Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Relapsing

I’m 436 days sober today, so I suppose the issue of relapse would come up at some point. Never fear; I haven’t fallen off the wagon. But on Sunday, I went to a meeting, and there was the inevitable shaken member of Alcoholics Anonymous who told of going out a few days prior and being frightened half to death by his own behavior. He claimed to have consumed five fifths over the course of a day.

Me, I’d be dead of alcohol poisoning if I ever drank that much. The worst that ever happened to me was downing nine shots in three Cadillac margaritas on an empty stomach, then two shots of Jack Daniels, then a beer, then one more Cadillac margarita, still on an empty stomach. At that point, I passed out and fell off the barstool I was sitting on. When I came to, a couple of friends were standing around, fanning me, and I opened my mouth to speak, but whoops. I puked. Fortunately it was mostly just liquid and bile since I hadn’t eaten. They dragged me to my feet and over to the bathroom where they cleaned me up, but when they got me back out into the bar, I couldn’t walk, another wave of nausea came over me, and I puked again. At this point, the paramedics showed up and hauled my sorry ass to the Emergency Room. “Acute Alcohol Intoxication” was the diagnosis…. Not exactly cute. The hangover the next day was horrible. And the experience was scary enough to prevent me from drinking-- for all of three months.

Five fifths would’ve killed me, but I saw some folks in rehab for whom that was a fairly normal day. It was nothing for them to drink several fifths and then take norcos or shoot heroin or smoke dope on top of that. I was among the lightweights of the boozehounds. So this shaken man with the ashen face and the expression of deep-seated fear… I had no reason to disbelieve him.

I imagine it was five fifths of sheer rock gut, not the good stuff, whatever he could afford to buy five bottles of. I’m sure when he cracked open the first bottle, a drink sounded like a great idea. I’m sure he didn’t figure he’d drink all five bottles, either. But with an alcoholic, a thousand drinks is never enough, and one is too many.

I’m reminded of a time I went to a women’s meeting in Burlingame one Sunday, and a butch dyke with slicked back hair showed up, looking tough enough to take care of herself even on the streets of the Mission late on a Saturday night. But when it came her turn to share, she began weeping. “My sponsor,” she cried, “went out two nights ago. If she can’t stay sober, how can I?” She’d been hitting meeting after meeting, praying non-stop, hanging on by a thread, desperate to not pick up that first drink.

And today my own sponsor told me of a friend, someone who’s been sober for six years now, who went back out just this past weekend on a trip to Las Vegas. Relationship problems set her off, and one more tiff was the thing that cut that tenuous thread. One drink led to the next, then the next, and the next, and she was off and running until FORCED to stop. Six years, gone, whoosh.

So the problem is, how do we keep ourselves from picking up that first drink? In a world where everybody drinks when things go wrong—after a stressful day, after hearing bad news, or when tragedy strikes, or when things go right--when celebrating, at weddings, on birthdays, on holidays. How can you not yield to the barrage of temptations that come, time after time after time?

In rehab, the answer for those who’d relapsed after periods of sobriety was the same: relapses happen when we let the program of AA fall by the wayside. We stop going to meetings. We stop doing the work of the Twelve Steps. We lose contact with our Higher Power. We forget what it was like when we were drinking. We start being ruled by our egos again. Pain, resentments, the things that used to “make” us drink, start consuming our lives again. In this frame of mind, we give in to the desire to drink. We say, “Fuck it.”

I’ve been sober only 436 days. So far, I don’t live in fear of relapse, but I know better than to get complacent. Alcohol is insidious—this disease of addiction is always whispering in my ear; cravings come out of nowhere. I have tools, like HALT: don’t ever let yourself get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. I have my sponsor, who would take a call from me at anytime. My sobriety is new enough that I can still remember vividly the horror of the last year of my life before I got sober, how truly fucked up I really was, how I thought and did things that made no sense. I’m one of the lucky ones, because the thought of drinking still makes me flinch; I loathe the idea of booze because I didn’t like what it turned me into.

But it won’t be this way always. One day the idea of having a drink—just one little drink won’t hurt me, right?--will come out of nowhere and seem like a good one. That is the day I need to be prepared for. I need to know that getting to the point of picking up requires a series of poor decisions, so that at any point in the series I can take action to prevent things from unfolding in a way I don’t want them to go. I don’t need to get in my car. I don’t need to drive to the bank to get money out. I don’t need to drive to the liquor store. I don’t need to pluck a bottle off the shelf. I don’t need to pay for that bottle at the cash register. I don’t need to drive home with that bottle. I don’t need to open the bottle. I don’t need to pour a drink. I don’t need to lift the glass to my mouth. I don’t need to swallow.

At any point, I can stop--if I just ask for help.

2 comments:

Tedi Trindle said...

I had a bad drinking dream last night. I had to drop both my sponsees and start all over. It was awful. But, damn I wanted all that beer. It's scary. Makes you glad to wake up. And glad to go to a meeting.

We've had a few "old timers" go out recently. But lots and lots of "white chippers", way more than have gone out, so it's been pretty cool.

Thanks for the reminder that I'm still just one drink away from losing everything I've worked so hard for.

Joyce said...

Yup. I hate those drunk dreams in which you actually FEEL drunk...you FEEL a genuine buzz and it feels great! Ugh. Then you wake up and go "Whoa."

This time of year is bad for relapses, too. Thanksgiving, Christmas...and people are drinking more than usual, and others are feeling lonely.

One thing I hear over and over is that even if you relapse, it's not as if you've totally wiped the slate clean and are starting over at square one. You still have all the things you learned while you were sober. You just need a refresher and a stronger foundation. Hop back on the horse! What else can you really do?

I just hope I never have to experience that.