ONE RECOVERING ADDICT’S THOUGHTS ABOUT RELAPSE

 A mom wrote to me: I remember my son saying two things to me about relapse:
1) Relapse is part of recovery, but not an excuse for me to use again. If I do relapse, it is on me. 2) I am not “cured.’ I am an addict getting better, but the pilot light is always on.

 

After the death of my son, my advice to parents is to just keep loving your child, exactly where he is on this journey. Say I love you often. Accept that you are powerless except in prayer and mother love. You will never regret your kindness and firmness.

My reflection: It took me years to understand that relapse wasn’t my son’s attempt to betray me and our family, and it wasn’t his desire to hurt us, but it was just what it was – a lapse and then a relapse. Relapse wasn’t the time for me to say to him, “Ah, I caught you. You did it again,” but it was the time to say, “Fight. I believe in you. You CAN do it. You are loved.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying that while the addict is in recovery, their addiction is in the parking lot doing pushups, biding its time and getting ready to pounce. Today, let us recognize that recovery is a journey, sometimes with many hills and deep valleys. Let us have love and pride for those who are living in the solution, and compassion and hope for those who are struggling.

 

RELAPSE REQUIRES COURAGE FOR ALL OF US

A mother wrote to me: My son is still on the revolving road to recovery. He has been in detox three times, rehab (both inpatient and outpatient), in a sober house, involved in AA with a sponsor, and is presently trying the suboxone route with individual counseling. My heart is broken, but I will find my courage.

My reflection: Our suffering loved ones must learn to live in abstinence and that’s a new and scary place for them. They know how to occupy addiction, but sobriety requires skills that are foreign to them or skills they’ve long forgotten.

At one point Jeff wrote the following about a friend who relapsed, which helped me understand in a deeper way how complicated it is, “I know that place. He was in pain, and it was too much. He used to kill it. Then he needs to keep using because the addiction has kicked in. An addict loses all sense of free will; you’re thrown back into the space of obsession, of always needing something more. I’m sure he’s scared and confused.”

Today’s Promise to Consider: Relapse scares me as a mom, but I will remember that it’s also frightening for my loved one. I can’t fix my child’s addiction or fight his battles, but I can love him with distance. His goal is to learn to live in the solution. My goal is to have the courage to stay close.

ADDICTION DEPLETES US, EMOTIONALLY, MENTALLY, AND FINANCIALLY

A mother wrote to me: My husband and I have bailed our son out of financial trouble for so long that we have nothing left. And it didn’t even help. I don’t know if we were trying to keep him from hitting rock bottom or trying to keep ourselves from hitting rock bottom. He was a brilliant, athletic, friendly, and respectful child, and we are a close supportive family. None of this makes sense.

My reflection: Every addiction story is filled with suffering, chaos, and trauma. At the end of my son’s fourteen-year heroin addiction, I, too, was depleted.

Today’s Promise to consider: We bail out our children, over and over again. When our addicted loved one calls desperate for help, money is often what they want. In the end, money is not the answer. In the end, the solution is in the person, who must make the decision to change his life. It is his decision to get well, to do what it takes to remain clean, and to choose a different way of living. Today, I will stay close, but not allow the addiction to deplete me.

RELAPSE: THAT ‘MOTHER’ FEELING

A mom wrote to me: My son and I went to an AA meeting together, and I was delighted and proud that he allowed me to accompany him. His recovery is so important to me (maybe even more important to me than to him?), and I know he has relapsed several times. He’s not honest enough to tell me. I wish he were. I just sense that he has tripped along the way – just a feeling, that mother feeling.

My reflection: At the beginning of my son’s recovery, I wish I had understood more clearly that relapse happens and can happen often. I thought that when my son left treatment he was healed. Wrong. It was at those times that he needed more support than ever – and he needed honesty. Relapse isn’t about ‘catching’ the addict, but it is about everyone learning how to stay centered through life’s daily struggles.

Today’s Promise to consider: If I have the feeling my son has slipped, I pray that I’ll have the fortitude to talk compassionately with him as he battles for his life, again. Relapse is not moral failure; my son is an addict. Relapse, if handled well, can be one step closer to full recovery.

 

WE WANT TO BELIEVE THE STORIES THEY TELL

A mother wrote to me: I wanted to believe the stories of why my son needed money; I wanted to help. Time after time we gave him another chance; we wanted to believe he could do this. In time, he got out of his fourth rehab, did well for a year, and then relapsed. He was so much worse than ever before. I know I prolonged his addiction out of love. It’s true – I was an enabler, but I could not let go.

My reflection: The Big Book of AA makes a clear promise: If the person doesn’t achieve recovery, he or she will find “jails, institutions or death.” We want to believe our loved ones and the stories they tell – they’re our children and spouses and family members, who were once trustworthy and dependable. Addiction corrupts that.

Today’s Promise: While trust is essential, I must also remember that addiction distorts the truth. As Dr. MacAfee says, “There’s only room for one in an addiction.” My loved one must choose to fight, and I must get out of the way.

