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What Does Relapse Look Like?

You completed a 28 day residential alcohol/other drug treatment program. You agreed with your case manager that you were not ready to go home. You had begun to build a foundation of recovery but you needed a little more time, in a structured environment to develop some additional recovery tools. Your Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and your family agreed. You moved in to Sober Living with six other people in early sobriety. A home with a House Manager to assist you in staying accountable and learning the “rules” of healthy living. There were rules, curfews, assignment of chores but, most importantly, you were in a small group of like minded people, creating a family environment all cheering for one another and supporting one another in healthy choices.

You began an Outpatient Treatment Program. You went for three hours five days a week and four hours on Saturday with your family members. You found a little part time job, a “get well job” they called it, you called your sponsor every day and you met with your sponsor once a week. You were home almost every evening for dinner and shared the meal with most of your roommates. You had a House Meeting at your Sober Living once a week. You went to five, sometimes six Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week. You made a 90 day commitment to your House Manager and your Outpatient Program. Your sponsor had you reading the book Alcoholics Anonymous and you started the12 step process.

Life was good. It was exciting. You can’t remember when you were this happy. You were developing friendships. People were genuinely happy to see you. You laughed a lot and began to once again enjoy a social life with these people in Alcoholics Anonymous who seemed to understand you like few of your former friends ever had.

You picked up a 90 day chip at your AA meeting and you began to look around. You were still living in Sober Living. Most of your new friends in recovery lived with their families or had their own apartments. You seemed to be the only one with a curfew. When you presented this fact to your sponsor, you were reminded of your house mates in sober living. They were your friends and they had the same curfew you did. “Yes,” you agreed, “but only two of the five were there when I moved in and one of them is preparing to move out at the end of the month”.

You weren’t prepared to move out. Your job paid enough to meet your current living expenses and leave you with an adequate amount to make contributions in your meetings and maintain a full social life but there wasn’t enough for a full rent on an apartment, even if you had a roommate, and you know moving home to your mother’s is not healthy.

If you didn’t have Outpatient every day you would be able to get a full time job and make more money. Your discharge plan from residential treatment included 90 days of Outpatient Services. You had completed 60. You weren’t sure what 30 more days could add to your life. After all, you lived in sober living, you were attending five AA meetings a week, you worked steps with a sponsor and your entire life centered around sober people.

It seemed easy to find a full time job. You notified the Out Patient Program but you didn’t notify your sponsor. You would talk about it the next time you met.

Adjusting to the new job took time and energy. In the first two weeks you were only able to attend two of your regular meetings and the first week you had to cancel your meeting with your sponsor. By the third week everything seemed to be going well. You put together a saving plan for yourself. You figured you would be able to move out of sober living in two months.

When you finally presented your plan, your sponsor wasn’t happy. A foundation for recovery from alcoholism requires many things. Among them are consistency, structure and accountability. How many violations of these simple principles are found in taking an action contrary to the commitment you had made to an Outpatient Program, in missing regularly scheduled meetings and in making life changing decisions and taking actions without any consultation?

You have not had a drink but you have stepped in to relapse mode.

Let’s look ahead three years.

Your job has been very fulfilling. You have been promoted a number of times. Your supervisor and your peers respect you and the work you do. They may or may not be aware that you are an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous. You live in your own apartment. When you left Sober Living you had a roommate in the apartment but your financial situation is such that that is no longer necessary and you enjoy having your own space.

You attend four meetings a week and you have commitments at two of those meetings. You sponsor others and you continue to work with your sponsor. Your social life still centers mostly around other sober people but lately it’s not quite as active as it’s been. After your Home Group you may go to dinner with a group of people. They go every week but you only join them about twice a month. You are tired after a long day at work. When you told your sponsor that you were asked, “don’t you think others in the group work as well? Don’t you think they are tired?” You had been thinking about changing sponsors for a while. You needed to take care of yourself. You felt the comments had been insensitive. You could not see it was simply your perception.

Six months later, you hadn’t found a new sponsor and you weren’t working with your old sponsor. You were no longer asking for direction or insight. Your sponsor would say things like, “I will be here when you need me”. There was no pressure and you appreciated that. You already had too much pressure in your life.

Your job had gotten more and more demanding. Some of the demands were real and some you had put on yourself although you were unable to distinguish which was which. You were only attending two meetings and week. There was no time for fellowshipping after the meeting. You had been sponsoring but no one was calling anymore. You were withdrawing and isolating more and more.

Three and a half years sober and you have stepped in to relapse mode.

And let’s look ahead to six years sober.

You have married. Your spouse is not in AA and does not understand your need to attend meetings. After all, you are six years sober. You explain the disease the best you can and the two of you agree attending one meeting a week will be adequate. Your favorite meeting has always been the speaker meeting on Sunday. You choose that one.

You both have good jobs and make good money. It isn’t long before you are able to buy a house. You both like to camp and in a short amount of time you have a boat and a camper and almost every weekend is spent camping. Now getting to the Sunday meeting regularly is difficult. You get home from camping and the boat and camper have to be cleaned. Laundry needs to be done along with other preparations for the work week.

After a short period of time, you start to become irritable. You are snapping at people at work and eventually at home. You are not happy with the work the people you supervise are accomplishing and soon you are beginning to criticize your spouse as well. When people are around you, you feel as though you can’t breathe and you want to push them away.

You don’t enjoy camping any more. You want to get rid of the camper or you want a bigger camper. You don’t use the boat enough to justify owning it. You put it up for sale without consulting your spouse.

At six years sober you have stepped in to relapse mode.

Two weeks later, you were at your sister’s wedding. It was a gorgeous service and the reception was spectacular. You were happy for your sister. You like her husband. You will enjoy having him for a brother-in-law. The waiter passes by with a tray of champagne. You reach out a take a glass and drink it.

You have relapsed.

Relapse begins long before an alcoholic picks up a drink. It can be intervened on. If you see a friend moving away from recovery, they have entered relapse mode. Point it out. Point it out more than once. Keep pointing it out. “But, isn’t this codependency?” I like to call it, “helping to keep people alive”.

Alcoholics in recovery continue to do a lot of hard work. They experience the results of the hard work in many ways. They experience the joys of a full life. For some the full life seems to subtly begin to keep them from the thing that provided the full life. If they get complacent about doing the work they will begin to give up pieces of their full life. It may be such a slow process they won’t even notice. Without intervention the alcoholic will eventually drink and the insanity of alcoholic drinking will follow close behind.

By: Patti

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