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 🤟🏼
Do you keep count of your days of sobriety? Do you keep track of how many days you have away from alcohol? 📆 Should you? People fall into one of two different camps when it comes to that question.
One camp says yes…keeping track and counting your days of sobriety helps you. In the early months it can be a powerful motivator. That running count can give you the confidence you need to get through the hard days. It can be a way of measuring your progress, to help you visualize the distance you are putting between yourself and your drinking past.
The other camp says no…day counting can backfire, be counterproductive, and hurt you. It adds a layer of unneeded pressure. And really the only day that matters is TODAY…so why would you keep track? Quality of days over quantity of days is what’s important.
And what is more important…emotional sobriety or continuous sobriety? If you are white knuckling it through every day…counting those days you are staying away from the booze but miserable…is that enough?
Like anything else in the recovery world I don’t think that there is a right or wrong answer.
Just like there is no right or wrong way to get sober. Counting days is neither right or wrong. It’s entirely up to the individual. It’s entirely up to YOU. And you may feel one way about it and then change your mind along the way. And that is OK.
“The importance of sober time is a contentious issue, considered by some to be “just a number” and others, the barcode stamped on your very soul. Fact: your sober date is yours, and this means you can report it however you wish, if at all.” ~ Anna James
Day counting is a big deal in some 12 step programs, such as AA. There are chips for 24 hours, 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year…you get the picture. There are terms thrown around like “new comer” and “old timer”…all depending on how much sobriety time you have. There are celebrations and cake! (I like cake! 🎂) Certain service positions will become available to you after reaching a specific amount of sober time. Chips, cake, service position opportunities…that all sounds fab! Right?!
But…let’s say you have 10 years of continuous sobriety…and for whatever reason you go out and do some field research (aka…drink alcohol)…well my friend, then you are back on day 1. Doesn’t matter if it was one drink or a night of drinks. You just ‘lost all your time’.
Ouch. Back on day 1. But what happened to those 3,650 days you just had? Are they just gone? As my friend Kate would say…gone, like a fart in the wind? 🐕💨
The ‘pro-keeping count camp’ believes that, because you will have to reset your counter and will be back on day 1, that counting sobriety days will stop you from doing that field research. That you will think twice about picking up that drink. Doesn’t always work that way though.
Personally I feel like counting days can be a slippery slope. (Don’t come at me 🤣…that’s just my opinion…and I am just one little person in this great big world full of people in recovery!) I mean c’mon…we are all human…and alcohol is a sneaky piece of shit. What if…in spite of the fact that you have 3,650 continuous days of sobriety…you pick up again? You’ve been stacking those days and now find yourself back on day 1. Time to reset your tracker my friend. But wait! Since you are starting over again why not drink through the weekend…and then restart your tracker. Or, continue through the upcoming holiday and then restart it. Before you realize it, weeks have gone by and you have continued to drink. 😔
I’m not entirely against counting your days of sobriety. In fact quite the opposite. It was a tool I used and a HUGE part of my early sobriety. HUGE! Those first 100 days I was checking my tracker daily. I always knew what day I was on even without checking my tracker app. Counting those days in my early sobriety was a big motivation for me. Made me feel successful. So if you are just starting out, counting the days can be an indispensable tool. And there are a lot of apps out there that will help you keep track.
After I hit 100 days things started to change. Counting the days became less motivating for me. I started finding my motivation in other things…like how I was experiencing less anxiety, I had more energy, my mood was better, I was becoming more active. After I hit those triple digits I found I didn’t (and don’t) need the daily reminder of how far I’ve come.
I also stopped keeping track of the days because it just started to feel so overwhelming. With my desire to never drink alcohol again I was proud of the number of days I had gone without drinking…but then overwhelmed by the number of days I still had before me. 🤯 I know…I know…one day at a time. But counting days was causing me to continuously think about the enormity of my decision to ditch the booze for good. That is not healthy or helpful.
