Updated: Feb 4, 2021
*Please note I do believe one hears what one needs to hear. My reflection is simply my perception and experience of it… take what you want and leave the rest.
In a meeting today a young woman coming up on a year of sobriety mentioned that going to meetings was “starting to feel hard.” She mentioned her potential plans to relapse, but that she wasn’t going to follow through with them. As she spoke, I could hear and feel the guilt, fear, uncertainty, mischief, and yearning in her voice. This stopped me in my tracks as I had a similar experience before/during my relapse. I have had plans to write about relapse for quite some time now. When I re-entered the rooms of AA as a newcomer post relapse, I recognized and noted my reactions and observed the community’s response to my experience. As a result, I knew I wanted to point out some truths publicly in hopes that it may help someone in the future.
When I initially relapsed via smoking marijuana I was not surprised; I knew what I was doing. When the drugs started to take effect, I was looking out onto a golf course watching the sun go down, leaving me with a view of a pink and golden sky. How, surrounded by such a beautiful scene, had I rocketed myself back into a cocoon of shame, guilt, horror, and anger? I will tell you how….. I am human!
Allow me to elaborate. When I decided to get sober a year and a half before this moment, with the help of my fellows and my own tenacity and faith, I was slowly birthed into a reality and consciousness that I didn’t know existed. In the program, we call it the “4th dimension.” The 4th dimension consists of a Higher Power leading the way, unconditional love from a stranger otherwise known as a sponsor, and new friends who understand your pain. It was remarkable to me. It also made sense to me because, as I see it, when an individual has had the experience of crawling on the earth in pain, begging the universe to take them out of their misery , that individual can develop a humility and a divinely inclusive love for those who have also visited that same depth of despair. As sober individuals, I believe our spirits silently honor one another for going through that kind of horrific experience and choosing to stay alive and rise about it. We get the opportunity, if we take it, to experience the truth of our interconnectedness as human beings. When I became sober and joined the fellowship, I experienced relief and serenity from this new loving reality…. and I also had my doubts.
As human beings, we confirm our existence by the things we know to be true, our associations, memories, and those who are around us. When I decided to get sober, everything. Looked and felt new. The ego, that loud voice in our heads, does not like change, even when it is for the better. The egos only job is to keep you alive and does not welcome changes in identity or ways of living. For example, when I left home and moved to my own apartment into a new town, I felt anxiety and instability for a few weeks. My brain didn’t recognize what was going on; it was different from what I associated as being safe (my old bedroom, family members), so as a result, the move initially generated a panic alarm. After a couple of weeks of reminding myself I was safe, and not judging the feelings (to the best of my ability), I started to feel more grounded in my new space. Two years later, my apartment feels like the safest place in the world to me. When we change a habit, a pattern, a career, a neighborhood, etc., our brain simultaneously creates new pathways to go along with the change. This takes time and requires lots of faith and strength to not go back to an old way of being and living. Hence why relapse is so common.
When I was coming up on two years of sobriety it was as if my brain said, “Hold on a minute!! Are we sure we need to continue with this new way of living!? It scares me how different it is, are you sure it is the better option??” The strength of my addiction to drugs and my fearful ego made the marijuana seem like a good idea for me, “The drug helps cancer patients so how bad can it be?” I thought. Most people in the program would say these thoughts are my disease talking. I don’t disagree with that, but I think there is more to it, and understanding it might be what prevents someone from relapsing.
During the couple weeks before I chose to smoke, those thoughts and questions I had were buzzing in my mind. I could feel my being and my mind savagely searching for what would keep me safe. My mind was terrified; terrified of being different, not being loved, not being able to help myself, not doing what is right and will keep me safe. For the ten years leading up to this moment, I knew different substances made me feel safe- until they didn’t. What I needed was the ability to wrap my arms around myself and hold the little girl inside of me who was screaming for help. I didn’t have that ability yet, and I did what I thought I needed to do to find the best/safest “way” for me. When I think back, it makes so much sense to me. We do not talk about it enough in AA. The idea that, OF COURSE I WAS QUESTIONING MY SOBREITY!! When you had stayed safe by living one way for 20 years, how is it possible to fully trust a drastically new way of living to stay safe that you have experienced for only 2 years??? However, I wasn’t able to acknowledge that for myself at that time. Self-sabotage was the name of my game to keep me safe, so how can I believe this new way would work? It almost felt too good to be true. It also seemed like extremely hard work and there was a part of me that just didn’t want to do the work. Can we just admit that doing the work to stay sober and follow the highest path for oneself is flipping hard! Feeling and allowing the depths of one’s feelings, healing, and moving forward with a sober state of mind is not a small task. Sometimes we don’t want to do it… and THAT IS OK! Admitting it will take the power out of it and might help you to stay sober.
If we acknowledge and embrace what we feel from a semi-detached place of love, the feelings become quieter, and the truth takes center stage. It is almost like driving in the rain, the rain being our thoughts and feelings. If you are driving in the rain and you don’t acknowledge it or would rather ignore the rain because you dislike it, you are going to wind up in a ditch. However, if you acknowledge the rain being there and put your windshield wipers on, you can see what is real in the present moment, what is before you, and it will become clear which direction to go. If we can meet our uncomfortable, fearful, and untrue feelings and the thoughts associated with them with loving-kindness, they will slowly fall away and reveal the truth. Think of them as an annoying solicitor; open the door and hold respectful/loving space for what they have to say, then thank them and kindly let them know that their services are no longer needed :)