“Relapse” is a big, scary word. For those lucky enough not to struggle daily with addiction, “relapse” sounds like an enormous event that happens to people with drug problems who just can’t get their lives together.
That’s what I thought before I confronted my own addiction to alcohol. It took me a long time to face this, partly because my alcoholism didn’t match the definition that existed in my mind. I thought of an alcoholic as someone who woke up every morning and started drinking, someone whose hands shook, and who hid in the corner at bars. Alcoholics came home and beat up their wives and kids in a blind rage, they went on week-long benders, and that wasn’t me.
I went out and partied, drank too much, and woke up severely hungover five days a week, but I was in my twenties, and so did everyone, I thought. Things tapered off for my friends and peers as we crossed into our thirties, but not for me. I went harder. I developed an affinity and expertise for fine wine and spirits, molding my life to my love for alcohol.
I drank with purpose. A bottle of wine wasn’t enough. I had to make sure I had two.
When you drink the good stuff, it takes people longer to notice how much you’re drinking. I was drinking a lot. I blacked out occasionally when I was younger, but as the years went on, blackouts became something I experienced anytime I drank.
I used to justify my drinking by saying things like, “I’ve never been to jail, I’ve never been kicked out of a bar, I’ve never woken up in a hospital.” Eventually, none of those statements applied to my life any more. Somehow, because my hands didn’t shake, and I didn’t have a violent temper, I refused to see how my relationship with alcohol had become problematic.
It wasn’t until my early thirties that depression became a regular side effect of my drinking. I woke with an awful physical hangover, which I was used to, but also a sense of sorrow and anxiety that kept me in bed for days.
A quiet voice in my head began to tell me, “You have to stop drinking,” but I ignored it. Drinking made me feel better. It was just the hangovers that were terrible. The voice got louder and louder each time until one day, in the throes of this awful depression, I heard it loud and clear: “If you don’t stop drinking, you’re going to die.”
I saw my life clearly for the first time in as long as I could remember. I looked at the shambles of my career, the relationships I’d squandered and destroyed, and thought of all the times I’d chosen getting drunk over living my life.
Full of hope and spirit, I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous. The first few weeks were incredible. I shared every day, and beamed with pride each time I raised my hand to report my days of sobriety. I developed a relationship with God that filled my soul, and felt his love more deeply than I ever had before. I adored the fact that everyone in the room was just as much of a train wreck as I was, and that they openly discussed how much they loved God, and how much he filled the emptiness they used to fill with booze.
After about a month of not drinking, life started to shake my resolve. I was turning down a lot of invitations for dinners and happy hours because I wanted to avoid the temptation. More selfishly, I wanted to avoid telling my friends I was now sober. What if they wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore? Had I formed all my relationships on a mutual love for alcohol? Was all this God stuff real, or was I just fantasizing about something to cover up my loneliness?
These concerns evolved into a quiet resentment for my sober situation. A month of sobriety, and my life wasn’t actually any better. I still hated my job, I still felt depressed a lot, and now I didn’t even have drinking to look forward too. My social media was filled with happy friends drinking at trendy bars, recipes for fabulous cocktails I would never taste, and winemakers happily tending their grapes in far-away lands. It simply wasn’t fair that I couldn’t be part of that anymore.
I became bitter toward the people in AA who were trying to help me. I’d think, “You don’t know me. Stop trying to assume you know what I’m going through.”
Then the relapse happened. It was not a big event, not a bottoming out, not even taking a drink. My relapse was simply an idea that I couldn’t let go of. It was an unrelenting thought that, “Maybe you’re not an alcoholic. Maybe you just need to stop after a few drinks like a normal person. You shouldn’t deny your life of something you love so much. God loves you even if you drink.”
This idea sat with me for two more weeks before I actually took the first drink. I continued to go to AA. I still wanted people to think I was on the right path. They wouldn’t understand if I told them that I wasn’t really an alcoholic, that I didn’t belong there.
It was a simple occasion, taking that first drink after six weeks without one. It was a cool gin and tonic at a bar near my work. It was delicious. I thought maybe the stretch of sobriety would have trained me that one or two is plenty, and that I could control my drinking after all that time away.
Of course, that was not the case. I drank that first drink in earnest, and I couldn’t get the second one fast enough. I don’t know how many I had before I stumbled out of the bar into a cab. I don’t remember getting in that cab, just that I woke up in my own bed the next day, and my bank account confirmed I had charged the ride to a taxi company.
It had been so long since I’d woken up like this, I felt such regret and shame. My phone revealed several drunken text messages sent in the wee hours, an activity my soaked brain was especially fond of. Then there was that depression, worse than ever before. I had disappointed myself so deeply, I didn’t know how to go on. I stayed in bed for four days.
When I finally left the apartment, I headed for AA. I decided not to tell anyone about my relapse. I just wanted to fade into the back of the room, and prove to everyone I was still alive.
Often, when someone disappears from a regular meeting, news of their demise soon follows. I continued to raise my hand with a now-false report on my contiguous days of sobriety. People clapped for me. They were fools. My once-great affinity for AA had been sullied by my daily routine of lying to them all.
I no longer felt the spiritual connection I had cherished. Eventually, I stopped going. It was a hollow experience without telling the truth, and I was too cowardly to confess that I had relapsed. I continued drinking almost every day after that.
As I write this, I have been sober for three weeks. It hasn’t been easy, and I don’t always remember why I can’t have a drink. I haven’t gone back to AA, because I’m not ready to put my tail between my legs and admit that I failed. One thing has changed, though: I talk to God every day. I try to convince myself that he isn’t listening to a screwup like me, but each morning I pray for one thing: “Please keep me sober today.”
In every impulse to drink that I am able to avoid, I know how much God loves me, and that he has answered my prayer.
This author is anonymous so she doesn’t lose her job for revealing her battle with addiction.