I COULD HAVE RELAPSED MONDAY

When I left the dentist’s office on Monday, I suddenly found myself sitting in a fairly dangerous combination of emotional states. I was feeling extreme ELATION (that is was over and that I was brave) and TERROR (that it was about to start hurting like a motherfucker once the anesthetic wore off). I felt like I should be celebrating (YAY, COURAGE!) and also girding my loins for the inevitable onslaught of pain that surely was just around the corner. I deserved lollipops. I deserved parades……  I deserved vodka.

The thought entered my mind without any active participation on my part. In a split second, the entire process flashed through my head like a film in fast forward: Me in the liquor store and then me at home with a glass full and then me dicking around aimlessly on the internet until I passed out. It was the middle of the day and no one was home. No one would know. I’d have plenty of time to get myself in working order and shower and flood my mouth with Listerine to cover one antiseptic smell with another.

SHUT UP, STUPID FUCKING IDIOT. I said this under my breath and pushed the thought back out of me. In total, the entire rapid fire thought process probably lasted no more than 2 seconds. It never turned into a real craving. My mouth didn’t water. I didn’t feel the rush of the recreated warmth that your body can so easily reproduce if you think too long about swallowing liquor. That feeling I got just now as I typed this out. That burn and momentary hug. How frightening that my mind can make that feeling happen without a drink.

So, after I cussed myself out on the street, I went to the drugstore, got some extra gauze and some treats that I could eat, and went home where I rested and took care of myself like a human being who just had a tooth ripped out should.

Thoughts like these flicker in and out of focus from time to time. Towards the beginning, they happened regularly and I managed them by checking in with other alcoholics, immediately binge listening to recovery podcasts, or hopping online and reading old posts from sobriety bloggers just like you might be doing right now. As time has gone on, the thoughts have become fewer and further between and are easily quieted by a swift kick to my own ass through internalized self-talk. Sometimes even OUTLOUD if I’m really taken aback at my brain’s stupidity. And I am very fortunate that up to this point, I’ve never really had a close call where such thoughts ran the risk of turning themselves into a relapse.

Monday was no different and I knew I had no intention of drinking. And I didn’t drink. But in hindsight, there is something a little more unsettling about the chain of thoughts I experienced when leaving the dentist when compared to other random drinking thoughts I’ve had in the past. Usually, drinking brain farts seem to be random for me. They are rarely motivated by anything specific. But these thoughts were connected to a traumatic event. Something had just happened that was, for me, extraordinarily stressful and frightening. And for a split second I not only considered alcohol as a solution and a reward, but I also considered myself DESERVING of getting drunk because of what I had just experienced. IT’S WHAT PEOPLE DO when something hard just happened. It’s how people cope. And you are no different. That was scary, you are about to be hurt, and you overcame fear. So go be like everyone else and claim your reward.

A dentist appointment and tooth extraction are not anywhere near the worst I will ever experience. But still, here were the thoughts of self-medicating and using my old friend to cope. It got me thinking about my preparedness for life events that could… will… eventually come my way. Relationships can end. People can die. Jobs can be lost. Houses can burn down. And am I ready? Surely the same thoughts will bubble up in one of those instances and I would also assume that the intensity of the thoughts are proportionate to the severity of the trauma experienced.

NO FUTURE TRIPPING. This is something I hear a lot. Just do the work thoroughly, reach out, and if/when those fleeting thoughts convert themselves into actual cravings that threaten sobriety, think through the drink. Think it through from start to finish. See where you’ll end up before you put the glass to your lips. Live one day at a time. Don’t create problems that haven’t happened yet.

Yes. All of those suggestions are valid and helpful and it all makes sense. But I think it is entirely normal to ask the question: WILL I BE READY WHEN SHIT HITS THE FAN? As of right now and at this very moment, the resolve I feel to remain sober seems unbreakable. But I know that confidence can be vastly misleading. It’s evident by the countless people we eventually come in contact with who have suffered a relapse in the past. Myself included. Six months before my big breakup happened in 2008, there was no way in hell you could have convinced me that six months down the road I would be passed out drunk on the living room floor of my empty apartment. Not possible. I was sober, strong, and had NO desire to drink, thank you very much. But that’s exactly what happened.

