People have this negative image of an addict or alcoholic as someone living under a bridge, homeless, no family, no nothing. Yet, there I was – successful, with a master’s degree, married, a son in pre-school – everything looking great on the outside – and on the inside I was miserable, defeated and hiding the fact that I was a raging alcoholic. I could have been your neighbor, your sister, or your best friend. I could be anyone you needed me to be as long as you didn’t know about my secret relationship with alcohol. As an alcoholic, I was full of shame and guilt and felt like I had no other option than to continue drinking. I was scared to admit that I was struggling and needed help. This didn’t make me a bad person, it just meant that I was sick and couldn’t try to fix myself with alcohol any longer. It took me three rounds of treatment and several relapses before I found sobriety and recovery. Today I share my experience of relapse and recovery because it gives other people hope that there is life after addiction.
I grew up in New Jersey in an upper-middle-class family and had a happy and loving upbringing. Addiction and alcoholism were not part of my childhood, so I had no idea what I was dealing with when it became part of my life. The steps of alcoholism started in college, where the culture was to study hard during the week and party hard on the weekends. During that time, I sensed I might have a problem with alcohol, but everyone else at my school was drinking in a similar way, and justifying my behaviors was easy.
Once I graduated college and got married, I realized that while my friends had curbed their drinking, my drinking continued to escalate. So, with the support of my family, I stopped drinking for seven years – cold turkey. Looking back, I realize that this period of abstinence wasn’t really recovery because I hadn’t dealt with any of the underlying issues driving my addiction. I just didn’t drink and focused on my family and career.
As life progressed during this period of abstinence, things changed. I suffered three miscarriages. My marriage started falling apart. My son had health issues. Alcohol seemed like an easy way to escape. I was unaware that alcoholism is progressive and that my addiction was waiting for me to resume drinking.
At first, my drinking was social as I had a few glasses of wine with the neighbors to relieve the stress. However, it quickly became a fifth of rum a day. I got good at hiding my alcohol use. For two years, the lies and manipulations allowed me to continue drinking in secret. When my family finally realized the extent of my use, they forced me into treatment by threatening me with the loss of my son.
From relapse and repeat to healing
I attended three treatment centers in a 12-month period.
The first time I was discharged from treatment, I lasted six hours before getting drunk. After my second round of treatment, I stayed in a recovery house for several months, transitioned into my own apartment and remained sober for six months. Then trying to cope with divorce, sharing custody of my son and learning of my dad’s cancer diagnosis proved too much for me. I returned to what was easy and comfortable – alcohol.
Shortly after that relapse, in the middle of a drunken stupor, I had a moment of clarity. I called my parents and said three little words that changed my life, “I need help.” Within a few hours, I was at Caron.
It was my first time at Caron, and I was placed on a unit with others who understood the struggle of relapse. My rock bottom wasn’t as bad compared to others, but I quickly learned that my bottoms would keep getting worse until I completely surrendered and started to work on myself. I had to come to terms with my drinking and what it was doing, not only to me, but to my son and my family as well. I had gotten to the point where something had to give – and that something was alcohol. Only then could I start working on me and all the underlying issues I was avoiding by drinking every day.
My first two experiences at treatment centers were largely externally driven and I was responding to threats from my family and the fear of losing my son. During those stays, I did everything I was told, and it still didn’t work because I was just going through the motions. When I got to Caron, I finally understood that this was a life or death situation. This time I was doing it for me. This time I was all in and would not stop fighting for my sobriety.
What made recovery real for me
When I returned home, my family and friends were supportive, but they didn’t have the first-hand experience or completely understand addiction and recovery. A key element to being successful in my recovery is surrounding myself with people who are dedicated to their sobriety as well. One positive difference this time was staying connected with people at Caron once I left treatment. This included peers from the relapse unit and staff I worked with during my time on “Magic Mountain.” I also attended meetings daily and became friends with the other women in the program. Being around people who understood my struggle and understood what I was going through was a powerful and meaningful experience.
When I left Caron, my sobriety was a priority and I continued to work on my recovery every day. My aftercare plan included working with an addiction specialist once a week, attending a co-dependency group weekly, returning to my home group and sponsor and thoroughly working the 12 steps. I continued to attend Chapel at Caron every other weekend, driving an hour each way because I recognized the importance of keeping Caron as an integral part of my recovery program.
Relapse is not a failure
Every recovery program and process are different for each person. Some people relapse while others do not. We should not be ashamed of relapse if it occurs. It does not signify a failure. It is a telling sign that something is missing from our recovery program and that we must try something different. Nothing changes if nothing changes. So, if we relapse, we get back up and try again. We must keep going. We cannot give up. Our lives depend on it.
Because of my relapse, I found Caron, got the help I needed and was able to create a brand-new life for myself. Today, I’m a Substance Abuse Therapist. I’m remarried to an amazing man who supports my recovery. I have a beautiful relationship with my family and my son. None of this seemed possible almost four years ago when I was in the throes of my addiction. However, with determination, relentless dedication and a new-found belief in myself, I was able to find happiness in my recovery.
For those of you who are still in active addiction or have a loved one struggling to find sobriety, do not give up. We are not a lost cause. We just haven’t found the moment where we can completely surrender and start to work on ourselves. Never stop believing that recovery is possible. There is hope.
By Eric Webber, MA, CADC, CSAT/CMAT, CCS, CCPG