relapse

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.  

 

OUR TRUE INDEPENDENCE DAY

On May 6th, 2012, I developed a nasty tooth abscess overnight and woke up in the morning with my face doing its best impression of a fucking beach ball. The boyfriend and I had gone out for dinner the night before with a few friends and I had done it up pretty hardcore. Having pre-gamed before leaving the house, the many carafes of wine at the Greek restaurant down the street did a number on me and instead of OPA!, I was screaming something more along the lines of SDLJKFHHGS. At this point in my drinking career, I had been heavily consuming alcohol since October 2008 which marked the end of my three years of previous sobriety.

As I began to come out of my stupor early Sunday morning, the pain was excruciating. I audibly began moaning and went to the bathroom and stared in horror at myself. Not only did I have one of the worst hangovers I have ever experienced, it felt as if someone were driving a knife into the side of my head. I knew something was terribly wrong but I returned to bed like I always did and rocked myself back and forth trying to will away the pain and suffering. My boyfriend feverishly searched the internet on his phone for directions regarding what we should do. The obvious answer was to go to the dentist but it was Sunday and there were none nearby that were open. The emergency dental places in the city said to either come all the way in OR go to an urgent care/emergency room so they could at least treat the infection. He tried desperately to get me to get up, get dressed, and go. I refused. For hours I lay there in agony because the hangover was so paralyzing that going anywhere at that moment seemed absolutely impossible. I was also terrified about what else the physicians might find out about me and what my boyfriend might be able to deduce from their examination and response to my condition. He was furious with me and after loitering around the gates of Hell for what seemed like eternity, I finally got up and put on clothes.

Somehow I made it to the urgent care and they proceeded to do a normal check up. The doctor and nurse made no effort to hide their terror and seemed borderline disgusted by me. The tooth, which I knew was going to eventually give me problems, was massively infected. My blood pressure was dangerously high. So high that when the nurse took the reading, she looked like she was on a really scary rollercoaster with the ghost of Whitney Houston. She took it FIVE times to confirm the reading and immediately got the doctor. They gave me medication and made me sit still for a long while until it came down. They asked if I drank. I told them not really. They gave me a look that said, “GIRL, PLEASE.” I’m certain I still smelled like shitty bar floor from the night before. They weren’t well equipped to do anything more than triage my situation and I left with a prescription for antibiotics, Percocet, and blood pressure medication. They told me to get in to see a dentist and primary care physician immediately. Which I didn’t do.

Once home, I took a few of the pain pills along with the antibiotics, did a lot of crying, and secretly vowed to get sober because I knew that all of my problems and my inability to take care of myself and my health were a direct result of my disease. Even then, I knew I was an alcoholic. I had spent enough time in recovery previously to not have any delusions about what was actually going on.

I coasted through the first week of “sobriety” high as a kite on pain killers and the infection subsided thanks to the antibiotics. I was so fucking proud of myself that I wasn’t drinking alcohol as I sat glassy eyed on the couch eating pudding and staring at my belly button while in a glorious opioid wonderland. And then the prescription ran out. Luckily, the alcohol withdrawals had already passed for the most part and I hadn’t been on the painkillers long enough to develop a dependency. But I suddenly found myself ACTUALLY dry and not at all happy about it.

Somehow I made it through two entire months without alcohol. I wasn’t doing any work whatsoever on the actual problem. I wasn’t blogging, I wasn’t going to meetings, and I wasn’t touching base with others to remain accountable. I thought I could solve every problem I had by simply keeping alcohol from going down my throat. Even though I had gone through the recovery process before and knew what “dry drunk” meant, I had entirely forgotten how sobriety actually worked. Relapse DOES erase a great deal of visceral knowledge. You can know something in your head but you do forget what that knowledge feels like in your body and in action. I thought I was doing amazingly. I was going to the gym, I was dropping some weight, my blood pressure readings were going down, and I didn’t feel hungover all of the time.

