Author, Rebecca Baillie, is a treatment specialist and guest blogger for Vertava Health.
“You’re going to leave me, aren’t you? Please don’t give up on me. I’ll get better, I’ll be who I was again. I love you, please don’t leave me.”
I’m watching the trees fly by through the truck window as my fiancé drives west through Tennessee. I’m sick and he’s had to stop twice so I can throw up. My benzos aren’t hitting my system quick enough and the alcohol from this morning is wearing off- I’m starting to feel again. His anger is radiating from the driver’s seat. I can’t stop crying. Everything hurts.
My phone blows up with text messages,
“You can do this.”
“I love you Becca. I’m so glad you’re getting help.”
“Don’t give up. You’ve got this. Stick it out in treatment.”
“It’s going to be ok. We love you.”
“You’re my daughter, I will never stop loving you. Just get better.”
I shut my phone off.
It’s not ok and love is the last thing I’m feeling right now. Dear God, how did I let this happen? How did it all fall apart again? How did it happen so quickly? Why did I ever think I could control it in the first place? I have a disease that doesn’t wish to be managed or controlled.
That’s the funny thing about relapse. It’s sneaky. I had more than a decade clean and sober. I had a successful career in the treatment industry. I helped navigate people through the hell of addiction into sobriety. I’m in love, I’m getting married. Or at least I was before last night, now I’m not so sure.
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At this moment I know three things to be true;
- If I keep using, I’m going to die.
- I need to go to treatment.
- I hate myself.
I don’t think that we talk enough about staying sober after a relapse. Before it happened to me, I couldn’t understand why other people in recovery would give up. It’s difficult to imagine why a human being would take a chance at losing their life, family, career, dignity and self-respect. Why keep throwing life away, especially when you know how good it can be? Why is it so hard to stay sober?
I read in a book somewhere that addiction is a subtle foe. It crept back into my life when everything was going great. For some, relapse can happen when life gets difficult such as the death of a loved one, or a divorce. For myself, it happened when I got successful. In my mind, my disease was able to tell me that it was a choice to drink. I planned it out like a bank robbery. Where I would drink, whom it was with, how much, etc. I made rules. It won’t burn me this time.
The defeat that came along with relapse engulfed me when I left treatment. I was never alone while I was in there. Someone was always in my business. I hated it at the time, but now the silence of my apartment was unbearable. I came home from treatment without a fiancé, without a career and a big mess to clean up. Here’s what got me through.
I let myself fall apart
My whole life I tried to hold it all together and never let the pain in. I’m an addict, I hate feelings.
Even in sobriety, when something terrible would happen, I bottled it up. I put my energy into other things- my education, work, relationships, hobbies. I did everything besides use drugs and alcohol to not feel. “I got this,” was my catchphrase.
Now, I had to cry. If it meant that I laid on my couch and sobbed on and off for hours, I did. I had a lot of grieving to do. I found no reason to hold it all together anymore.
The result of letting myself fall apart was that I was finally able to get honest. I was able to tell my family how much pain I was in. I allowed them to love and support me in a way that I hadn’t before. People in my life had no idea how hard losing everything was for me. As long as I kept up the tough girl persona, there was no way anyone could help me.
I went back to meetings
At first it was so hard to sit there. My brain would be inundated with shaming thoughts. “You had the best life and you chose to set fire to it.” “You’re just another hypocrite.” “You gave it all away, you don’t deserve to get it back.” I was honest about it with people. I stopped pretending that I was just fine. I shared the mess I made of my life and how much I hated myself for it. Most people were supportive and I allowed them to care for me as much as I could tolerate. I worked the steps in spite of my thoughts.
The result of going back to meetings was that I allowed the recovering community to be there for me. Being honest with other alcoholics and drug addicts was a constant reminder that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts or feelings. These people continued to remind me that even though I hated and judged myself, they didn’t.
The recovering community understands me in a way my family never will.
I stayed in contact with my recovery coach and therapist
I’m not saying that I had weekly or daily meetings with them, but when I was hurting I asked for help. My recovery coach and I passed back funny memes when I was sad. At about six months into sobriety I called my therapist to check in. I informed her that I still hated going to meetings and my sponsor wasn’t to my liking.
“I don’t think the meetings are for me anymore. Like, I understand why people need them, but I don’t think AA can help me this time. I know what to do.” To which she promptly demanded that I go to a meeting and get a new sponsor or I was going to relapse again. So I went to a meeting that night and cried some more. Both of these women encouraged me more than they will ever know.
The result of keeping in contact with my therapist and recovery coach was that these two women knew me. Luanne and Amanda had seen me at my absolute worst, in a way that I never let another human being see me. Despite everything, they cared about me and I trusted them. Whether it was through humor or a no nonsense attitude the two of them helped keep me on my path of sobriety.
The stark truth that I learned from relapsing after a long period of sobriety is that it was harder to bounce back than I ever could have imagined. That’s the reason most people don’t try. I want to share with you that it’s not impossible, and if you’re struggling, it’s okay.
I have 20 months clean and sober now, and I finally feel okay again. I stopped hating myself about nine months ago. I don’t cry in meetings anymore, instead I make people laugh. I came back to the career I love. My life isn’t exciting and I’m beyond okay with that. I have things in my life that I’m passionate about. I have two giant dogs that remind me to have fun, I help other people and for the first time in my life, I’m at peace.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling, reach out for help. You’re not alone. My ego took a hard hit when I relapsed, but it was exactly what I needed in order to have the amazing life I have now. Most of all, I promise that you don’t have to hate yourself forever. The shame of relapse does go away.