Relapse, recovery, resilience.

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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

break
to break open.

– danielle doby, I AM HER TRIBE

October 8, 2018: The new moon.

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I got lost, confused. There were three houses around a circle driveway, with farmland beyond. Two other cars parked in the lot. I wandered around the driveway, yoga mat and blanket tucked under one arm, wondering if I was in the right place. One house was marked “Office,” another “Private Residence.” There was another house but I felt awkward, worried about embarrassing myself. I get anxious in situations where I don’t know exactly what to do or where to go, and when I think it may seem obvious to others. I worry I’ll look stupid. 

I went back to my car, checked the confirmation email, read a line instructing me to go to the education center. Took a deep breath, shut the fear down, and approached the last house – which was marked “education center” on google Maps. Opened the door. Inside, voices. A long hallway and to my right, a room with two women and a beautiful circle of crystals, flowers, light, poetry, tea. One of the women asked me to remove my shoes, and did I want to be smudged? The space was peaceful, inviting, friendly. Exactly where I wanted to be.

Exhale. Breathe fear out.

This was my first new moon circle. It is something I want to continue to attend – to carve out space at the beginning of each moon cycle to be with like-minded women, meditate and journal, share our stories, set intentions and share positive, loving energy.

A couple of years ago, when I first found out M was using again, I told myself that I had to learn to love myself again. I never in a million years thought that I would one day find myself meditating in a circle with a group of women I didn’t know. That M and I would spend date days crystal shopping, or that I would be lighting bundles of white sage in my home, wafting the smoke with a feather, praying for these spaces and myself be cleansed of negative energy.

I never thought my husband’s addiction would lead me to question my beliefs, to start searching for something greater within this world and within myself, and to find it alone, on my knees, crying in pain, praying in desperation. I never thought I would be one of those people who “found God.” Who believed that miracles do happen. Whose answer to every question has become prayer. Who craves connection with others who feel that same magic when they look up at the moon – others who have suffered and found hope in the synchronicity of the universe. 

“My husband is a recovering addict,” I told the circle of women as we gathered around the alter, sipping rose tea, journals open, goddess cards laid out before us. “The past few years have been hard, and I learned to welcome spirituality into my life – something I had never done before, but I found that when you’re feeling alone and hopeless, prayer becomes the only thing you can turn to.”

I don’t think of my Higher Power as God, although sometimes I refer to God for lack of a better name. My Higher Power is the energy within every living thing, that makes up each body and soul, that is the same energy that makes up the stars. We are vibrations, patterns, cycles, flowing through each other, giving life to one another. 

I feel closes to my Higher Power when I look at the sky.

The moon is my compass. The moon is always there, always listening. The moon knows what to do.

There is still much to learn, but what I have learned so far is that the new moon energy is best for new beginnings, setting intentions, while the full moon is often a time to reflect and release that which no longer serves us.

On this new moon, I intend to balance my energy between my three greatest relationships – myself, my husband and my son. We are a family, and we are all a part of the recovery process.

Recovery, every day.

We keep a weekly planner open on the kitchen table at all times. Monday at 6 – my therapist appointment. Tuesday at 5 – couples therapy. Wednesday after school – a team meeting for M, then his therapy at 6. Thursday at 5:30 – band practice? Friday at 5:30 – M’s dosing and group. Saturday at 8 – Modest Mouse concert. On the opposite page, a daily habit tracker with check boxes for each day of the week. For me, yoga. For him, play guitar. For us, purge (as in, every day contribute to our long-term effort of decluttering).

This is what our weekly calendar looks like on most weeks, although not always as packed with appointments. This is our new normal, our new routine – very consciously making time for our mental health, self care, recovery. Not written in our calendar is the rest of the everyday, the routine that most families are familiar with – drop off little m at daycare, work, pick up m at daycare, plop m in front of the TV for an hour while I space out in front of my phone and stick a few chicken nuggets in the toaster oven for his dinner, feed m, playtime, bath time, bed time, cook dinner for me and M or more often than not, grab takeout because who has the energy to cook anymore? Eat dinner in front of the TV and, lately, pass out on the couch and wake up in a pissy mood, a messy kitchen still left to clean, the next day hovering over me like a dark cloud. Most days, I am very tired. On days like these, self care and recovery just become another to-do on a long list of to-do’s. On days like these, I want to crawl back into bed and throw my life at someone else to do for me. 

