Relapse, unfortunately, is sometimes an inevitable part of recovery. An inevitable part, and one that never gets any easier for the person who loves the alcoholic to witness and bear. And it's even harder for a person who is new to recovery, because it may happen more frequently. As the supporter, you may feel like it's never going to get any better. You might be frustrated, angry, and feel abandoned, let down, and alone. Just remember, you aren't alone and you didn't cause this. This is just a part of the territory, so you have to figure out at what point the relapse behavior crosses your boundaries, which is a whollleee 'nother topic for a whollleee 'nother post.
Jeff's relapses can occur for a number of reason. The hardest part is remembering that one of those reasons is not because of me. No matter what I say or do, Jeff is the one who plans, schemes, and initiates his drinking. From my perspective, his relapses can be tied to multiple "triggers." I hate to use the word trigger, because ultimately, anything could be a trigger. Ultimately, an alcoholic, to me, is someone who actively looks for their next excuse to drink, when really, the bottom line is that an alcoholic drinks because of their disease. But the disease tricks an alcoholic into drinking, and this is what I have witnessed Jeff get caught up by:
1) The strong desire to be normal. New Year's Eve - not even one month ago. I made the mistake of saying it would be okay to have some alcohol in our house. Before you crucify me, know this - Even though as I mentioned above, Jeff is responsible for Jeff's drinking, I realize now that this was a really terrible decision. Whatever his sickness, my job as a partner in supporting a sick husband is to make sure I enable a safe environment for him to recover in. But guess what? I also have a strong desire to be normal that sometimes impacts my decision-making, too. Regardless, I was hoping just this one night, we might be able to have a break from the rigors of every day life. Not the case and I will never make that mistake again. Jeff sneakily drank most all of my nephew's vodka behind his back, tried to steal a bottle of champagne that I had purchased for our guests, and ended up passed out at 10:30 pm. I ended up crying in a snowy field by myself. When I asked him the next day what his thought process was, he said, "I had been doing so well. Everyone was having fun. I just wished I could be normal."
2) The really hard task of setting a new pattern. Think of a new year's resolution. How long does that last? Could you stop being too lazy to go to the gym, give up eating refined sugar, be kinder, quit drinking soda, or cold turkey whatever your idea of a vice might be, if your life depended on it? What about your happiness? We're all bound to slip. Six days of seven you might not eat that chocolate, but you eat it on the seventh, you forgive yourself on the eighth, and by the ninth, you try to move forward saying you'll do better next time. Obviously, alcoholism is way more serious than a simple guilty pleasure, but because of that, it is an even more difficult pattern to break. Some alcoholics seem to have rituals and excuses they have been developing for years. That isn't something that can change over night.
3) The pressure. "Things are going well!" "I'm doing such a great job!" You wouldn't think these two phrases would trigger a relapse in an alcoholic, but sometimes the pressure to keep up the good work and the weight of having so many good days in a row is unbearable. It's a lot to maintain. It's hard work every day in recovery, and that alone can be a lot to confront in the mirror every day.
4) The voice in the back of your head. It coincides with the pressure. That little guy, whispering ever so softly in the back of your mind, "you're gonna fuck this up anyways, loser. Might as well get it over with now." He sucks.
5) A bad day. We all have 'em. Alcoholic or not. And sometimes, you just make a mistake because you're emotional, or tired, or pissed off. If I mess up, shame on me. If an alcoholic slips up, it can set off a whirlwind of emotion and a continued downward spiral of relapse.
6) A familiar situation. You're in a place you used to drink, with people you used to drink with, and everyone is happy and drinking. It might just feel like second nature to drink, even if you need to be sober. I heard this from my husband's therapist, an old AA saying, "If you go to the barbershop everyday, you're going to wind up with a haircut."
7) The escape. This is like a bad day, but I think more significant. I think when Jeff is feeling depressed, or anxious, or worried about something, he goes back to his usual coping method, per point #2 (hard task of setting a new pattern), and tries to run away. Guess what, you can't outrun emotions, because they pretty much just stick with you, and they are 100x more intense when you sober up.
I'm sure there are a million other reasons, but these ones seem to be the most familiar to me. Regardless, I hope that Jeff reads this. Not because this is anything he doesn't know, or to make him feel bad, or in hopes that he will want to recover because of something I have said. The truth is, none of those things will make him recover, only he will help himself down the road. I just want him to understand how I see it, because I imagine when you relapse, you have a really hard time seeing the forest through the trees. For me, I'm trying to slowly but surely let go of the things I can't control because I am only going to continue to be a part of this high wire act if I let myself. I can't control Jeff's drinking, but I can control how I react to it. Right now, I am on a business trip, trying to go about my life, and waiting for the moment that Jeff will call me, sober, and ready to try to move forward once again. Until that time comes, I am going to do what I need to do for myself to get through each day happy, healthy, and focused on my personal well-being.
Want to read Jeff's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/1/post/2014/02/the-trapeze-swinger.html