Relapse is the dreaded monster under the bed, the proverbial elephant in the room, and at the same time an unavoidable part of the recovery story. This is not to say that relapse is required or a part of recovery, that is simply not true. However, it is also not the failure or abomination that others might see it as. One of the reasons it is such a controversial subject is that anyone in recovery or anyone who has been close to people in recovery have most likely seen the damage a relapse can cause, or witnessed the death.

Heroin and opiates in particular turned the relapse, which in the beginning with alcoholics might mean a long time of living in hell inside a bottle, could now mean instantaneous death by overdose. It changed the language and confused the methodology. There is a line in the big book of alcoholics anonymous that tells the person who is debating whether or not they are truly alcoholic, to go out and test the waters with a bit of controlled drinking. That in itself was dangerous, but now in this era of hard drugs could be a death warrant. This wasn’t a particular failure of AA, it was just a miscalculation based on ignorance of the future.

So how do we handle relapse? What can be done? Those are the types of questions ad infinitum that come from the wreckage. I have experience in this, having relapse quite a few times, and been witness to others relapses. At treatment centers, 12step rooms, and anywhere that tries to help the addict/alcoholic, there is a hysteria of what to do with this relapse. For some, it can mean a drunken night that ends in the morning, or a weekend crack binge, etc, but for others it can mean years of misery or as stated earlier death. There is a reasonable cause for fear and panic.

The problem as i see it is one of perception and human instinct. When something is terrifying, destructive, and doesn’t fit in to any logic…humans have the tendency to create all kinds of weird theories and defenses to try to re frame it in to the realm of the understandable. The single greatest line in the big book is the one that talks about how an alcoholic does not truly know why he took that drink, even if he gives any thousand of reasons. That is the truth as I see it.

This disease as it is labeled now, is one that is hopeless and illogical. It centers in the mind and spirit(whatever that is) and has no logical cure. Recent science has confirmed this in part, that the frontal cortex of an afflicted addict does not work while in craving. The frontal cortex is the part of the brain that logic centers in. This is where a normal person would get the thoughts that “hey, remember you have a family and this isn’t worth it”, where an addict/alcoholic will never hear that voice or it will be overpowered by a thirst or hunger that only those who’ve experienced it can know. Where nothing in the world exists but that drug or drink. All the lights go out, and tunnel vision sets in.

Now, one of the interesting unexplored or at least unknown to me research that id like to see is that of spirituality. For some reason, in that moment when the frontal cortex has gone black and all i could taste was whiskey in my mind, the idea of god was the only light still on. How is that possible? Is the part of the brain that works with spirituality, the only part that stays on, is it unaffected and therefore the only true defense? I ponder.

There is hope, because millions have recovered. There just isn’t any perfect path. There is a long journey ahead, and if you’ve relapsed my best advice is to try again. Its a miracle when an addict/alcoholic stays sober, so don’t beat yourself up. If you have someone close thats relapsed, just remember it is there disease, so don’t beat yourself up. Reach out, but don’t let them burn you, be supportive but don’t drown. We all carry on, keep the love and pass the torch. Its the best that can be done.


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