This post was originally published on June 29, 2016.
It’s been a rough day. My children are whining over some toy that is wedged in our couch. The couch is not giving up the toy, and the boys are not giving up their whining. The dog seems to be depressed. And I have to figure out what’s for dinner, which for some reason engulfs me in despair. These are the times that try the poor recovering alcoholic’s soul. And I need help.
I flee the lunatics and end up in my bedroom, rooting around in the pile of books by my bed to find my help: my Big Book. The dog jumps up beside me and settles down with a heavy sigh. I match his sigh, and start to read. In the front of the book is my brother’s name, written with his definite black scrawl. He dated his signature, December 31, 2013.
My brother relapsed again some time after that. Multiple times, probably; we never really knew for sure. My brother would get back on track, pull it all together and sober up and hope would come. And then, he would relapse. And start all over.
Until, he didn’t. Until, he died.
My brother died of liver failure. At the same time, I was a month back from what some would call a “slip,” that had occurred around Christmas. It wasn’t a slip. It was four days of insanity. I hated myself. I hated Christmas. I hated the whole world, and all of its endless temptations for people like me. Mostly, I just hated that I didn’t have my brother around anymore to talk to. I missed him.
Yes, the Christmas relapse was a short one, thankfully. It happened because something in my brain unhooked and went crazy and told me I could not handle any more holiday festivity crap without some wine. This, after three years of solid recovery. This, after meetings, and reading, and taking care of my soul, and attending to my heart, and working, every day, one day at a time, on living in freedom. I don’t really know how else to explain it. The relapse challenged me to a race, and I lost. The race was about who could make it through the holiday season without going crazy, and actually, I didn’t lose. I didn’t even finish.
Today, I am grateful for the relapse.
I am a runner and have entered so many five Ks that when I open my closet door it clangs and clatters at me due to all the medals hanging from my shoe rack. I have always loved to run. Some would say this is a sickness, and perhaps that is so. Perhaps, it signifies how much I love the idea of high-tailing it away from life, but in an acceptable, healthy way. In this case, running away is allowed, and I revel in it. At least, most of the time. I remember one race I entered in mid July. I live in Kansas, and so, mid July is also basically lava, and the run really was a bad idea from the start. But, I was convinced I could do it. Also, I was convinced I had to do it really fast.
About halfway into my lava run, my stomach decided to tell me it was no longer having any fun. I didn’t listen and kept plugging away, until basically I felt like my lower intestine wanted to escape me, just like the Alien does in that Sigourney Weaver movie. But I wouldn’t stop running. I just couldn’t. It meant defeat. It would negate the whole event. My stomach did not feel like negotiating about this, and I had to walk the last half mile. I did manage to get up to a sort of lurching jog at the finish line, because I thought my pride would explode into black, bitter bits if I didn’t run it in. So, I ran it in, and I nearly died. And I kept on dying, with a bad stomach bug, for the next three days.
When I lost my mind that Christmas, I thought all my past recovery was incinerated as well. That is one of the very big problems with relapse. Once you are in the thick of that insanity, you think, “Well. It’s over. And pointless. And I am just going to stay here in worthless-land because why even try to go back to sobriety? It’s all gone.”
When we do something right and good for our lives, that sticks. When we invite sobriety into our life, we learn it is kindhearted. And it waits for us. It hunkers down, and says a prayer, and waits. And once I did find my way back, I am grateful for its patience. But, as we all know, alcoholism also waits. And it is not at all kind. In my opinion, while recovery waits with a hopeful and virtuous heart, alcoholism plops down on a couch with some beer and hot wings and belches a lot at the TV.
However, I am grateful for my relapse. I am grateful for it in the way that I am grateful for the bullies that plagued me on my 7th grade drill team, the girls who threw barbs at me about my clothes, my hair, my existence on a daily basis. I am grateful for relapse like I am for the cancer that my sister and father both had to fight, where our family found ourselves praying and crying and clinging closer to each other in hospital waiting rooms for weeks on end.
I am grateful for relapse because it kicked my ass. Hard.
Relapse helped me lose my mind, and then find it again. Prior to it, I had been slowly falling back into some old behaviors. I had been on the hunt for the perfect, Pinterested Christmas, and all this running after that elusive event had weakened my day-to-day recovery. I wasn’t listening to my heart. I was ignoring some really intense rumblings inside me that were telling me I was feeling lonely, overwhelmed and sad.
Some of us get sober and stay that way. I admire then. I think of my father, who found sobriety before I was born and has stayed that way all these years. When my brother died, we surrounded Chris’s grave in the blistering cold of January, and as the final prayers were uttered, I saw Dad fish in his pocket and pull out a sobriety coin. He walked forward and placed the coin in Chris’s grave. I had to turn away, into the wind, my tears icing up on my cheeks. It was a moment from that day that is a portrait for me, frozen in time and in our hearts. We all wished Chris could have walked the same path as my dad.
Some of us have tougher traveling to do, but I still find the road has been a blessing. Relapse taught me to listen better and to forgive. Do I recommend it? God, no. But, as pretty much any road race has taught me, if I have to walk, or even leave the course, that doesn’t mean I should never strap on my Adidas again. There are too many paths left to explore in this life, and I am stronger for all the hardest miles.
But I sure as hell don’t plan on leaving the road again.