Over a dozen years ago, I became friends with a woman in California through an internet support board for women alcoholics. In retrospect, the venue for our support group sounds a little cheesy but there’s nothing cheesy about lives being saved, which is what happened there for some of us.
My California friend and I spoke on the phone regularly, and our bond spanned the confines of time, miles and dial-up internet. In Malibu, she could literally be sticking a toe into the Pacific Ocean as I, on the coast of North Carolina, could be sticking a toe in the Atlantic.
She is Reiki where I am Massage Envy and she knows her way around auras and energies the way I know my way around town to find something deep fried (equally good for the soul). You might not think we have much in common, if you were to look on the surface – but addiction and recovery are not skin-deep endeavors. I love her and I respect her immensely - we are kindred spirits in recovery.
There were a number of women in our little support group who did not remain sober. Some still attempt sobriety, only to relapse time and time again. For them, recovery hasn’t “stuck” yet, and I don’t know why. I wish I understood why some people stay sober and some don’t, but taking my own recovery “inventory” is enough of a job for me (and sometimes seems too big a job).
Not everyone survived active addiction. That’s what people often forget about alcoholism…it can kill you.
For the first couple of years of my recovery, I had this awful, knee-jerk, pissed off reaction to these friends who picked up the drink again after some period of sobriety. Not angry with them, exactly – but angry at them, resentful and threatened. What do you mean you got drunk last night? You’ve been sober for the eternity of two weeks!
I resented relapsers because I myself had been one for years. It terrified me that I could lose all of my “time” just like that. I knew it was possible – that it would always be possible. We alcoholics, in the midst of having a disease for which there is no cure, can only manage it by implementing 12-steps for living, and not picking up the poison.
The disease tries to convince you that the poison is the medicine for your condition.
So when a friend picked up again and got a nice little escape from the drudgery of recovery work, it seemed to me that she had gotten to enjoy a nice buzz for awhile, and then start sobriety over again like nothing ever happened.
Except for something always happened. Not once did a relapse lead to enlightenment for anyone, to repaired relationships….to healing. Not once would the relapser even mention the buzz, so eclipsed was it by her self-loathing.
She would never claim the episode was anything but miserable and harrowing. Alcoholism is a deadly disease with no respect for the length of previous sobriety; if I picked back up, I start wherever I left off before the relapse. It is also no respecter of sex, age, faith, wealth or beauty; it is an equal opportunity killer.
Still, it demands that I must respect it – the disease. Simply put: If you can’t swim, the best way to avoid drowning is to stay out of the water. Don’t even put a toe in. It just isn’t worth the risk.
Cunning, baffling and powerful .
My heart breaks for those in relapse-mode. It is a terrible place to be.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to my friend in Malibu and we took time to remember our friends whom are still – all these years later – struggling like crazy. We talked about not taking our disease for granted. When you have recovery in common, you have everything in common.
No one ever regretted having stayed sober. A life in sobriety is a life saved for an addict.
It is its own sweet, undeserved and precious reward.