And then there are days like today. Sunday at home, no plans except to get the house back in order and re-energize for the week. I started off the morning feeling overwhelmed by all the housework that had to be done. Everywhere I turned there was something to clean, something to put away, something that kept being ignored. I managed to take one thing at a time, focus on each task at hand, then move on to the next. I made time for little m when he asked if I would play with him. I was able to communicate to M that I need a few hours out of the house to take a break from housework and mommy-ing to breathe. To write. Now, I’m sitting in a new coffee shop downtown, the kind that makes coffee foam designs that beg for an Instagram post. My film camera sits next to me, and old hobby from my twenties that I’m leaning into again, an urge to chase the light, feel the click of the shutter, the dreamy images revealed like a Christmas package after a long wait. Just as I wrote that, the barista picked up my empty coffee cup and complimented the camera – “Minolta?” he asked. “I have one too.”

Soon, I’ll pack up and head back home. The quilt in the dryer will likely need another spin. Little m will be ready for dinner and M will ask me what we’re eating. I’m thinking tacos from our regular Mexican spot. We’ll feed the little, get him ready for bed and start to wind down for the evening. Dinner in front of the TV. I feel relaxed knowing that I spent a good chunk of the day checking items off my to-do list, including “write.” There are many days where I feel like I’m drowning in to-do’s, and self care is almost like an impossible joke. I’m thankful for days like today, and I’m glad to be able to write about it – to remind myself that I’m not really drowning. I’m just riding the waves, and some days are rougher than others, but every day I must keep faith that the universe will keep me safe. That the energy of the moon pulls the waters back and forth, the same moon that guides me home.

On days like today, here are the words that help me:

First thing’s first.
“When there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, we can accept our limitations and make choices about what has to be done at once and what has to be postponed. We are not superhuman, we cannot do it all. First things first helps us make more workable choices and live with the choices we make.” – from How Al-Anon Works: For Families & Friends of Alcoholics

Let go.
Let go of expectations of what I think my day or my house or my parenting should look like. Accept, embrace, be grateful for my life just the way it is.

Forgive.
It’s okay that little m didn’t have a vegetable with dinner. It’s okay that I didn’t make it to the yoga mat today. It’s okay to leave that last basket of laundry unfolded. It’s okay that m watched TV while I cleaned. It’s going to be okay.

Recovery isn’t always about therapy appointments or even talking about addiction directly. Sometimes it’s about weaving self care into the everyday: Using an Al-Anon slogan to help get through routines. A conversation with M about purging clothes and items we no longer need, and relating that back to our own healing – removing the dead leaves, what no longer serves us. Making room for new growth. And after a good day, saying thank you – to the universe, to M, to myself. We all worked together to make it through. 

Tomorrow is Monday, and we’ll start over again.

8.

Eight years married. Last year, the significance of seven was not lost on us. Seven chakras, seven colors of the rainbow, seven days of creation. And then: 8. The first day of the new week. A never ending flow. Another beginning of our infinite cycle.

Today is also a full moon, and your first day back to school after our small nightmare. We survived it. Yet another. After eight years, we’ve survived more small nightmares than most people. Looking back, it was probably around our fourth year, our halfway mark, that we hit a peak of our marriage. We got pregnant. We got ready for the next step. And then, our sweet son came to us in the middle of the night in the most unexpected way imaginable. We survived his 10 days in the NICU. Our first survival as parents, as a family. I don’t want to say it all went downhill from there, because the day he came to us, we learned the true strength of love. And then, life got hard. Maybe that’s why the universe put our son in our lives when it did – because it knew we would need that strength to help us get through the next three years as we completed our first full cycle of marriage. As the waves seemed to pull us under and we continued to find our way back up for air.

