Some will say that they didn’t see it coming. But like that unseen icy patch right outside your front door, the same spot that is there every time the winter frost comes, the signs were probably there. We know what happens when we don’t take precautions. One minute everything is going well, you feel OK, you’re on your way back, you’ve got this… and then, you’re on your back, starting over.
It’s the look in the mirror on the morning after: Bewildered, frightened eyes filled with deflation, defeat and the shame of another starting over, another day one. It’s that feeling of desperation when you try to decide whether to admit that you slipped, knowing that you’ll have to tell on yourself, or to just pretend again that it didn’t happen. It’s the guilt of owning that you used or drank again and revealing to someone else. Then it’s that look of pathetic pseudo-sympathy from a clueless family member or their patronizing pat on the back that makes you so sick to your stomach that you wish you would have just shut the f— up about it — or lied and never said a word.
I really don’t know the statistics on how many of us have had to start again. But I know I remember the feeling it was never going to take, like I was never going to be able to stay sober. I felt that I had tried everything and failed. Again.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, like other chronic ailments such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, there is no cure for addiction. There is only treatment. This therapy must continue uninterrupted for the life of the patient.
There is a stigma attached to those of us with the disease of addiction: That it is our fault. We chose this. We deserve the misery because we have a lack of willpower and a weakness of character. Maybe some of that opinion can be justified — maybe — but emerging science has determined that the brain is changed by the constant use of mind-altering substances. To recover, this medical condition must be addressed and managed with a comprehensive plan. Like other diseases or chronic illnesses, it’s a lifelong journey. No cure, only treatment.
When I left detox in June 2014, I was a mess. I was worried about whether I still had a job. I was wondering what I would say to my kids. I was wishing that the house that was my surrogate bar would magically disappear and I would not have to return to that prison that represented my life as an alcoholic.
The rest of the world might not have seen this, since I had crafted this pseudo-hip executive-dude persona during the day and a slick former-minor-rock star character on the weekends. It was a sham. In reality, I was totally alone and did not know where to turn. And worse yet, I was unaware that I was not done yet. There were four, maybe five, one-night relapses up ahead for me.
The unpredictable nature of my demon had me living in a terror-filled, baffled state of mind, always aware that at any moment the alter-ego alcoholic could show up unexpectedly. I was exhausted.
Finally and mercifully, with the help of counseling and daily support of a group of similar souls and the miracle of our connection, I would put together a small but consistent streak of sobriety that would eventually lead to the five-plus years that I live with now. Every day is a gift in recovery from addiction.
So, if you’re reading this and you see yourself here, what can you do?
Step one: Tell on yourself. Find or check back in with your support team. If a 12-step program is your thing, hit a meeting and come clean. Let the people who love you in your recovery program love you until you can love yourself.
In the end, we all just have 24 hours a day. Hold onto the truth that a better, more worthwhile, more meaningful life is out there. Being well again is possible if you can do the next right thing. What separates the Sober Baddasses from the newcomers is just more miles of travel on the recovery road.
And if you think about it, that means they have a finely-honed skill: The ability to stay standing. Did you fall down? Get up. Do it again. Stay standing when relapse causes you the temporary loss of your dignity. Stay standing when relapse has caused you to hurt a dearly loved, caring partner. Stay standing when relapse takes a comrade in recovery.
Climb to your feet, wipe your tears, and stand, clenched fist in the air. It’s the only thing that works. Try again, then again, and again if needed. Just stay standing.