After 6.5 years of sobriety, I found myself in an empty bar holding a glass in my hand. Tears were stinging my eyes. Did those salty drops of disappointment burn less than the whiskey flooding my throat?
Pounding the drinks back, I asked myself – why? What brought me to this point of renouncing all I have stood for?
My sobriety meant everything to me, because it did not come easy. I spent all of high school thinking I would never see the age of 18. I was in and out of rehab, the judicial system, and violent relapses. Alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana, and cocaine consumed my existence. I couldn’t go one day without emotionally numbing myself. The days I did resulted in excruciating withdrawals and rage until I was satiated.
It took me years, tons of support, and a ridiculous amount of hardship to get sober, but when I did, my entire life changed. I got into college and eventually earned a degree from the University of Denver after essentially skipping high school due to my time in rehab. Over 6.5 years, I learned to love myself, love others, and fulfill my potential. I became scholastically recognized for my academic research, debated admirably for my school, and made some of the most genuine friends in my life. These were friends who cared about me and not about getting high with me. My sobriety was my life’s cornerstone, my one constant. So again, why would anyone throw away something that means so much?
The answer – addiction is a mental disease; one that requires constant “treatment.” I use that term lightly since what helps people get and stay sober varies. However, what worked for me was a program of self-reflection maintained every single day. I relapsed because I had failed to oil the gears within my mind – a machine that operates differently than most.
There wasn’t a desire to drink; rather, I needed to drink.
There wasn’t a desire to drink; rather, I needed to drink.
Describing this to someone outside addiction is impossible. The phenomenon of craving is ineffable. I failed to do the daily upkeep needed to conquer this ever-present, spell-casting warlock. So, upon life throwing me multiple curve balls – losing a job; being broken from an abusive relationship; graduating college; watching my best friend turn needlessly malicious — I was not spiritually, emotionally, or mentally prepared to defend myself against the cravings.
With each shot, my self-loathing festered. Why could I not stop this? I couldn’t do it by myself, and that’s what I realized. There were things people did that truly did get me back on the wagon. Maybe their actions only apply to me, but I wanted to share what they did with you in case they might help someone you know:
1) TELL THEM THEY HAVE NO REASON TO BE ASHAMED
I felt embarrassed; I felt weak; I felt worthless. I was the poster boy for sobriety who made it through college without once touching a bottle, yet, I still had the time of my life. I felt I had let everyone down. Make sure to remind whoever is struggling that they are an addict! Addiction is a disease that should not be viewed as a blemish of character, but rather as an actual mental disorder. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
Addiction is a disease that should not be viewed as a blemish of character, but rather as an actual mental disorder.
2) HELP THEM REMEMBER TO LOVE THEMSELVES
My self esteem was pretty broken from my breakup, but let me tell you, I can’t blame my relapse on that. I loathed my own existence and felt as though my addiction was burdening everyone. Had it not been for my dearest friends sharing how much they loved me, I would have stuck with the bottle. However, what helped most was my family and my dearest friends reminding me to love myself. It wasn’t about all I had accomplished while sober; it was about who I genuinely was at the core of my being.
3) SHOW THEM NOT ALL IS LOST
I remember pounding beer after beer, alone at 9am one morning. As I watched each empty bottle pile up, I recall thinking that each represented some part of my life. I was fucking up and throwing them away. My relapse equated to 6.5 years down the drain. A friend reminded me, however, that the only thing I lost was a date on the calendar – my degree was real; my research was still relevant; my friends and family still present; my integrity still intact – I honestly had lost nothing! I wanted to keep it that way.
The only thing I lost was a date on the calendar
4) STAY PATIENT AND NON-JUDGMENTAL
Each time I drunkenly called someone crying, asked for a ride because I was too drunk to stand, or asked for sober company, I felt burdensome. Those who helped most responded instantly to support me in any way possible. They responded time and time again – never agitated, never too busy. I was so lucky. I never expected this, and would never expect it, but the key was their patience, which allowed me to be patient with myself as well. If they can deal with drunken me, so can I.
5) GUIDE THEM BACK INTO THEIR ‘MAINTENANCE’ ROUTINE
While in the midst of beating myself up, my closest friends reminded me of what had worked for me to stay sober before – attending AA meetings, working with my sponsor, helping others, and meditation. Rather than being on my case about not continuing my mental maintenance, they helped me slip back into my routine and held me accountable to make sure I continued to do so.
So that’s about it. Yes, I relapsed. It was not pretty. No, I am not going back. I didn’t lose anything I accomplished in the past 6.5 years. The friends, family, and life I built for myself is worth it. I’m worth it. I am an addict. I’m not ashamed to admit it and be forthcoming about it. I am who I am, and I plan on being the best I can be for myself and others.
To help end the stigmatization placed on addicts, please look into the Chase Alexander Saxton Foundation. Chase was a close friend who lost his battle and was unable to come out of his relapse. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction/alcoholism, please contact a treatment center suited for his/her need. Thank you for remaining diligent and helping.