Counting your sobriety days…or your days away from alcohol…is a very personal choice. And the way you do it, if you decide to do it, is also entirely your choice. If you’re counting because you feel it is expected of you…then don’t. 👎🏼 If you are motivated by waking up in the morning and seeing the number on your tracker go up…then do. 👍🏼
Even though I don’t count my days anymore I am forever grateful for this simple strategy that helped me during my early days of sobriety. The most important thing I hope you will remember is that no matter what your day count is…it is YOU that counts!
Until next month, be well,
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼
I stopped making New Year Resolutions a few years ago. As positive, excited and motivated they would make me feel at the start of the year…oftentimes those very same resolutions would bring me down later in the year. It wouldn’t be long and I would feel like a failure for not following through. I would start thinking of myself as someone who just abandons their hopes and dreams. “Kerri, you suck.”, would play on repeat in my mind.
Counterproductive, to say the least.
Then a couple years ago, instead of making resolutions, I tried doing what I was seeing a lot of other people do. I would choose a word for the year. The chosen word wasn’t a resolution or a goal. It was more like a prayer or mantra, and I used it to help guide me in the daily actions and decisions (both large and small) I had to make. It was as if the word was a lighthouse helping to show me the way to a better version of myself.
As 2020 was coming to an end I started thinking about what my word for 2021 would be. I took me a little longer than it had in the previous years to decide on one. 2020 was strange, scary, hard, filled with uncertainty, unfamiliarity and loss. I kept hearing and reading posts and comments from people that just couldn’t wait to move past 2020, that it was a year they wanted to forget. Sorry to burst your bubble if you are in that camp…2020 is a year that will never be forgotten.
For me, if I were to pick a word to describe 2020 it would be WEIRD. And that was ALMOST going to be my word for 2021. Maybe that will be next year’s word. 🤪
This year my word is PEACE. 🕊
Remember…this word is like a prayer or a mantra…I am using it to guide me. I want to create more peace in my life. I want to be more at peace with myself. It doesn’t mean I can just sit back, chant ‘peace’ over and over…and everything will change. I still have to do the work. Below are some of the things that I’m doing to help create and bring more PEACE into my life.
- Clear the clutter! Unclutter your living space, your work space, your mind. Ask yourself, does it bring you peace? If the answer ISN’T a HARD YES…then…get…rid…of…it! If it’s not serving you…get…rid…of…it! Clutter in your physical space, and in your mental space, creates chaos. Chaos is the opposite of peace. That is not what we want my friends.
I cleaned out my pantry and found spices that expired in 2003!! If it’s old and expired…get…rid…of…it!
2. Relax. Find a relaxation technique that works for you. A way to release and to recharge. It could be meditation, breathwork, long walks, yoga, running, music. For me it’s meditation, music and dancing…first thing in the morning. Find what works and do it.
3. Gratitude Changes Everything Every week during 2020 a dear friend of mine wrote down 1 good thing that had happened that week. She wrote it on a little strip of paper and tossed it in a jar. On New Years she read all those little strips of paper. I thought…what a cool idea! She admits that some weeks it was hard to come up with something. I mean think about it…we just lived through our first pandemic. I think that makes the exercise that much more powerful. Find something to be grateful for every week (I challenge you to do it daily.). I’m already looking forward to reading all my weekly strips of paper on New Years 2022!
4. Follow Your Bliss Before you can follow your bliss…you need to know your bliss. What makes you happy? Brings you joy? Brings you PEACE? Listen to your inner guide and take action on what brings happiness and joy into your life. The door to peace and contentment will open. My recent houseplant hobby is opening that door for me.
5. These things here could all be listed all on their own…but I wanted to give you more things you can start doing today to bring inner peace into your life.
- Set limits, boundaries
- Accept and let go
- Slow down
- Be 10 minutes early so you don’t have to rush
- Instead of guessing…ask, we are not mind readers
- Get outside
- Escape for a while – read a book, binge on Netflix
- Disconnect – screens off
- Laugh 😂
Start with one thing and build on it over time. You can do this. We can do this.
