I’ve been thinking of writing about relapse and since yesterday’s post stirred up some relapse discussion, I figured I would tell you my relapse story. I wasn’t a chronic relapser so I can’t tell you what that’s like. I never meant to judge anyone’s recovery experience, so I apologize if it came across that way. I forget sometimes that not everyone sees recovery the way I do, and not everyone recovers with a 12 step program. We are all different and have different journeys and I forget that. I can only share with you my experience, so that’s what I’ll do today 🙂 Hold on to your hats, this might be a long one.
In March I told you about my first meeting ever. Well it took me a few weeks to get clean after my first meeting. It took me until March 31, 2007 to be exact. That was my first clean date (sobriety date for all the AAers)! By that time I had a sponsor and was trying to get to meetings everyday. My last hoorah was late on the night March 30th and after that I never looked back…
Until I looked back. I relapsed on my 99th day clean while I was working in NYC in July 2007, Luckily for me, I didn’t relapse on that stuff. I relapsed with alcohol. But – if you aren’t aware: ALCOHOL IS A DRUG. Ha, ok, just wanted to be clear. The night I relapsed – I gave in to my disease.
Scratch that, I didn’t give in to my disease. I didn’t slip. I didn’t hit a bump in the road. I didn’t have a lapse in judgment. I didn’t fall off the wagon. I drank. I knew exactly what I was doing. I woke up that morning and decided that I didn’t want to be clean anymore because I thought “21 year olds should be able to drink if they want to.” I got up and went about my day. I even went to an NA meeting out of pure habit. I even called my sponsor (at the time) to tell her that I was going to drink. That was one of her rules: I could always reserve the right to use but I had to call her first. When she told me that on the first day of our sponsor-sponsee relationship, I thought that it was ridiculous because if I called her first, I probably would end up not using. She laughed. That was the whole point! Luckily she was in California on a trip and I got to leave her a voicemail. Loophole much?
I went to meet up with Leo at his friend’s UWS apartment. Earlier that week I’d given Leo a pretty compelling argument as to why I was allowed to drink again. Manipulation at it’s finest. Never let an addict/alcoholic tell you they can drink again safely. Always call them on their bullsh*t. So when Leo’s friend offered me a beer I said yes. I had already made up my mind. But when he brought me the beer, I brought it to my lips and my whole body was telling me not to do it. I did it anyway. I drank fast and furiously. Leo told me to slow down but I didn’t want to. I wanted to prove to myself that I could drink a lot and still be OK.
I was not OK. Three hours later, I was 8 drinks in (I was about 105 lbs that summer, so imagine) and I kept going. I didn’t feel drunk, but I definitely was. I didn’t eat dinner that night and hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in over three months. Years later Leo told me that he started feeding me non-alcoholic drinks when I was demanding more booze. I was too drunk to notice. We got food and he put me in the cab and we had to get out three blocks before his apartment because I thought I was going to puke. I did. On the side of W 66th street. So classy.
I called my sponsor crying the next morning and she told me to call all my friends in recovery and talk about what happened and then get myself to a meeting. I did what she told me and I went to a Sunday night NA meeting in the East 20s. When I found out it was a 90 Day Speaker Panel I started crying. Anyone who had acheived 90 days clean that month could get up and qualify. I’d never qualified before and I had been waiting to. I went from 99 to zero with one decision. One bad decision.
It took me a few more weeks of on-and-off drinking to realize that I just couldn’t live like that anymore. I was miserable and I was hitting up relapsing addicts for their dealer connection, although thank god I was never successful. My life was going from bad to worse. But the last night I drank I had maybe four drinks. I wasn’t drunk, I didn’t throw up, there was no hangover. A few days later I had dinner with my first NA friend in NYC when she got back from her honeymoon. She didn’t know I’d been relapsing. She suggested we go to a meeting the next night to see if anything resonated with me, to remind me why I wanted to get clean in the first place. She was right. That next night we went to a Young People’s NA meeting in the East Village (2nd and 2nd) and the girl who qualified basically told my story. It was the first time I’d ever heard “my story” told by someone else. We were practically the same person. I haven’t used/drank since hearing her story. My official clean date is a few days before that meeting
Going to that meeting showed my willingness to change, to take a leap of faith. I was willing to hear something, although not convinced I would. I didn’t go to meetings when I was relapsing because I thought didn’t truly want to be clean. I realize now that even an ounce of desire to get clean means you should go to a meeting. You never know what you might hear. My relapsing phase ended because I was willing to let people into my life, willing to listen, willing to call my sponsor, willing to go to meetings. And even with my of willingness, it was the program that got me clean. I definitely didn’t do it alone. I could never will myself sober. I had to be open to the possibility I could stay sober and I had to work very hard to stay that way. To stay away from drugs and alcohol one day at a time is something most people are never able to do. It was incredibly hard in the beginning, has gotten easier with time, but can still be a daily struggle.
If I pick up a drink or a drug tomorrow, it will be my choice, the same choice that I make not to drink or use today. I hope I continue to choose the right way for myself and I thank my higher power and my friends for helping me choose a better life every single day.
That girl who told my story, who gave me the hope to get clean again…I saw her at my home group about a year ago. She had a few weeks back in the program after being out for a while. It turns out she had been relapsing for a while. It felt odd to have more time clean than the woman who helped save my life. It just goes to show: no matter how much time you have or how many times you start over, you never know how much you can help someone else just by being clean for one day.
Do you have experience with relapse?