really stopped. And the way I started back each time was the definition of relapse. I “suffered deterioration after a period of improvement”.
I’d start with a glass of red wine at dinner, because I don’t like red wine and I thought it would serve as a moderator. Then I’d plug my nose and have two glasses of red wine at dinner. Then a bottle. Then I’d say to myself, “You don’t even like red wine and you’re drinking a bottle (duh). Why not drink white wine all day long?” And so it would begin again…
Unlike me in my fence-sitting days, this young woman has the mechanisms in place to go forward, sober and stronger than ever.
For anyone who worries about relapse (and we all do a little bit), there is an excellent, comprehensive check list by Debra Jay for Hazelden that I highly recommend: Warning Signs of Relapse.
And from the Addiction Counselor’s Perspective:
Today I’m not drinking because I am no longer a fence sitter…