The Anatomy of an Alcoholic Relapse
A choice? Or Inevitable?
My heart is heavy now as I tell the story of my decision to drink again. As I look back at this 'choice,' I am more and more convinced that the situation essentially demanded it, though I take full responsibility for my actions. In A.A., it is advised that no matter what life sends your way, don't drink over it. I chose not to heed that advice. What I felt I needed was comfort.
Most alcoholics are uncomfortable people in general. We don't function well when faced with some social situations. So discomfort is often the underlying cause of drinking behavior-In the alcoholic brain, that is. Alcohol seems to provide the answer to a number of baffling and confusing interactions, it smooths the sometimes rocky landscape of human communication. That bottle can be an escape, even a perceived solution.
The Tale of My First Attempt at Sobriety
- Emma's Awakening: An Alcoholic's Tale
She wakes the usual way, nothing on her mind but the tall glass of ice cubes she left waiting in the fridge. Ready to go at all times. Another dandy day in store, she is sure. Richard stirs as Emma crawls out...
Bad News, Sad Memories
I can't say it was a complete surprise, but then any death can be explained away as unexpected, taking the sting away from those of us left behind. But as you age and become aware of your tenuous hold on middle-aged existence, serious self-examination tends to follow:
I received the phone call late one night earlier this month informing me of the death of a favorite uncle and was urged by family and friends to attend the services. While I have avoided many family events in the past, I felt it was indeed time to get reacquainted with my clan. This was the perfect opportunity-sad, but true. Major events are often the only way to gather extended family members together, and unfortunately this includes funerals.
So I boarded a Southbound bus headed for Los Angeles, a city I vowed I would never visit again-bad memories, you understand. The trip was uneventful, and within five hours I had arrived at my destination. Arrangements had been made for me to stay with a dear cousin and his wife, who are not drinkers. The first few days I spent with them in Oxnard, California were spent reacquainting myself with these and other long lost relatives, and alcohol was the furthest thing from my mind.
The day of the funeral was one I will not soon forget. Many of my relatives are buried at this cemetery, and I was not prepared emotionally to see their final resting places. At the service, we were seated directly over the graves of my father, his sister, my grandparents, and other immediate family. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
My father suffered from cancer and had been ill most of my young life. When he succumbed to the disease, I was 8 years old. Much of my early life was thus centered around death and dying. I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at this age and have been battling it to this day. The doctors who attended to me emphasized my father's lingering illness as part of my diagnosis.
As I aged, then, death was to be a constant companion in my life-many others in my family were struck down almost yearly from my father's death on. You could accurately perceive my relationship with death as essentially intimate, a constant companion.
I have been conscious of the danger of so-called 'triggers' that can make drinking seem a reasonable option in daily life since my hospitalization, but I was fairly certain I would not even consider such a thing since my experience had been so very life-threatening.
I was mistaken.
After the gravesite service, around 1,500 people attended a buffet dinner in memory of my uncle which was held at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. 'Gordy' had been a high school football coach much of his life. The dinner was attended by most of my surviving family and greetings were given all around.
One unexpected aspect of the dinner-at least to me-was a fully stocked bar. Initially I ordered Cokes, but as the evening wore on, I asked the bartender to add rum to my drink. I enjoyed the gathering with increasing ease.
Even though my 2 1/2 year sobriety was now officially over, I did not consider the consequences of this decision.
When I returned home, I immediately returned to my old drinking behavior, consuming a fifth of scotch daily. All was well until around 2 weeks later when I began vomiting. In June of 2008 I had been hospitalized with a case of acute pancreatitis which almost killed me. The vomiting had been a warning then, and it was beginning again.
I emptied the bottle down the kitchen drain, aware that my body was no longer able to handle liquor. Three days later, withdrawing from alcohol, I had a grand mal seizure. My husband and son were able to catch me as I fell so, besides the brain cells destroyed, little other damage was done. This time.
Yet Another Relapse
In 2012, when I first published this article, I wrote, "Today I am again a recovering alcoholic, grateful that I have yet another chance to enjoy my sobriety. Only now have I decided to share this experience with my friends; this is not a comfortable topic.
But I am willing to share this story in hopes that others do not choose this path. It simply is not worth it."
Now, 2 years later, I have come to realize that this cunning, baffling, and powerful drug has a stronger hold on me than I thought possible. I have tried numerous times to 'control' my drinking to no avail. I have relapsed into addiction over and over again.
Today (this time) I've amassed 128 days of continuous sobriety.
This is not a soft or gentle disease, rather it is an amazingly worthy opponent in my battle to stay alive.