We ebb and flow. The waves of the ocean are influenced by the cycle of moon, and so are we made up of water and energy and vibrations, our bodies and minds and spirits in a constant state of ups and downs. We grow toward the light. Like the leaves on our house plants that have been drawing me in lately. Watching as new growth stems from the top, small baby leaves peeking into life. We pull away the dying leaves and make room for the new. We place crystals around our home and marvel at their beauty, their magic, their knowing. Their sacred patterns that help balance our vibrations like a tuning fork, bringing us back into the flow of the universe. We let love in. We breathe love out.

Who knows where this next cycle will take us? A part of me wants to lean toward fear – we barely survived the last one! How can we do it again? Well. First, we’ll take a deep breath. We’ll recognize that within our cycle of marriage are our own journeys to love and light, our own reflections and intentions, our own unique vibrations, our own purpose. And we’ll take each other’s hands, and let go of fear. Nothing can ever prepare us for what is to come. I go into the next with no expectations. But I know more now than I did then. And I know, my love, that as the next cycle pulls and pushes and feels as thought it’s weighing us down; in the moments when we may forget about our strength – we can be a lighthouse for each other. Let’s always leave the light on to guide the other home – back to infinite comfort of the other’s circling arms.

A journal entry from April 29, 2018.

I struggle with expectations. I set these expectations, then when they aren’t met, I wonder – don’t I deserve what I want to happen, to happen? Why let go and settle for less?

But there is a difference between expectations and needs.

“Attaching our well being to a particular action or outcome is very risky. In essence, we make that situation a kind of higher power – we give our power over to other people and circumstances… We have the ability to change our attitudes. We can detach from our [expectations], anchoring our well being and peace of mind our Higher Power rather than any external situation.” – How Al Anon Works

Do not let your expectations become your Higher Power.

These past two days, this past weekend, I’ve woken up with this idea in my head of what the morning would look like. Maybe it was the Instagram posts of a local mother, a photographer who manages to make suburban mom life look so perfect – her family stylishly dressed, going to hipster cafes and taking perfectly candid photos in front of painted brick walls. So I wanted a morning spent in our little downtown, at a park and then for a meal or dessert. I wanted to make it out by 11, so we could grab a small breakfast and have time to talk and play. M got out of bed at a decent time but took nearly two hours getting ready. We didn’t make it downtown until 12:30. By the time we left the house, I was crabby and short with M and m. Looking back, it seems so silly to have been so angry after having such a nice day.

A delicious bacon sandwich and iced mocha at a new-to-us cafe. A walk in the sunshine along the river, m pushed on his trike. m running around the park with no fear. His laugh. We made it back to get m down for a nap by 3, then I listened to a podcast while making pasta and roasting vegetables for the week. Shawn Achor was on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, talking about happiness and how worry can be a waste of time. They’re just thoughts, noise, taking up space that would be better used for something that brings joy rather than negativity.

Why focus on what’s going wrong? On how my expectations aren’t being met? Why do I let running late get to me? Even when I set the time frame – when I tell myself we have to be somewhere at a certain time for no real reason, and then I let that dictate my attitude. M will take longer than I like, and I take it out on him. Even though he got out of bed when I asked, and even started getting ready without first going out for a cigarette. I still grumbled about it, and got so impatient and frustrated. I yelled at m and he felt my anger. I saw him get quiet and upset as a reaction to my crabbiness. And for what? Everything turned out fine. We had such a nice day. And I regret those few hours when I was just so upset for no good reason.

I have been confusing my expectation for my needs.

What do I need? To spend quality time with my husband and my son. A husband who wants to spend time with me, who loves his family, who takes care of us. It can’t be about what I expect our days to look like before they even begin. Because by the end of the day – there is a little boy playing in the backyard with his daddy, asking questions and saying things like, “Oh, I have an idea!” when he thinks of something new and exciting on his own. There is laundry clean and dry and waiting to be folded. There are windows flung open and a house that finally smells fresh and clean and full of new again. There are plants with fresh soil, watered and green. There is a just vacuumed carpet and pasta sauce bubbling on the stove. There are healing crystals at work around the house, and a full moon, and a clear sky.

