When Relapse is Part of Addiction Recovery

alcohol addiction relapse
Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p85

I’m back! Back to writing and blogging for myself and not just for work. I wish that I could say that I’m back and I’ve stayed sober for the last couple of years, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I had a relapse in September 2019. Fortunately, it was a one-time, one-day relapse, from which I got right back on the wagon. It was a huge blow to my ego and to my self-worth, knocking me to my knees in shame and humiliation, which is probably why it’s taken me over a year to write about it. I won’t go into the gory details of that horrible day. Suffice it to say, I was an alcoholic being an alcoholic, and it wasn’t pretty. However, looking back now, I can clearly see some important lessons that I needed to learn.

Lessons My Relapse Taught Me

My relapse taught me a lot about myself, my recovery, and my loved ones. Here are a few of the most important things I learned:

I need a recovery program. In the year or so before my relapse, I had fallen away from AA. Nothing bad happened, I just allowed other aspects of my life to get in the way of going to meetings. I really think that I thought I was far out of harm’s way, that I wouldn’t drink again ever. After all, I had been sober for almost seven years. Complacency. How many times had I been warned about it in meetings? Way too many to count. Yet, I allowed it to happen to me. I know that there are some sober people who don’t need a recovery program to stay that way. I also know now, that I do.

I have to manage stress and anxiety more effectively. When I was in active addiction, the way that I coped with stress and anxiety was to drink. When I got into recovery, I learned other coping skills to manage them. Things like self-care, talking to another alcoholic, H.A.L.T. (to be aware if I am hungry, angry, lonely, or tired), going to meetings, taking a nap, writing, praying, and other healthy activities helped me handle life on life’s terms. Prior to my relapse, I had returned to old behavior, and started stuffing feelings of stress and anxiety. I didn’t use my healthy coping skills consistently, making a disaster just waiting to happen. And then it did.

You do go right back to where you left off. The only thing different about my drinking when I relapsed in relation to my old, active addiction drinking, was that I no longer had a tolerance to the booze. One of my last drunks in 2012 ended with me in the hospital following a blackout and a handful of pills. My relapse, though not as serious, ended up with a blackout and a trip to the hospital. Thank God it didn’t end in handcuffs, which happened more times than I care to share in my previous drinking.

My family loves me unconditionally. After my relapse, I felt terrible guilt and shame. But it wasn’t because of anything my husband, daughter, or stepson said or did. They were nothing but loving and supportive in the days and weeks that followed. They loved me through it, with graciousness and mercy, and I am so very grateful.

Relapse is a Part of Recovery

I’ve always hated the saying, “Relapse is part of recovery.” I felt like it justified an addict’s or alcoholic’s choice to pick up again. My feeling about it hasn’t completely changed, but it’s loosened up a bit. I can see now that for many of us who are in recovery, relapse is part of the process. It’s something that we can learn and grow from, enhancing our recovery. It’s risky though. One relapse can be (and has been, for many) a fatal action. Luckily for me, that wasn’t the case, but I certainly don’t want to risk it again. So, I will remember the truths I listed above and always remember that I am not recovered, I’m recovering – hopefully forever. 


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