Two days ago, I poured myself a glass of whiskey.
If you follow me on Instagram and have seen any of my posts, you’ve seen me on the edge. I’m pretty transparent, maybe even to a fault, and this past week has been brutal. If I’m honest though, really the past 6 months or so have been difficult.
Relapse is a tricky, controversial subject. Did we relapse if we took a sip? Do we restart our time? Are we a disappointment? Is it even a “relapse” at all? Maybe let’s just call it a “learning experience” and move on, shall we? Etc.
The glass sat on the counter, and I stared at it for a long time.
Up to that point, I knew I was at risk. My sponsor was available, and I’d been reaching out to her as well as going to meetings. For whatever reason though, I was struggling to surrender something. I didn’t know what my problem was, only that I was in turmoil.
I’d been anxious and unsettled for weeks and months, with only moments of peace in between. Some days better than others, but still missing something.
Let’s take it back a day or so, though.
The day before I poured myself a glass of whiskey, something in me snapped.
It was like a bomb exploded in my brain.
I was going through an exhausting and emotional personal situation, and I wanted to kill all of my emotions dead, right then and there. Everything in me wanted relief from the war in my head.
That wasn’t a new feeling, I’d had it plenty of times before, but it was the first time in a long time that my first thought was alcohol. I was seized with an almost overwhelming desire to say “f- this” and drink myself into a blackout. It wasn’t about wanting to have fun, or fit in, or anything. It was all about killing my emotions.
I texted my husband: “I want to get very very drunk right now.” I texted my sponsor that I was struggling, and would be at a meeting that evening. It was an automatic response – I knew that if I didn’t go straight to a meeting, I would go straight to a bar. It was one or the other.
When I left for the meeting, I white-knuckled it all the way there. A newcomer was there, and I calmed down while we went around the room talking about first steps and where we started.
That night, I made it to bed sober and thankful.
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.”
– Proverbs 23:29-32
Humans have been drinking to excess for thousands of years. Whether somebody calls themselves an alcoholic, addict, non-drinker, alcohol-free, or Houdini, though – we know in our hearts when we are truly sober and free.
Personally, I say that I’m an alcoholic. It keeps me from jumping through mental hoops trying to convince myself that maybe this time will be different. That’s me, and I’m the only person I can speak for at the end of the day. This passage from the Big Book is an important one to me:
“Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.
We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.”
– The Big Book; Chapter 3 – More About Alcoholism
The next day, I was better. For a while.
My kids left for their dad’s later that evening, and I had nothing planned for the weekend. My day was emotional for a lot of reasons, and I’d actually stopped in at a meeting earlier in the day to talk about some of those issues. I wasn’t letting them go, though. I was talking, talking, talking, mostly wanting somebody to take my problems away from me.
I went to the office to get some work done in peace. It was a Friday evening, and I figured the empty office would be perfect for me to catch up on some admin tasks without interruption. Anxiety was still rolling around in my body, but I was “ok”. I thought. Until the thought pushed its way into my brain.
Psst. There’s whiskey in the cabinet.
My husband keeps whiskey at his office for maybe once or twice a year meetings with his business partner or clients. He’s one of those who can keep liquor for that long, unlike myself. It’s been there a good year or so. I’ve always known about it, but never gave it a second thought. Until two days ago.
Before I would let myself think too much, I’d gotten the whiskey down, popped the lid off, and poured a glass.
My Relapse Warning Signs:
I start to justify dabbling with other substances.
When I start trying to find ways to alter my mind (with a substance) in some way rather than dealing with anxiety, boredom, and the like in a constructive way, I know I’m on shaky ground.
I’ve taken and still take prescribed medication (non-narcotic), and I know my brain better than I used to. I know that cravings are seriously annoying, so I usually try to avoid any kind of substances that could trigger them.
But when I start relying on medication (even prescribed and taken as prescribed) instead of my sobriety tools, I’m not doing so great.
I ignore red flags.
