It is a frightening concept for a family of an addict. Relapse. It definitely kept me awake at night. And it happened to us. MANY times. More times than I will allow myself to reflect back on. But it is a very real possibility for anybody who goes through treatment. It is a fall from grace. Two steps forward and million steps backward. As a wife on the sidelines it felt like I was watching a really tragic story on Lifetime but it was REAL. It was cruel. The world shattered and at the bottom of all the debris was my broken heart. Every time. Sometimes I feel like our hearts can only take so much and by the 10th lapse my heart was tired of breaking. I would become very angry with how relapse was presented to the family “as a part of recovery”. I found this to be maddening. What a horrible set up for failure? Are they saying that it happens…to expect that it will happen? Isn’t that giving the addict an excuse to fail? What if we said that to our kids in high school: “You will probably make an F at some point in your life”. We know it’s a possibility but is that how we present it to them? As you can tell, I was not digesting this well at all. I still don’t. I don’t believe it is what you need to say to a family or an addict who is making great strides in recovering.
I do, however, believe you need to talk about it. The addict needs to know about the signs to look for, hurdles to avoid, a mindset/attitude that should promote caution. The thing with Relapse is that happens well before the actual slip. It could take months of build up before the catalyst. But if we talk about and know the signs then we can prevent it. The hard part for a family or spouse is that you might feel like YOU need to be the one to see the signs and you may see the signs but you can’t really interfere with what is happening. IF you have a plan going into treatment then part of that plan involves after care. ( I realize that this isn’t something one thinks about before treatment because majority of the time they are just trying to physically get themselves there).
One of the most important words to the recovery process and after care is this: ACCOUNTABILITY!!! (highlight, underline, asterisk) The family and spouse is NOT the recovered addicts accountability group. It needs to be an outside source whether that is AA, a pastor, a mentor, a Celebrate Recovery small group…I would suggest having a few people as your designated “people” and there needs to be strict confidence within the group. This is the place that you share the hurdles, the moments of weakness, the changes in attitude, stress, feelings of denial, social awkwardness, loss of control and all the other signs of relapse so that you will have people around you that have been through it and know how to set you back on the right path.
I remember trying to BE that person for my husband and it always blew up. I didn’t understand what he was going through so how could I possibly relate. At this point I had given up drinking and acknowledged that I could have my own issues but I did not have the battle that he had. HE was at war with himself. Wrestling through pain I had no idea about it. I learned a very important lesson about drugs and alcohol during this time. HE used the drugs and alcohol to escape some serious pain, deep inside, that he had never dealt with. Your body does get chemically dependent over time but you start to reach for it initially as an escape method. I thought it was just about the chemical dependency but it was the fact he had not pulled everything out that was lodged deep into his soul. There is an underlying theme that you hear with most of the recovery stories. That at some point either early in their childhood or later on into their teen years something happened. It is either anger, resentment, abandonment by a parent, or physical/mental abuse. BUT SOMEthing happened. It is buried and usually buried pretty deep. I had no idea that the root of my husband’s addiction started here. I thought it was just a “put the bottle down and get right” issue.
So do I believe in relapse? I believe it is going to happen again at some point if the addict doesn’t deal with what is in their heart. I believe it will occur more often and be worse every time after because the chemical dependency increases and the war within is raging harder each time. I believe you need to seek counsel even after you have dealt with yourself because old habits and behavior changes can creep back in even after you have recovered. I believe you need to surround yourself but not isolate yourself to people who have been through a similar experience. I think you need to have friends that have never had alcohol or drug issues. I believe you need to transparent with others about what you have been through. I think this helps the recovered addict and others understand each other and also helps with accountability. If you are recovered and can’t be honest about it then it’s almost as if it never happened. It gets easier to share with others. You become less intimidated with people’s response but most importantly you never know who is in “your audience”. You might just help to save their life by your bravery.