Also feeling today:

  • Scattered. I kept starting chores and then getting distracted by another task. I started to hang dry laundry, then got half way done and started clearing the floor to vacuum, then came downstairs and realized I hadn’t finished the laundry.
  • Mom guilt. Totally felt guilty for letting m watch TV while I vacuumed, when outside, it was beautiful. He wanted to watch TV, and he played outside in the morning (and then again after TV), and how else am I supposed to clean without interruption?
  • Letting go. Of my expectations of what I think my writing should look like. What I actually got out on the page today was not what I wrote in my head earlier. But I got it out.
  • Paying attention to my plants. I actually started talking to them, and I noticed I felt better after I gave them some attention. I realized we all share the same energy in this home. If I put more energy into caring for my plants, maybe they’ll help bring more positive energy to our space.
  • Crystals. Charoite was brought to my attention after finding it in my crystal book by mistake. I read the description and it’s what I have been looking for to help with my fears of relapse, as well as letting go of expectations. Prehnite is a stone I just bought last month because I kept stumbling upon its description. I read today that it’s good for connecting with nature – explains my new connection to my plants!
  • Prayer. Please help me to let go of expectations. To keep a positive attitude. To be grateful for all the ways in which my needs are met every day.

I am hopeful.

So we have this ideal of what love is and then these very, very unhelpful narratives of love. And they’re everywhere. They’re in movies and songs. And we mustn’t blame songs and movies too much. But if you say to people, “Look, love is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each other’s needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is, but we’re going to do our best,” that’s a much more generous starting point.

So,the acceptance of ourselves as flawed creatures seems to me what love really is .Love is at its most necessary when we are weak, when we feel incomplete, and we must show love to one another at those points.

– Alain de Botton, from the On Being with Krista Tippett podcast episode “The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships”

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6:01 AM, Saturday, September 15. I am awake. I am tired. m will be up at 7 and my body and my eyes are telling me to go to sleep, get some rest before he’s awake and asking for TV and juice and someone to play with. But I’m here, typing words on the page because things are hard right now, and I’m mentally exhausted from all of the confusion going on in my head – trying to practice empathy while also trying to figure out what it is I need to take care of myself, get the rest and the support I need.

Depression is weird. On the outside, it can look like laziness. M has trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and I can understand why. He is currently on administrative leave from work. He tells me it’s hard to get out of bed to get things done, especially when he doesn’t have work or a regular routine. I said if work isn’t currently giving him a routine, he should make his own. “It doesn’t work like that,” he told me. I don’t know how it works.

So I have been picking up the slack with taking care of m and keeping the house in order, and it’s been exhausting. I start to dread mornings again. I feel the resentment creeping in. I expect it. I try to let it go.

Focus on the good things. He is clean. Last night, on the way dinner, we caught a glimpse of the sun setting as we passed the prairie reserve. M turned into the next parking lot and we got out, pulled out m’s trike from the trunk, and walked along the path as the sky went from deep orange to pink to twilight blue. He has been staying up late in the garage, but he’s spending his time painting, coloring, nurturing his new found desire to create something beautiful. I have been keeping up with a daily yoga practice for almost two weeks now, and I’m slowly working on finding a community on Instagram and through my own blog. I am here, writing.

We are human beings who have come to the realization that we need to love ourselves before we can truly love another. I have been telling myself this a lot lately whenever I feel like I deserve better, like I should have the picture-perfect marriage of equally-split housework and child caring. But we all have our struggles. He suffers from ADHD and possibly depression. He is currently on leave from work due to circumstances out of our control. He is a recovering addict. He is clean. He is trying. We are trying. Am I making excuses for his behaviors? That’s where the mental exhaustion comes in – my mind pulling in two different directions. He is struggling. But what about me?

I don’t have the answers, but I do have an appointment with my therapist on Monday, and I will ask the same questions there. Tuesday, couples therapy. Wednesday, M’s individual therapy. Hopefully somewhere in there, M can go back to work. Hopefully we can move on from this and grow stronger. Hopefully I can let go of expectations on how long healing and positive change is supposed to take, and to accept that this is a lifelong process – to look back at where we were a year ago, two years ago, and see the incredible progress that we’ve already made. Hopefully I can get the support I need. Maybe I have to let go of the idea that “he should just know, he should do it on his own, why do I have to keep reminding him” and just ask for the help when I need it. Hopefully, just because this is where we’re at right now doesn’t mean it’s where we’ll be forever.

