Relapse, recovery, resilience.


A week ago, M used again.

As the weekend approached, I had a bad feeling. M had plans to be gone most of the weekend, hanging out with friends as their favorite band played at a local venue three days in a row. I was feeling anxious about solo parenting. I took Friday off to have time to myself, clean the house, run errands, so I could focus my attention on little m the rest of the weekend without feeling overwhelmed with house work.

I was not worried about M using.

His absence all weekend, coming home only to sleep and wake up late, was triggering. Reminded me of a worse time, years ago, before we began the healing process. When the darkness was hovering in every corner of our home, in the air between us, hanging over words said and unsaid.

I tried to wake him up to share my feelings. We had a horrible fight. He said things that were unlike him and looked at me with eyes of disgust. His energy scared me. I couldn’t believe the words he was saying.

We tried to put it behind us. We hugged, said our apologies, and he headed out. I knew as soon as his phone location was acting up – saying he was home, not out – that something was wrong. I spent the rest of the evening on my yoga mat, breathing. Feeling my inhale and exhale as powerful as waves crashing against rocks. I welcomed the universe in.

The universe answered. When M stumbled in the house at 5:00 the next morning, I immediately checked his phone and saw that he had been searching for addresses on the west side, where he gets drugs. He tried to lie, cover it up, but it was too late.

“Did you use?” I asked.

Pause. “Just last night,” he answered.

Truth brings me hope. I hold on to the truth. I grasp it tightly, knuckles white, clinging on for the life of our family. I hold on to the truth. It brings me hope.

Relapse is a part of recovery. It’s a controversial statement, and most people see it as either true or bullshit. It seems contradictory – how can someone be recovering if they’re still sick? It provides addicts with an excuse to use, because they can tell themselves they’re still in recovery even if they keep relapsing. And probably most of all – it can be extremely frustrating for family and friends of addicts who just want to the downward spiral of drugs, lies and darkness to go away forever.

But then take a look at the definitions of relapse and recovery. According to Merriam-Webster:

Relapse is a recurrence of symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement

Recovery is the process of combating a disorder (such as alcoholism) or a real or perceived problem

A recurrence of symptoms. For me, that means going back to the cycle of lies, denial, pain. A return to the darkness. When he uses and gets back into recovery right away, I don’t even call it a relapse. A lapse, a slip, a whatever. I try not to focus on it at all.

Relapse as a part of recovery takes away the belief that a relapse is a failure. It accepts that people are human, that we all make mistakes, that recovery is hard work. Recovery is not just an outcome. It is not just about sobriety. Recovery is about healing, finding a way back to one’s true self by diving into the depths of one’s soul and making it back out alive and reconnected to light. Recovery is about living life as a celebration of that light every day. 

M does not have a sobriety date. We do not measure the quality of his recovery with how many days he’s stayed clean. Instead, we focus on growth. We practice gratitude for the small, happy moments that did not exist when he was using – weekend breakfasts together, weekday evenings flowing through the bedtime grind together, cleaning up after dinner together, long chats about what it means to be a human and a spirit. Together.

What about me? How am I doing? How do I recover?

This week has been hard. Anxiety starts to take over small moments, making it difficult to focus. My chest begins to tighten, heart heavy and sinking to the pit of my stomach, a rumbling, a churning, and I find myself heading for the bathroom, my body literally telling me to release this negative energy. I went to my first Nar-Anon meeting (I have tried several other meetings in the area over the years – a few Al-Anon, a few non-12-step programs) and it didn’t quite fit. I plan to go back to my Tuesday night Al-Anon, which is structured to share the strength and hope of our stories rather than getting sucked into the hopelessness that can sometimes enter the room when we are simply sharing the back and forth of our addicts, the constant relapses and rehabs and disappointments. I joined a yoga therapy group,  practice yoga in a light filled room every other Saturday with a small group of women, then sharing our feelings after. I write. I read. I take pictures. I try not to let fear swallow me up.

My mantra this past week: resilience. I do not see his slips as failures, as long as he gets back up. As long as he stays committed to his recovery – to living the best way he can and giving his family the best version of himself. We deserve that. He deserves that.

And I continue to take each struggle as an opportunity for growth. I prayed and the universe answered. Now I must trust this process. Now I must keep going.

do not break
to break down

to break open.

– danielle doby, I AM HER TRIBE

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