Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dealing with Relapse.

A reader posted a comment about her long-time partner relapsing, several program friends have been going through this with their adult children. My own niece, who is at present, in rehab for the first time, has plans to rejoin her drug-dealing boyfriend when she gets out - my sister is at her wits end, and has finally begun to attend Al-Anon meetings, which she is finding helpful.

A relapse can be agonising for those of us who love the alcoholic. I know when my first husband had been sober for nine months and then relapsed, I was devastated. This was before I joined Al-Anon, and I felt somehow responsible, that if I'd tried harder, done something more, said something more, it wouldn't have happened.

This is just not the case.

 We have no control. We don't cause it through our behavior or actions, we can't control it with any amount of talking or decisions, and we can't cure it by sacrificing our own happiness.

Letting go of wanting to fix the alcoholic is a process learned slowly by most of us, myself included.

I was raised with the family myth that if things aren't going the way you want them to, you just need to try harder. Increase your effort, put in longer hours, talk your way into what you want. So when I encountered alcoholism, I put all of myself into the effort of stopping the drinking, and I failed spectacularly. 20 years after the end of our marriage, and my first husband is still drinking.

All of my years of trying to make him quit had no effect. I ran into one of his children during the last year I was in my second marriage, and she told me he was still drinking, and had never quit. I was saddened to hear that. I'd let go of all of the misery of that marriage many years back, and have no hard feelings towards him.

I felt sad that he was still in the grip of the addiction. He has an uncanny skill when it comes to anything mechanical. He can take apart something he's never seen before, discover how it is supposed to work, and then fix it.  He was in high demand as a mechanic when his drinking was still somewhat under his control, when he was what I've heard AA members call a "high-functioning alcoholic."

By the time I left that marriage, his business was failing because he'd begun to drink during the day, something he hadn't done for years. He was beginning to move into the final stages of alcoholism.

I couldn't stay with active drinking. Some people can live with active drinking and manage to have a good life of their own. I was too new to Al-Anon, and the trust between my first husband and I had been shattered by an affair he engaged in shortly before I left the marriage.

When he relapsed after nine months of sobriety, I didn't realise that during those nine months, his sobriety was what an AA friend would call the "white-knuckle" variety - he was hanging onto it through sheer force of will, with no help or support from AA.

What retrospect has granted to me, is the ability to see that although during the marriage I may have believed that I had a part in his drinking or not drinking, in reality, I had as much effect upon it as the kitchen table might have.


I was incidental, really. That was a blow to my ego when it fist became evident to me. Now, I feel a little sadness for the young woman I was, who felt responsible, and was struggling to survive, in a situation which would bring most of us to our knees.

Accepting doesn't mean condoning. When I accept that the alcoholic is going to do what they are going to do, and I am powerless, I set myself free from the hopeless battle. When I turn towards that which I can change - myself, I set in motion a powerful force for serenity in my life. There's always room to work towards making me a better person.


  1. To bad there is not a like button. I am sure you would have a 100+ hits. I come to your blog weekly and sometimes daily. Thank you for blogging! I am sure you help many when you do.

    1. Thank you for reminding me that what I went through was not normal or healthy. I am glad that I was able to realize this and take steps to make my life more normal and healthy. It's a long journey and it helps to know good people.

  2. It takes a while to understand the three C's. I can resoundingly state that I have no control over other people, places, and things. I have learned how to mind my own business and let go of forcing outcomes.