People could be drinking all around me, but when I’m spiritually fit, it doesn’t phase me much at all. That doesn’t mean I’m immune or that I willingly put myself into those kinds of situations often, but I typically know when I’m strong and when I’m not.
When anxiety has been higher than usual or I am otherwise feeling “off”, I know it’s a bad idea to willingly put myself in potentially risky situations. When I start purposefully shrugging those red flags away, something is up.
I withdraw and isolate myself.
This one is tough, because isolation and being an introvert can look similar to some people. I judge it this way: am I gaining energy from being alone, or am I getting more depressed and less energetic?
When I’m “introverting”, there comes a time that I feel sufficiently recharged, and can socialize peacefully and happily. When I’m isolating, I sink further into depression and avoidance. Most communication feels like a raw nerve is being poked over and over.
I’ve been isolating myself more than usual for the past few months. Not good.
Control issues and resentment run rampant.
To maintain my serenity, I have to let my resentments and control issues go. All the time. Every day.
The longer it takes to surrender my concerns to God, the closer I am to a relapse.
When I stick my nose and opinions where they don’t belong, or try to control the outcome of something I can’t control, it compromises my sobriety. I’m not the ruler of the world, and nobody needs me to run their lives. I’d be terrible at it anyway. I’ve made enough of a mess in my own life, what makes me think I’m qualified to run anybody else’s?
No, that’s God’s job. Not mine.
Once you feel true peace and serenity, you know when you don’t have it anymore. I may not always know why, but I know when I’m not peaceful. Sometimes it passes, but if it doesn’t, it’s usually because I’ve wrestled control of something that I have no business trying to control.
I was exactly 26 months sober two days ago, and I hadn’t poured any alcohol or touched it in about that same amount of time. I’d carried beers to friends and maybe moved it around in a refrigerator while looking for soda at friend’s houses, but that was about it.
The glass sat on the counter. I stared, I picked it up, I put it down, I paced, I prayed. My heart pounded in my chest as I ran through all the ways I could get away with it.
This little bit wouldn’t count as a relapse.
I’ll just have a sip.
If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it “right”. Might as well have a good time if I’m going to do it. No lying or hiding. I’ll just own it, enjoy it, and start over tomorrow.
Everybody else relapses and they’re just fine.
It’ll be a learning experience.
Blah blah blah blah blahhhhhh.
I went back to my desk and prayed while I tried to focus on work again.
God took over in a quiet way. Nobody randomly showed up to “catch” me, and no angels flew in to take it away for me. About 15 minutes later though, I felt strengthened. I walked back into the office kitchen and poured the whiskey back in the bottle (even now, I don’t purposefully waste liquor).
Then I packed up my laptop and got out of there.
“Once more: The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.”
– The Big Book; Chapter 3 – More About Alcoholism
I’d texted my husband and sponsor while this was going on, but not with too much detail. I decided to go to a second meeting for the day, and the topic was about letting go. My sponsor was there. Before we walked into the meeting, I gave her a quick rundown of exactly what had happened the hour before. She knew I was struggling, but I let her know exactly how bad it was getting.
In the meeting, we all talked about what it meant to surrender, and what it first felt like for us to let go. That’s when I fully and completely understood that I hadn’t really surrendered control in a few months. I’d been stressing and making myself sick with anxiety for months, and I didn’t do anything about it.
You can’t just talk about problems, you have to take action. I wasn’t taking any real action.
After the meeting, I went to my sponsor’s house. We rocked on her beautiful back porch in the twilight, drinking Pellegrino sparkling water and talking about serenity and surrender.
Ever since that day, I’ve been praying and letting things go piece by piece. I’ve prayed to be more aware when I’m holding on to something, because sometimes it takes a long time for me to recognize that. I can only do what I can do in any situation, I can’t control anybody else’s actions or decisions. And that’s ok.
I’m very thankful that I woke up on my 796th day of sobriety today. One day at a time.
Read the Big Book: Different Formats (includes free PDF version)
The High-Functioning Alcoholic (a Psychology Today blog)
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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