And then it was the morning of July 4th and I was sitting with my boyfriend in our living room feeling good and clear headed and I said, “Let’s make some drinks and celebrate!” He agreed. You’ve got to realize that he had no idea that I was an alcoholic or perhaps didn’t fully comprehend what that meant in the first place. I’m sure he knew my drinking was weird sometimes but I don’t think he had the insight to know that something needed to change. He just thought that I had some health issues and I was being responsible and cutting back.

We made margaritas, watched movies, ate badly, and smoked cigarettes on the front stoop. I distinctly remember sitting there thinking to myself THIS DOESN’T FEEL GOOD. THIS DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT. THIS ISN’T MAKING ME HAPPY RIGHT NOW. I’M GOING TO DIE SOON. I’M GOING TO DIE.

Completely terrified that it was back inside of me, I proceeded to drink even more. That terror turned back into apathy. And I stayed drunk for almost another TWO YEARS before celebrating my TRUE independence day of April 14th, 2014.

I don’t consider this instance a relapse. My relapse started in 2008 when THE SIX YEAR HANGOVER began. This was a blip. This was textbook example of getting dry, not getting sober. I stopped drinking out of an immediate and pressing fear for my health but I never stopped with the intent of stopping forever. My fucked up logic assured me that I would just lay off until my health improved and then I would start back up drinking NORMALLY rather than alcoholically. Over the past 80 days, I look back at those two months without alcohol and desperately wish those months could have been these 80 days and that I would be two years sober now. But our stories have a way of writing themselves sometimes. Not even direct evidence that I could stroke out or have a heart attack at the age of THIRTY was enough to get me back in the program for good. And that’s terrifying to me. Terrifying enough to hold you all close and keep going.

This Friday, I plan on celebrating myself and my escape and independence from a monster like none other. And I hope you’ll do the same.

I WOULD HAVE BEEN SOBER NINE YEARS BY NOW

I’m a double agent. Hm. No. Let’s be real here. It’s more like a triple agent. The fucked up web of lies, deceit, and isolation caused by my disease has turned my life and the people in it into the equivalent of a giant fisherman’s tackle box. Or like one of those plastic containers that keeps your pills separate from one another. There are people from my past that don’t know people in my present. And purposefully so. There ARE people from my past that DO know people from my present and keeping their interactions to a minimum has always been very exhausting. You see, there are things that people from the past know; things that people in the present do not know. And vice versa. It has been a constant struggle keeping people in their compartments and only opening the lids to their sections when necessary. There are other people that I sectioned off where the lid has been kept closed for years. The relationship may be dead for all I know. Friends that have faded into memories. Friends that probably wondered what happened to us or why I disappeared. Maybe some of them can deduce why. Maybe some of them don’t care why.

While I know I’m not really ready, I am very aware of the mess I’m going to have to eventually clean up. And a fucking Swiffer ain’t going to cut it.

My descent into wild and wonderful world of alcoholism started in 2002-ish at the age of 20 when I was just a precious and cute little arrogant asshole. The disease progressed rapidly reaching physical dependency and medical crisis in 2004. Without getting into the details of my hospitalization itself (that is its own post), let’s just say I nearly died at a very very young age (22). My sickness was blatantly public and everyone in my family knew what had happened. I got sober, developed a new circle of friends, artistically explored my sobriety in a very public way, etc. I was an advocate for recovery and no one hesitated talking to me about my own experiences or their own concerns with their own questionable behavior.

Then in 2008, I very casually and without much fanfare, relapsed. Here’s a post about that. My relapse coincided with the end of a relationship and a professional opportunity which required relocation. This is when my life began to fracture and compartmentalize socially and the various sections where I kept certain people began being born. It has gotten quite complex so to break it all down, here is a guide to various social vestibules in my people pill keeper container of a life:

