Remembering

I recently passed the date where a year ago I relapsed after rehab. I felt strange about it all day, just kind of uneasy. Not that I was worried that I would relapse again. Just that all the memories were coming back to me.

It’s easy these days to go a long time without having to think about what happened to me. I’m able to push it out of my mind and forget about it. And when it resurfaces, even just for a moment, I have feelings of sadness.

It was a hard day for me that day. My husband had been in a serious accident. I was only home for about three weeks at that time. The experience was just too much for me. And instead of employing the safe coping strategies I had been taught at rehab, I fell back to my old ways. It was almost too easy to drift back to that place. I justified it to myself by saying, I’ve been to rehab, I’m good. One drink to take the edge off will be fine.

Well, I know full well now that one drink will never be fine. I can’t ever go there again. It simply doesn’t work for me anymore.

I recalled how sad and scared I was that day, both about my husband and also about stepping over the line again and drinking. There was so much uncertainty in my mind. Remembering myself in those scared, lost moments makes me very sad. I’m sad that I was ever that person. And I’m scared of someday becoming that person again.

Not drinking is much easier these days. I hardly ever think of it at all, even when I’m having a particularly stressful day. I’ve got a lot of other things I can do to get past it, and I do that instead. But sometimes the memory of being so deep in alcoholism that I knew no way out, and the memory of sad, stressful times in my life, they get the best of me. I try to talk it out, but I can’t quite find the words for exactly how I feel.

People in my life are worried I will relapse when I talk about feeling sad or stressed. I don’t worry about that, but I do wish away the bad feelings. I have been taught to sit with the feelings, analyze them, really let myself feel them. And also remind myself that the bad feelings will eventually pass, and things will feel ok again. That can be more difficult to do in practice than it seems in theory. I still struggle with this.

If you find yourself on the brink of relapse, I urge you to reach out to someone, anyone. A counselor, a friend, your spouse. There’s no feeling so big that someone won’t be willing to help you with it. And once you talk it out, it’s likely you won’t feel such an urge to drink. Once you let out all the feelings, and talk them out with someone, they seem less heavy, more manageable.

You can always find another way out. Going backwards doesn’t get you out, it sinks you further down. You need to keep moving forward, and moving on.

Danger Lurks

For today, I have chosen to talk about the safe coping strategy:

Watch for danger signs. Face a problem before it becomes huge, notice red flags.

In recovery, it’s important to be very aware of all of your emotions and thoughts, as well as external forces you face. Everything from having a fleeting craving to a life problem that crops up and threatens to be a trigger.

It’s important to be fully self-aware and know when we are putting ourselves and our sobriety in danger. Or, to listen to loved ones when they express concern. If you ignore the signs, they get bigger and worse, and can result in real damage.

In AA, alcoholism is described as the “cunning and baffling” disease. That is, it creeps up on you and takes hold of you before you’ve realized what has happened. Part of this is being unaware of the danger signs and red flags in your life.

My relapse is proof that ignoring danger signs can have a detrimental effect on your sobriety. I was completely depressed, overly anxious, having some big life events happening and I was craving alcohol like crazy.

I held out for a while, but I never sought help or discussed what was happening with anyone. Talking it out with my husband, counselor or psychiatrist could have prevented my relapse. Recognizing what was happening in my life and in my mind could have helped me regain control.

It’s also important not to insert yourself into dangerous situations. A party with friends where alcohol or drugs will be present is a good example. You want to be with your friends, but you might not be ready to be in a setting where you will need to resist the urge to use. It is especially important to be careful with friends who do not support your sobriety, or friends you actively used with in the past. You may feel strong and confident, but being in this setting can be a giant trigger. If you decide to attend, be sure to leave if you start to feel unsafe.

In the earliest stages of recovery, it’s very important to stay away from dangerous situations. You are in a critical time where you are changing the way you live and think, and falling back into old patterns are the very first steps toward relapse. I am a living example of that.

The concept of facing a problem before it becomes huge is a good way to view this safe coping strategy. We will all be put into emotionally vulnerable places, and problems will come up. We can’t stop life from happening to us. So, it’s important to recognize dangerous situations and life problems as they happen, and not let ourselves get so caught up in them that it’s too late to fix.

I left rehab with long list of “warning signs” for relapse. But, I ignored them all, and allowed myself to falter down that path. The key is to be aware, pay attention, get help when you need it and do not allow yourself to slip into denial. If you feel on edge, uneasy, there’s a problem. If you’re taking part in activities you suspect you should not, there’s a problem. If you’re isolating yourself from loved ones, if you’re feeling out of sorts, if you’re losing the desire to do the positive things in your life, there’s a problem.

Stop, take a moment to dissect the feelings and get to the bottom of what’s bothering you. Then, separate yourself from it or fix it. If you allow it to creep in, it will get the better of you. You may be able to push it off for a while, but eventually it will get you.

Keep your future goals in mind, and ask yourself, will putting myself in this situation give me a good chance at reaching those goals, or will it hinder my progress? If you suspect it will hold you back, or completely set you back, it’s time to cut it out of your life. Remove yourself from the dangerous situation. This is how you move onward and upward.

Relapse

I have returned to rehab for a while, because I had a relapse. And it was a big one. A very bad one. Things have significantly changed for me personally and professionally as a result.

They say that relapse is very normal. And not to beat yourself up too much about it. But I just can’t help but think to myself that all of this could have been avoided if I just. didn’t. drink. So much of my time in rehab was spent on relapse prevention, that I feel foolish to be back here again.

I feel very hopeless at the moment. I really messed things up this time. I know hope is the key to successful recovery and sobriety, so I’m also very frustrated with life and with myself. I just want things to feel “normal” again.

My counselor here has me reading a book about anxiety in general (not associated with substance abuse), and it has me realizing just how bad my anxiety really is, and for how long it has been that way. I’ve always had anxiety, my entire life. And I learned different ways to cope with it.

But the past four years of my life have been incredibly difficult and painful, and I should have sought help much sooner than I did. I tucked all of my anger, sadness, grief, doubts, anxiety, stress and pain into a neat little pocket of denial. I felt like I could handle it all. I didn’t really have it that bad, I thought. I just ignored those feelings and trudged on. Eventually I used alcohol to cope with the fact that I couldn’t handle it all on my own, and I was overflowing with negative thoughts and feelings, about myself and the world.

I got to the point where I need to begin to release those feelings, but that’s where the real work comes in. Some of it came easily, other stuff is buried deep inside. I thought when I left rehab that I’d done the work, and everything would be fine. But in truth, I only felt fine because I was in rehab. I was away from the stress and pain of my everyday life, and had been given time to focus only on myself. Once I left, focusing on myself and overcoming the stress was all up to me, and I wasn’t ready to handle it.

My words of advice right now are to avoid relapsing as much as you are able. Beginning the recovery process was an enormous task for me. And it is so much harder this time around. It’s harder on me physically to go through the withdrawals. It’s harder on my relationships to have let everyone down again. It’s harder to climb out of the pit of guilt and shame. It’s harder to view the future in a positive light.

Keep on the path, and you will feel better eventually. People would often tell me, “Each day will be a little easier than the one before it.” But, that’s simply not how it goes at all. Some days are amazing and easy and bright and you feel full of potential. Other days are difficult, dark, tiring, endless and you feel like you accomplished nothing and nothing is worth the effort. But, you have to remind yourself that although those days come, they also go. And there are brighter days ahead, if you can stay strong and committed to your sobriety.