I saw the following quote about relapse on Instagram the other day. When I first read it I thought, ‘gross!’, and scrolled on. Throughout the day the quote kept coming back to me though…perhaps because I have 3 dogs that are often doing gross things. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with it.
“It is the return of a dog to his vomit.”
― Paul Verlaine
Relapse IS kinda like the return of a dog to his vomit. 🐶🤮 But it is more than that, much more.
In its simplest terms, a relapse is when you start drinking again after a period of abstinence.
I think relapse is one of the scariest words for people in recovery. But it is also a very normal part of the recovery process…and it does not mean you have failed. If you have listened to the Recovery Elevator podcast or are part of our Café RE community you have probably heard the term ‘field research’. Many of us use that term in place of the word ‘relapse’. Some people, such as Paul Churchill, feel that the word ‘relapse’ is another word in recovery, similar to the word ‘alcoholic’, that needs to be thrown out. Paul talks more about that here.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly ingested substances in the world. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found roughly 16 million Americans were heavy alcohol users, and 14.5 million Americans had an alcohol use disorder. Stress, anxiety and isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened these numbers.
Over 30% of people who attempt to stop drinking relapse in their first year of sobriety, but that rate does go down over time. After 5 years that number has dropped to 9.6%. I left out a lot of the statistics, but the bottom line is more than 70% of people struggling with alcohol abuse will relapse at some point.
That doesn’t mean they won’t get back on that wagon and succeed.
I’ve heard people say that the relapse starts way before you actually pick the drink back up, the relapse itself does not occur all at once. I don’t think that anyone plans for, or intends for a relapse to occur. But they do happen, and they happen in stages.
“Stressing about a relapse happening only leads to a release happening.”
― D.C. Hyden
THE STAGES OF RELAPSE
Experts say that relapse occurs in three separate stages — emotional, mental and physical.
- Emotional relapse: The person is not actively drinking or even thinking about drinking, but they are having thought patterns that could possibly be setting them up for a future relapse. This is also where triggers come into play. A trigger could be going to a location where you used to drink, hanging around people you used to drink with, or participating in an activity that you used to drink during.
- Mental relapse: The individual in a mental relapse is waging an internal battle. One part of them wants to remain sober, and the other part wants to drink. Once you have given yourself mental permission to pick up the drink, even for “just this one time”, it can be very difficult to hold on to your sobriety.
- Physical relapse: The individual starts to actively drink alcohol again, often resulting in, and leading up to, previous patterns of alcohol abuse.
A relapse will have you feeling guilty, ashamed and tempted to throw in the towel. But don’t! Use those feelings to get back in the saddle.
That’s what I have done (am currently doing in fact). Will relapse be a part of your story? Maybe. Maybe not. It is, however, a part of mine.
I have had a recent relapse…and it’s not my first. (God willing it will be my last! 🙏🏼). I have those feelings of guilt, shame, that I’ve failed…myself and everyone else, that I’m not good enough for the people that I surround myself with. But I’m using those feelings…using them to help me do better, be better.
I can’t tell you when my relapse started…because again, it started long before I picked up the bottle. And I also can’t tell you how long it would have continued had I not been called out on my bullshit. What I can tell you is I stopped using the tools in my recovery toolbox. I can tell you I never reached out for support or asked for help…and my support circle is LARGE (something I learned after sharing I had relapsed). I won’t make those mistakes again.
I can also tell you that it feels really good to be sharing with that support circle now. 🙌🏼
Today I feel good.
IWNDWYT (I will not drink with you today.)
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼
There was a time that I was afraid to stop drinking. I was afraid that I would fail. I was scared about removing something from my life that had been a part of my life for over 30 years.
I thought drinking made me fun…so by quitting I would be boring. I would lose friends. Which in hindsight was crazy thinking since I drank at home, alone, for the last 15 or so years. I didn’t have friends…drinking friends or not. Sounds like the opposite of fun to me now.
In the beginning the thought that I would have to be ‘in recovery’ for the rest of my life was depressing and overwhelming. Was I always going to have to work so hard? Was whether or not I was drinking going to be my only real story? I now see recovery as a gift.
I am truly grateful for my recovery and being in recovery. I can now take a step back and list off things that without my recovery I wouldn’t have. Things I’ve gained. Things I’ve regained.
I can also step back and remind myself of the things I don’t miss about drinking. Here’s a few of them.
1️⃣ The hangovers. The bloody hangovers. This is probably the main thing we can all relate to and the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks you what you don’t miss about drinking. Peeling your eyelids open, the pounding headache, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, shakes, lack of energy. There was a time that was my everyday routine. I would either sleep the day away, finally starting to feel human again later in the afternoon…when I would start drinking again. Or I would have a couple shots early in the morning to help get me through the day. My motivation and productivity was at zero. I don’t miss the hangovers.
2️⃣ The blackouts. Waking up and checking my phone in fear…when I could find my phone. Who did I talk to? What did I say and do? Not having a conversation the next day because I very well already had the conversation the night before and don’t remember. Playing detective the next day. I was a blackout drinker from day 1. I don’t miss blacking out.