  • There are the family and friends that I moved away from due to work who think I am still sober from my first go at recovery. In their minds, I have been sober since February 2005 and if they were to do the math, they would assume I just recently celebrated NINE YEARS of sobriety. That freaks me out and makes me wish it were true. Some of these people (my mom specifically) I’m sure are suspicious or think/know that I have not stayed sober this entire time. If they are, they don’t say anything. And neither do I. These are people I will need to come clean to about my relapse and newfound recovery. They will be disappointed, shocked, or relieved that their fears were finally corroborated and justified and will be happy that I’m finally getting help again.
  • There is the very small handful of old and ostracized friends that know about my relapse. I somehow manipulated them into allowing me to drink the way I wanted to even though they initially expressed concern and were terrified by the fact that they saw me suddenly with a beer in my hand at a bar in 2008. They were not happy about it but did very little to stop me. Ultimately, I moved away and in addition to the physical distance that separated us, I emotionally and socially distanced myself from them because they would have made it difficult for me to continue drinking and would have threatened my newly forming relationships by possibly revealing my past. These are the people that I need to acknowledge my relapse to even though they already know. I need to tell them I finally recognize it is a problem and make amends for selfishly choosing alcohol over them and causing them concern. I need to try to repair those friendships where I can.
  • There are the NEW relationships formed since relapsing and moving from home in 2008. I fear that this group of people poses the most challenges for me because it means admitting that I formed and developed relationships based on lies. None of them know I had a problem with drinking in the past. This is why none of them know any of my old friends. That was my doing. Specifically, I’m going to have to work through the challenge of discussing with my boyfriend the extent of my prior problem and how life threatening my illness was/is. He knows that I’ve dealt with substance issues but doesn’t know the details about my near death experience and hospitalization which makes my six year dabble with the sauce seem even more irresponsible and fucked up. Yes, it’s a disease and yes, if I had any say in it then it would have never have happened. But it did. And it did impact our relationship. And now I have to tell him how I kept things from him that I never should have. At the same time, there are current new friends that really only need to know that I have a drinking problem now and that I’m getting help. While not cool, my omission about my past prior to knowing them really shouldn’t cause too many ripples. I can’t see any of them being irreparably offended.

I’m trying to take it easy on myself. I need to work through these things at my own pace and keep reminding myself that this is not a race. There is time and right now I need to heal physically and deal with the immediate fallout and trauma. But it’s so very hard when you’re on the phone with your mother and you almost blurt out, “I’m 45 days sober today, mom!!!” before catching yourself and thinking, OH SHIT NO I’M NINE YEARS SOBER. NINE YEARS. It’s very hard to be watching a medical show with your boyfriend where they mention pancreatitis and you have to pretend like you don’t know what that is even though it almost killed you. It’s agonizing to have to FUCKING PRETEND that recovery is a new thing to me and that I’m learning concepts for the first time. How incredibly stupid does that sound?? When talking to my boyfriend, I actually think about how I’m phrasing things so I don’t give away the fact that I’ve been through this before and that I already know the drill. I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far. I feel good about it. So good in fact that I almost tell friends things like, “No PAWS symptoms all week, Linda! HIGH FIVE, SUGARMAMA!” Then I bite my tongue. Linda doesn’t even know about me and my problem yet. Also, I don’t actually have a friend named Linda so everyone stop picturing Linda in your head. It’s a waste of time.

I had some people tell me a few weeks back that I should just tell everyone and anyone. People talking to me like I don’t know what it means to be proud of my sobriety. People talking to me like I’ve never walked this walk or assume that I know nothing about advocacy even though I’ve done this all before. And I just have to be okay with that and not let it bother me. Ego shedding underway. They don’t mean anything bad by it and they don’t know me. They’re just trying to help. But just between us girls, know that I DO know what it’s like to proudly scream about my sobriety from the rooftops. I’ve done it. I’ve had that. And if you’ve never experienced it, just know that it feels fucking amazing. And I want it back. I’m going to get it back.

RELAPSE: THAT TYPICAL DAY IN OCTOBER

That typical day in October of 2008 was just like any other. There were no orange cones and flashing hazard lights. There was no sign with the word ‘relapse’ written all over it. I didn’t wake up and say to myself, “Hey! You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’? Mmmhmm. Time to throw away the past three years of sobriety. Alcoholic asshole brain: ACTIVATE!”

