When I was newly sober, I had a list of possible tragedies which, should they come to pass, I thought would warrant a relapse. Surely, if my husband died or I got terminal cancer, no one would begrudge me a drink, right?
But since part of me hoped for such an excuse, I amended the list to include the more bearable scenario of my dog Edmund’s sudden and tragic passing. 🙂
Which might explain why twice during my early recovery Edmund was almost killed due to negligence on my part. Once a car hit him because I had him off leash. Fortunately, he’s so small he bounced off the front spoiler and rolled away to safety. Another time, while lowering my passenger seat for a nap, I inadvertently pushed Edmund out the rear window and onto the freeway in Denver. Fortunately, traffic was stalled and we noticed he was no longer in the car before we drove off.
If you’re an alcoholic, you understand why I used to think, When’s this little prick gonna die so I can drink?
Today, the idea that I might drink seems unlikely—a fact which, ironically, makes me more vulnerable to relapse. Especially when you consider I never saw it coming when, at six months sober, I drank at Dave in the Minneapolis airport.
So, in the spirit of vigilance, here’s an unscientific list of conditions that may increase our risk of relapse.
- We have a history of slipping. The more we relapse, the more relapse starts to feel like an option we can come back from—until we can’t.
- We were active in our addiction for many years. It makes sense that the longer we used or drank, the more deeply engrained those patterns of behavior can be, and the harder to break.
- We have been in recovery a long time. It’s true. The longer we stay sober, the harder it is to remember our powerlessness, and the easier it is to think we’ve changed enough that we could handle a drink.
- We have a lot of YETs. We haven’t yet got a DUI. We haven’t yet lost our job, our kids, or our marriage due to our stupid habit. Yets are good news until they make us wonder if we’re really alcoholics or addicts like the rest of those people we meet in meetings.
- We aren’t part of a recovery community. Most of us just can’t do this thing alone. We need the support and accountability that comes from being vulnerable with—and deeply connected to—others on the same journey.
- We take prescription meds that can be addictive. For many alcoholics and addicts, this is a slippery slope that takes us right back to our drug of choice.
- We keep our recovery secret from friends and family. If the most important people in our lives wouldn’t know or care if we relapsed, we probably don’t have enough at stake in our sobriety.
- We live or work in an environment rife with “triggers.” Repeated exposure to situations that weaken our resolve—for example, excessive stress, anxiety and conflict—set us up to seek relief in our bad old ways.
- We think we’re beyond danger. There’s a big difference between healthy confidence and the kind of cockiness that results in complacency. The latter is likely to lead us to a drink.
- We are unwilling to seek outside help. Many of us get sober only to discover we need to address other mental health issues, which if neglected, can threaten our sobriety.
- We fail to take the actions our program suggests. We rely on God to keep us sober, but God relies on us to do our part. Unless we take the steps historically proven to help, our sobriety is likely to be precarious.
- We don’t help other alcoholics. We often remind each other in meetings that we keep what we have by giving it away. Assisting newcomers reminds us of the nightmare we’ve been saved from, and helping others gets our attention off of ourselves.
You know what? Reading through this list right now, I realize that at least three of these apply to me today. This doesn’t mean I’m doing anything wrong, it just means that like everyone else in recovery, I need to stay vigilant if I want to stay free.
By the way, don’t worry about Edmund. Let’s face it, he has good reason to believe he’ll live forever.
In the meantime, I no longer secretly hope for his demise. And if he dies, I promise not to drink at his funeral.
I’d love to hear from you today. What do you think I should add to this list? What else puts us at risk of relapse?
In case you’re interested in this topic, I wrote another post about relapse called No One Will Know if I Eat This Cake: The 12 Lies of Relapse.