Relapse in Long Term Recovery

Unconsciously, I thought I had it licked. I honestly didn’t realize it, but unconsciously I started believing I had won the battle and was back in control. So, after many years in recovery, I had a relapse. Here’s how it happened: I have a migraine condition, which at one time was really bad, and I took Fioricet as part of the treatment of each migraine. After a while, I needed two to really kill the pain. Then, at some point I started realizing that the barbiturate in Fioricet helped sedate and calm me down (I suffer with generalized anxiety disorder). So, I started taking the drug to “treat” my ongoing, near-constant state of low-level anxiety. Then I started taking more. And more. I truly believed that I was in control – that I could safely use (abuse) this drug without anybody noticing and without consequences.

I was badly mistaken. This behavior almost destroyed my marriage. My wife confronted me and told me it was either her or my addiction, but not both. So, I had to surrender completely, and re-enter recovery somewhat like a newcomer. I had had a relapse, without fully grasping it.

This devastated me. Relapsing was a threat to my identity as somebody with long-term recovery, someone to be looked up to as exemplary. I was filled with shame. What are the lessons?

First: Long-term recovery is a trap as much as a blessing. Having long-term recovery lulled me into a false sense of security.

Complacency: With this false sense of security, I began to become complacent in my recovery. I didn’t go to as many meetings, I didn’t call people like I used to, I got sick and tired of all the cross-talk in meetings and so I didn’t go. I let up on Step work. This was all very, very gradual in nature and I didn’t notice any of it at the time. It just added up.

Time has no meaning: I realized that I don’t “have” X number of years. Those days and years are totally gone; they don’t exist anymore. The ONLY thing I truly have is TODAY. We are given a DAILY reprieve, based on our spiritual condition for THAT DAY ALONE.

Pride: Having long-term recovery gave me a sense of elevated status in the rooms. Let’s face it: we look up to people with time. They are our idols. This is a mistake, a very bad mistake. The rooms are supposed to be a fellowship of equals, and everybody, I mean everybody, has clay feet. And – all we actually have is TODAY.

Control: I began to be affected by the illusion of control. My long-term recovery gave me an unconscious belief that “I have this all together” now and that I’m back in control of my life. Mind you, this was all unconscious. This is why I needed to stay in touch with people in program, to keep me “right-sized” and to remind me that I don’t control anything, least of all my addiction.

Identity: Without realizing it, I began to identify with my recovery. My identity became rooted in how much time I had in recovery. This was, and remains, a mistake. My identity comes from being a child of God, period. It has nothing to do with “time”. It’s also a mistake because if you lose that time, then a huge chunk of your identity collapses and you are filled with guilt and shame, which makes it all the much more difficult to come back into recovery and into the rooms.

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