Relapse Traps – Respecting the Disease

By:  Jana Greene

Over a dozen years ago, I became friends with a woman in California who got sober a few years  before I did.  We met on 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 Cali friend and I spoke on the phone regularly, and our bond that spanned the confines of dial-up internet and many miles.   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 family – kindred spirits in recovery,   One Day at a Time, all glory to God.

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 – it’s plenty.

Not everyone survives 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 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 is still possible, if I don’t give recovery the attention that I once gave the drink.  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.

Of course, it is the disease that tries to convince you that the poison is the medicine for your condition.

So when a friend on our support board would fall off of the proverbial wagon,  it had  seemed to me that she had gotten to enjoy a nice buzz for a while scot-free.  That she would get to start sobriety over again like nothing ever happened.

Except for something always happened.  Not once did a relapse lead to enlightenment, 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.  I knew that because each time I had relapsed, it had gotten harder to get back in the game.  To survive.

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.

My heart breaks for those in relapse-mode.  It is a terrible place to be.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to my Cali girl on the phone and we remembered 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.

6 thoughts on “Relapse Traps – Respecting the Disease

  1. Oh Jana, I had a dear neighbor and friend, who lived on the block behind me. It took him ten years, and more heartache than anyone can imagine to finally get sober, and remain so. He is a physician, and even lost his license, which he has since regained. His kids grew up with my kids, and all the time we were both working on sobriety, our kids never were aware of the struggles of this man who I knew and loved as he tried, and tried, and today, he is the most amazing example of what happens if you never give up! God bless you for reminding me of this special friend of mine!


  2. I pray you rejoice in ALL your victories everyday, both big and small. Indeed–a life in sobriety is a life saved. I rejoice for ALL who find this and pray for those on the journey!


  3. Jana
    I had a friend years ago, Father Martin. He helped me a great deal in my early years of sobriety. He said “Good is the enemy of the best. Too often we settle for “good” when we can have the best. If we want the best, we have to pay the price. The price is the 12 steps, worked to the best of our ability and they are numbered for a reason.” Many of us get complacent and believe we don’t really have to do all that step stuff.


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