As someone who has relapsed in the past, I suppose the good news is that I have a reference point. I know that leading up to that relapse, I had stopped doing any recovery work. I had stopped seeing or speaking regularly to people immersed in sobriety. I was flying solo and seemed to be doing okay as I surrounded myself with busy work, art, etc. It wasn’t enough and it all came falling down.

I now know that should something awful happen like a death, I am DOOMED if I’m not in active recovery. That’s not the same as simply not drinking. Because for me, relapse wasn’t conscious. It didn’t happen gradually. I didn’t think to myself Oh. Ok. This is painful. This hurts. Let’s have a drink. It just suddenly WAS. It was as if I was forcefully strapped down to a chair emotionally and I watched myself do the things that led me to another six years of misery. Yes, I was DOING the things. I suppose possession is a fairly accurate way to describe it. Or when you get put under for surgery and that few hours of unconsciousness feels like alien abduction. It just is gone and you don’t remember it or how it could have possibly came to pass. All because I was unprepared. I wasn’t at the ready. I let my guard down. I stopped treating my disease.

The little stupid shit storm that went through my brain on Monday was easily snuffed out. These days, I always have on armor. And I guess the real issue here is not whether or not I have the ability to stay sober in the face of great obstacles. The question is whether or not I’ve kept myself armed when those things eventually come.  

 

14 comments

  1. Great post and I wonder these things too. It isn’t like a big flashing sign saying relapse appears above your head – it’s a slow gradual slipping of thoughts until you’re there picking up a drink. Scary really …

  2. I worry about traumatic events leading me back to my wine too, but was scares me even more are those moments when the thought pops up out of nowhere and feels very convincing and given the right set of circumstances-the setting, company, availability of alcohol, I worry about my self-control. I don’t crave it, didn’t have physical withdrawal symptoms from it (getting ready to celebrate 5 months sober next week) and haven’t been “missing” it. Yet, I have been knocked off course and challenged twice in the last 2 months and although I didn’t act on it, I can see how easily it could be to just say fuck it. THAT is what scares me most. Those moments that blindside you just when you thought you had your shit together. Thank you for your post and I’m really glad you didn’t make it to the liquor store!

    1. Those moments that blindside you are frightening but I’m grateful for them because they are like a slap in the face and they keep us from getting too confident and then eventually complacent. While they are uncomfortable, I wonder if continuous smooth sailing is more dangerous in that comfort=relaxation=falling asleep.

  3. I remember times like these at the very first year…not saying that it doesn’t happen after that, but it does get less & less.Early on, my Mom fell & broke her hip! I was thee only source of help as my brother doesn’t drive & my sis was on a cruise!!(I cussed her out plenty in my head) I still had to work and make tons of trips to the hospital AND make sure my brother had what he needed….I thought to myself a drink would sure make me feel better & calm my nerves…that’s where OUR brain goes instinctively!! I thought about the 4 or 5 drinks after that and remembered that black hole I was in for soo many years. No one, not ANY normal person knows what that feels like except for us alcoholics!! We share things like this so we can know that there is someone else in this world that got through it and DID NOT have to numb our fears…love ya John…keep it up. Were all doing this together!

    1. Thanks, Patti! Yeah, it’s never A drink. It’s always 800 drinks. And then our willingness and resolve to lead a healthy sober life melts away and it’s so difficult to get back. Not worth it. Ever. For any reason.

  4. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this post. Now I can check that vision of – being in the liquor store, drinking just that afternoon, hiding it perfectly, and going along the next day as if nothing had ever happened – from the list of things that make this alcoholic terminally unique. Your strength helped me today.

  5. This post is great. Thinking through the drink is something I have had a problem with when I tried to get sober before. It is great advice and something to keep in mind. I love your posts. Really helping me out as I begin day 3 here.

    1. Glad it’s helping a bit! Keep going. Yeah, I often wish there was a button on my body that I could push when I have a craving that will take me back (just momentarily) to the worst moment I experienced in my drinking. Instead, I have to be disciplined and put myself back there from time to time so I don’t forget. It was all bullshit. And if I drink again, it will all be bullshit once more.

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