ADDICTION: WHEN MY SON WASN’T READY TO GET SOBER

My son wrote about his first recovery center: I was told that recovery required vigilance and a long-term commitment, that in order to stay sober I’d have to attend regular AA meetings and work with a sponsor. At the time I didn’t realize sobriety was an ongoing process. I wasn’t yet ready to do the work. Although my drug use was causing problems, it wasn’t devastating.

My reflection: My son saw the problems that drugs were causing, but he wrote that he wasn’t ready to do the work because the consequences of his using weren’t debilitating, yet. With an illness like cancer or diabetes, we must choose to fight and to do the work required to keep the illness under control, like eating well, taking medicine, or exercising. When I had cancer, I had to choose to fight it; when my son was in the throes of addiction, he also had to choose. He wasn’t ready.

Today’s Promise: Like treatment for any major illness, sobriety requires learning new behaviors. For the addict, attending AA meetings, working with a sponsor and cultivating a spiritual life are where it begins. My son had to choose to do this work. I couldn’t do it for him. In time, I learned how to stay close but out of the chaos of his addiction. I had to give him the dignity of his choices. 

 

RELAPSE AND THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

A mother wrote to me: My son is still on the revolving road to recovery. He has been in detox three times, rehab – both inpatient and outpatient, in a sober house, involved in AA with a sponsor, and presently is trying the suboxone route with individual counseling.  My heart is broken, but I will find my courage. The words stagli vicino will be my mantra of hope.

My reflection: Relapse happens and happened often to my son. I learned more about relapse when my son wrote about a friend, “I know that place. He was in pain, and it was too much. He used to kill it. Then he needs to keep using because the addiction has kicked in. An addict loses all sense of free will; you’re thrown back into the space of obsession, of always needing something more. I’m sure he’s scared and confused.”

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is terrifying to those of us who love someone who is suffering and also to the suffering person himself. As much as I fear the pain of relapse and the consequences for my son, I will stay close with hope and faith. Though Jeff is clean and living a healthy life, we know that relapse is a perpetual threat. It’s only with vigilance that it’s kept at bay. Today I’ll support my addict in his efforts to stay clean while giving him space to steer his own program.

WHAT ARE THE ANSWERS WITH ADDICTION?

A mother wrote to me: My son is in jail. He is only 18. I will not bail him out. I cry every night. He has not yet escalated to the harder drugs, but the criminal behavior is there. I hate that my son is in jail, hate that I cannot and will not bail him out, and hate what is coming down the road for him, but I know that this is the necessary action to be taken if he is to get on the road to recovery. I also know that he must be willing and we do not see that yet. I pray I’ve made the right decisions.

My reflection: Addiction gloats in our confusion and chaos. Do we bail out our children? Do we give them money to pay their bills? Do we cover the fee of yet another rehab center? There are no easy answers and we must make the decisions based on what we’ve learned, what professionals recommend, and what our hearts tell us.

Today’s Promise to consider: I accept that I don’t have all the answers about addiction, but today I will listen with an open heart to the help and advice of professionals, those in recovery, other parents, and my own good counsel. When I had breast cancer, I talked with three surgeons and each one offered differing recommendations. We each must make the decision that we think is best for our loved one and our family. I pray for wisdom.

 

 

“How do I get out of his way but stay close?”

A mom wrote to me: My son is in the thick of alcohol addiction. This last year has been particularly difficult with a third DUI and forced hospitalization. There have been some patches of clarity and health, but the battle rages. A few days ago I finally accepted the fact that my help, over all these years, was not helping and that I could no longer allow him to live with me. Is it possible to stay close if I withdraw my support of a place to live? How do I get out of his way but stay close?

My reflection: After fourteen years of addiction with my son, I changed my behavior: I didn’t give him money and didn’t allow him to live at home; however, I never stopped taking his phone calls and I continually reminded him that he was loved. I told him that once he was healthy again, home and family were waiting for him.

Today’s Promise to consider: We each must answer the title question for ourselves, but for me, I learned to stay close and, at the same time, allow my son to face the consequences of his addiction. As parents, we often turn ourselves inside-out in an effort to ‘fix’ our addicted children, until we realize that our help isn’t always helping. In some confounding way, when I got healthier so did my son.

 

Misconception #8: Relapse is failure

From my son, I learned: that relapse happens. It happened often with Jeff. There are countless examples of recovering addicts like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stay clean for years, relapse, and die. Drugs are powerful and addiction never rests. It bides its time and waits for the right moment to pounce.

My reflection: Through a dozen of my son’s relapses, I suffered. I wondered what I was doing wrong, and what I could/should be doing differently. Every relapse was a red, flashing light that blinded me with a sense of failure. It took me years to understand.

Today’s Promise to consider: Relapse is a gut-punch, instantly dashing hopes and optimism. But the reality is that relapse happens. Each time it did for Jeff, I felt guilt, anger, and betrayal…until one day Dr. MacAfee told me, “Relapse isn’t failure. It’s one step closer to recovery.” I still hold that thinking close in my work with addiction. It buoys me when I hear about recovering people losing their footing. It helps me keep hope alive.