Now that I think it through, there actually were warning signs. The actively seeking recovery me is now able to identify what happened and what went horribly wrong. After about a year into my first round of sobriety, I began to coast. I put on cruise control and got really busy and involved in my career. I was CRAVING fulfillment in my artistic and professional life after spending so many years in the gutter being completely worthless. So I threw myself into it and slowly stopped making time for the work that would keep me sober and sane. Obviously, it wasn’t intentional. I was extremely confident in my sobriety even though I stopped working a program and for the longest time I had absolutely no issue attending events and going to parties without having a drink. I could have gone to a pool party and swam around in 10,000 gallons of vodka and would be sure not to swallow a drop but still have a great time and retain my status as the life of the party. It was just my normal and I was THRIVING. I didn’t want alcohol. I was doing so well without it. I thought I was finally free and would never have to even think about it again for the rest of my life. And maybe if everything kept going swimmingly and without a hitch, I could have maintained my sobriety even longer than 3 years. But things didn’t keep going swimmingly. And that typical day in October finally came.

At the time, I had been in a relationship that had lasted about 8 years and started when I was very young, unformed, and not at all knowing what I was looking for in a companion. Over the course of a few months, everything began to unravel and conversations began being had about splitting up and going our separate ways. It was extremely traumatizing for us both and although we weren’t married (we aren’t allowed to be because yay America!), every part of our lives were so comingled that I can’t refer to the separation as anything other than divorce. I continued with my artistic pursuits, kept working really hard, and tried my best to deal with the horrific emotional pain. We lived together for several months after having split. It was by far one of the most damaging and difficult things I’ve ever had to deal with. To this day, I still feel guilt about the whole thing and regret not having ended it sooner than I did.

That typical day in October of 2008 had me follow my normal routine. I went to work, then went to a rehearsal, and then went to a bar next door with a friend as I had done without drinking dozens of times. I ordered a hard cider, did damage control and convinced the friend it was okay. Everyone knew I was sober. I lied and said I had been drinking beer and cider for a long while and I was totally fine with it. I drank the cider, got buzzed, went home, and went to sleep. These singular drinking incidents began happening about once a week at first. Then I found myself at that bar a few times a week. Sometimes alone. The boyfriend finally moved out and I quickly progressed to drinking wine at home. I stuck to wine and beer and refused to pick up vodka, my drink of choice. It would be about 1.5 years into my relapse before I caved and traded the wine and beer for my old 80 proof friend.

Nearly six years later, I woke up. That typical day in October 2008 was a very distant memory. Who the fuck WAS that person who so carelessly threw it all away? How did he go from adamantly sober and self-assured to this? I was dumbfounded. Terrified. I felt as if I had been abducted. Possessed. Guided by something outside of me for the past six years. And now I had a mess to clean up but I forgot how to.

I’m very very fortunate. This time I stopped before it progressed to the physical dependency stage. I remember that clearly. 2004 was a year of vomiting in the morning, drinking to stop shaking, barely being able to speak or do anything remotely normal. But in 6 years time, I didn’t wind up back there and I have no idea why. I could have easily killed myself and cannot explain any of this away.

My first go at sobriety was built on an almost non-existent foundation and was propped up by ego, fear, and professional distraction. For years, the winds remained calm and because nothing came crashing down, that false sense of security was reinforced. A massive storm was on the horizon and I was clueless to its approach. My relationship began to fall apart. The winds began to blow. And my makeshift structure of ill-conceived “sobriety” crashed to the ground.

I know things now that I didn’t know then. For example, I know that I can never stop attending to my disease if I want to stay sober and accomplish my goals and have a family. I know that in those moments where I feel like nothing could possibly take me down, I must swiftly check my ego at the door and remind myself that I am still very much sick and that with continuous and proper care and treatment, I can lead a happy and healthy life.

But I must say, I am still very traumatized by what happened to me after I thought I was totally better.

I’m terrified of another relapse. Because it can happen to anyone caught off guard. I don’t intend for it to and I plan on doing everything in my power to prevent it. But there is always the possibility and no one is immune to it and that thought has to be one of the most frightening things imaginable.

I’m terrified that after I hit ‘publish’ on this post and immortalize my thoughts forever on the internet, years could go by and someone like you might find this blog and read these words and wonder why the posts just stopped again on another typical day in October.