“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
Wishing you more happiness and PEACE.☮️
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟🏽
A layered cake. That’s what I picture when I think about the next couple months. The bottom layer is the upcoming holiday season. And during a ‘normal’ year the holiday season can be stressful because…
…because of feeling overwhelmed, not getting everything on your todo list done.
…because family. Nuff said.
…because your vision of what the holidays ‘should’ look like, looks nothing like what yours actually do look like.
…because what once looked so far away, the year’s end, is now right before your eyes…and you are still standing there with a list of unmet goals.
…because you’re lonely. You don’t do well in crowds. You’re exhausted. You’re broke.
Now take all that ‘normal’ year holiday stuff and add on another layer…a big fat layer of global pandemic.
Hold up…not done yet! Let’s go ahead and add one more layer…the “I want to stay sober through it all’ layer.
If you are newly sober, and this will be your first sober holiday season, you may be feeling a little (maybe a lot) nervous and anxious…that’s normal, and you are not alone. Stay with me here and we’ll get to some tips that can help.
For those of you that have some sober time under your belt, you know how good it feels, and what that inner freedom feels like, when you get through a holiday season alcohol free. These tips may help you too.
Self care is a must. You’ve ditched the booze! That’s a grande size of self care!! But there is more you can do in the self care arena, and taking care of your body, mind and soul is important during these stressful times. Healthy eats, plenty of water, enough sleep, physical activity, slowing down, stopping to breath, and making time for meditation. All very important and will help you get through the season. Here is a 5 minute meditation you can do anywhere!
Be mindful of what you’re drinking and thinking. (Not to be confused with ‘mindful drinking’, which is a movement I’ll explore in a later blog.) When headed to a social gathering or holiday party don’t go empty handed. Bring your own NA beverage or, if you know there will be NA options there get one right away. When you are prepared and have a beverage in hand people won’t be constantly asking you if you want a drink. Having a drink in your hand also helps you not look so awkward when you don’t know what to do with your hands.
Plan ahead. There are a number of simple things you can do ahead of time…before you get to the party…that will help reduce your angst. Drive yourself, so you can leave when YOU need to. Arrive late, leave early. Yes you are sober, but no that does not mean you have to be the designated driver, that can be triggering…drunk people are annoying (shocker!) and you may not like your drunk friends the next day. Have a friend or two on standby that you can call or text if needed.
You are going to be asked why, so have your response ready. “You’re not drinking? Why aren’t you drinking? For how long aren’t you drinking? You are never drinking again?!?!” They are going to ask…the questions will come. Because in this backwards society we live in, where drinking is the norm…if you decide to go alcohol free…you’re the odd one. You don’t owe anyone an answer. But not being prepared when this question is thrown at you can make the situation even more uncomfortable. Keep it short and simple if you want. “Why aren’t you drinking?” “Because.” The end.
Out with the old, in with the new…create new traditions. Change the setting. If you’ve always spent Thanksgiving dinner over at Aunt Mary’s…where you would have a little turkey with a lot of wine, then maybe you should offer to host the dinner at your house. Change the time. 4 pm Christmas dinner at the in-laws with all 20 cousins too much, try going over there for brunch. Do something completely different from your familiar holiday activities. Go volunteer at a homeless shelter or to walk the dogs at your local animal shelter. Giving and being of service is one of the best things you can do during the holidays, it helps you get out of your own head and focus on others.
First and foremost, make your sobriety your top priority, because it is. Every morning set your intention..tell yourself that you are not going to drink. No matter what. Eliminate the option of drinking altogether. Remind yourself why you made the decision to live a life without alcohol…and that your ongoing sobriety is the biggest, most important, gift of the season.
And always eat the cake.
Until next time, be well,
Kerri Mac 🤟🏽