I am hopeful.

Words on a page.

“No matter what we do, we can make it our ministry. No matter what form our job or activity takes, the content is the same as everyone else’s: we are here to minister to human hearts. If we talk to anyone, or even think of anyone, then we have the opportunity to bring more love into the universe… When you know this, when you fully live up to the opportunity to heal, you achieve an energy that pushes you forward in worldly endeavors… You are powerful in whatever moment you choose to be. The choice to be used as an instrument of love, right here, right now, is a choice for personal empowerment.” – Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

I’ve been thinking recently about my life’s purpose. Life’s purpose. It sounds so intimidating, like someone’s life purpose needs to be this incredibly important thing. But it’s much simpler than that. We have certain talents, curiosities and passions, that pull us through life in a certain direction, that make us lean forward and ask more questions, and it’s our job to keep leaning in. To use these gifts to serve, connect, make small differences in everyday moments. To bring more love and light into the world in our own very unique way, however small or simple. How do I fit in?

I want to tell a story, my story. As a woman, mother,  writer. As the wife of an opiate addict, who is learning how to lean in and let go, who is discovering the power of the universe and everyday moments and how we are all the same, how addiction is a family disease and we all heal and recover in our own ways. I am here to write, and this is my story.

My ego is telling me it’s not my story. That I’m using my husband’s disease to find my purpose. That I need to find something on my own, apart from him, because what if he wasn’t suffering from addiction? Then what would I write about? But he is. And we’re together for a reason. We’re helping each other expand and grow. Yes, it is his addiction, and his recovery. But I am healing, too. This story is of my recovery – of how this family disease forced me to look at the universe differently, and look at myself differently, and continues to force me to see every situation with new eyes. To see every situation with the eyes of love.

After I originally published this post, I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed on the podcast On Being. She spoke about passion versus curiosity in a way that really resonated with me – that really just helps push me forward any time I question what I’m doing here or if what I have to write matters.

Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes, not so available. And so, when we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all, there’s a great deal of pressure around that.

Curiosity is an impulse that just taps you on the shoulder very lightly, and invites you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look a little closer at something that has intrigued you. And it may not set your head on fire; it may not change your life; it may not change the world; it may not even line up with previous things that you’ve done or been interested in. It may seem very random and make no sense. And I think the reason people end up not following their curiosity is because they’re waiting for a bigger sign, and your curiosities, sometimes, are so mild and so strange [laughs] and so, almost, nothing — it’s a little trail of breadcrumbs that you can overlook if you’re looking up at the mountaintop, waiting for Moses to come down and give you a sign from God.

Sometimes, following your curiosity will lead you to your passion. Sometimes it won’t; and then, guess what? That’s still totally fine. You’ve lived a life following your curiosity. You’ve created a life that is a very interesting thing, different from anybody else’s. And your life itself then becomes the work of art — not so much contingent upon what you produced, but about a certain spirit of being that, I think, is a lot more interesting, and also, a lot more sustainable. – Elizabeth Gilbert, from the On Being with Krista Tippett podcast episode “Choosing Curiosity Over Fear”

I am very fortunate to know on most days that telling a story through the written word is my passion. I certainly know it when I’m trying to express myself verbally, and I’m wishing instead I could go into a room by myself and take the time to type of my thoughts, then hand them over to whoever wants to know. Perhaps it’s just the introvert in me, but it’s the writer in me, for sure. And on days when I’m staring at a blank page, unable to find the words, comparing myself to others and wondering what the hell I’m thinking, I will remember what Ms. Gilbert said about curiosity. And I’ll try to show up here.

So, here I am. No name, no face, no age, no city. I write anonymously to free myself from judgement of the people I know. I am working on letting that go, too, but until then – just words on a page. Telling my story. To you. I’m not expecting to change lives, and I don’t believe one’s life purpose has to necessarily do that. A connection is all I can hope for. If you’re searching, maybe you will find hope in these words and know that you are not alone.