3️⃣ The anxiety, the shame and regret. 3:00 am was the worst. I would get up and drink…if I could find the bottle I hid…just so I could fall back asleep. I never really thought I had anxiety until I stopped drinking and it went away. I don’t miss not sleeping properly, I have never experienced sleep like I have since I quit drinking alcohol, it really is incredible. I don’t miss the anxiety, the shame and regret.
4️⃣ Apologizing…over and over…again and again. It’s true that action speaks louder than words. But I truly was sorry that I drank, again. I truly was sorry that I said I wouldn’t, but I did. I don’t miss sounding like a broken record with the apologies.
5️⃣ Always thinking about alcohol. I don’t miss thinking about alcohol all the time. Have I got enough? Should I go and get some more? What if it runs out? Is it too early in the morning to go buy more? The mental energy spent when drinking is exhausting. I don’t miss always thinking about alcohol.
6️⃣ The harm to my health and physical appearance. My skin looked like shat. I had bags under my eyes. I looked years older. I ate junk food in excess. I had high blood pressure. I couldn’t sleep. I had no energy. When you’re actively drinking you don’t necessarily realize the toll it’s taking on your body, or you just don’t care. But when you remove alcohol, it becomes pretty obvious how it was affecting you physically. I don’t miss harming my health and good looks. 😉
7️⃣ Disappointing the people I love, disappointing myself. Not to say that after ditching the booze I never disappointed the people I love or myself again. Because that is just not true. I am human after all. But I can say I stopped the groundhog days of doing it. And once I was able to let go of the shame I was able to believe that I am not a failure because of my failures. And I was able to start rebuilding relationships…the most important one being the one with myself. I don’t miss repeatedly letting those I love down.
There’s more I could add…but I’ll stop there. I feel the longer I am in recovery the longer my list will get. Some days it is easy. Other days I have to use more of my tools. It’s not saying no to alcohol, it’s saying yes to a better life. And there are wonderful things on the other side…you just have to trust yourself you CAN get there.
But it really is worth it.
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼
“I’m in recovery.”
Two statements that very often get interchanged. If you think they mean the same thing, think again. There is a distinct difference. Being sober is very different from being in recovery. You can be one or the other…or you can be both.
What Is Sobriety?
When you have eliminated alcohol from your life you are deemed “sober,” and although sobriety is part of recovery, sobriety alone is often a temporary and fragile state. Think of the terms “white knuckling it” and “dry drunk”.
White knuckling your sobriety means you are trying to manage your addiction without help. You are using your will power or trying to fix yourself with your mind.
A “dry drunk” is someone who is sober but is struggling with the emotional and psychological issues that led them to have a problem with alcohol in the first place.
Just because you no longer live under the influence of alcohol it doesn’t mean that other unhealthy aspects of your life have changed. For example, you may still have poor or damaged relationships, behavioral health issues, mental health issues, or emotional issues that need to be addressed.
Sobriety is considered to be the natural state of a human being at birth. A person in a state of sobriety is considered sober.
What Is Recovery?
There is no “standard” definition of “recovery” in the addiction community, and part of the reason why is because everyone’s recovery journey is unique. 🙌🏼
According to SAMHSA, recovery is “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.”
A person in recovery is continually making an effort to work through the issues that caused the alcohol abuse to occur in the first place.
In recovery is a powerful period because beyond everything else, it signifies that you know you have a problem and you are trying to fix it. Recovery allows you to make positive changes and deeply examine your feelings, beliefs and behaviors. Recovery does not mean you fix your issues right away. It means you recognize something is wrong, which is the first step and a critical part of getting help.
People in recovery have the greatest chance of maintaining long-term sobriety. Better yet, they have the opportunity to live a happy and productive life that is free from addiction.
I love this list that Odette shared on the podcast, episode 316…titled the same as this blog…”Sober” VS “In Recovery”.
When you are in Recovery, you:
- Feel a kinship to those who are also in Recovery. (SO true!)
- Make decisions based on how it could impact your Recovery. (“My recovery must come first so that everything I love in life does not have to come last.”)
- Adjust friendships and relationships based on how they could affect Recovery. (BOUNDARIES!!)
- Never let down your guard. (I don’t got this!)
So, can you be sober and not be in recovery? Absolutely! And although you can achieve a state of sobriety with simply abstaining from alcohol, with time, you will come to find that the life you want comes not just from being sober but from entering into the recovery mindset. 🧠
And you know what the cool thing is? You don’t have to be an alcoholic to live in this mindset. 🤯 The mindset that allows you to grow and develop your self awareness, the mindset that allows you to see beyond the surface and question many things in life like relationships and boundaries. That mindset is for everyone.
Once I got past the early days of sobriety I started thinking of my sobriety journey as my recovery journey. I realized that it was about SO much more than just ditching the booze. That the recovery process is one of ongoing healing and that there is no part of my life that my recovery doesn’t touch.
I also learned that it is rarely accomplished alone. I wanted to be around others ‘in recovery’. Not just because they were sober and could relate to that part of my life. But because they want to grow, want to learn, want to be better.
Transitioning from sobriety to recovery takes both commitment and action.
If you are a grey area drinker or someone who doesn’t even know if they belong here because you are not alcoholic enough…I hope you know that recovery is for EVERYBODY.
E V E R Y B O D Y.
You have your seat at this table, no matter what.
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