Monday, August 01, 2011

The Term "Relapse"

When I lived in Washington, I heard the story of a woman who had been sober for over 30 years. She is now deceased, she died sober. She got sober in the late 50s. Not HER late 50s, but the late 1950s.

She had gone to the same meeting for her entire first year. There were only men at the meeting, but they kindly took her under their wings and treated her just like anyone else who came to the meeting. And she stayed. And got sober. When she was sober for a year, they went "traveling" to a different meeting in another town. (When I lived there we still did that, it was great fun to load everyone up into a couple of cars, vans, SUVs, and head out together.)

When she got to the meeting in the other town, she was terrified by what she heard. They talked about "slips," or drinking again. She had never, in her year of sobriety, heard of such a thing, and it scared her to death! She had gotten the impression that once you got sober, you just stayed sober - no one ever mentioned to her that there was another option. She was scared stiff for a week or so after this meeting, but was able to come to terms with it.

Now we have an entire industry dependent upon alcoholism, addiction, and various and sundry other problems for their daily bread. They have made the term "relapse" more common and acceptable to use when an alcoholic drinks again - I can't speak to the other problems, because I don't have them.

I read the blog of a new guy who is wondering what constitutes a "relapse," is it one drink? Or a full blown binge? Is it a month of drinking day and night? I think it is a reasonable question, but it is unfortunate that the question comes from attending AA meetings. I did a little internet search and learned that "relapse is a part of recovery." Wow. The person who said that obviously (to me) has a financial stake in relapse.

Our original preamble said "the only relief we have to offer is absolute abstinence, the second meaning of AA." Absolute, total, complete. No drinking. If that doesn't appeal to you, you are probably not ready to get sober. If it sounds like heaven on earth, step right up!

Alcoholics Anonymous is for people who want to get sober. They have to make that decision before they get here. We don't convince anyone. Booze does that better than the most eloquent spokesperson. You will note that there is no step that says we wonder if we are alcoholic or if we are really done drinking. That must be done before we start step one. It is the prerequisite.

Let me just state that although many alcoholics do drink again after they come to AA, it is not required. It is entirely possible to come to AA, if you are done drinking, and stay sober, without relapse. Dorothy did it back in 1950-something, and people still do it today. Relapse is NOT part of recovery.

If you want to get sober and stay sober, you can go to meetings where they don't speak of "relapse" as if it were a normal course of events, get a sponsor, and work the steps. Amazingly enough, that all works and people stay sober. Happily sober - because they want to be sober.

I thank God for the divine inspiration of the program. I thank God for the people, the fellowship, of Alcoholics Anonymous. I thank God that I have been set free from the prison of active alcoholism. And set upon a course of recovery. If you are an alcoholic like me, that is a really good deal.


AnyEdge said...

Yeah, Mary. Acceptance of relapse is something I see a great deal of. I haven't been sober long enough for it to be any other way for me: it's always been like this.

But I have a men's meeting that doesn't just smile and nod and let it go. When one of our members relapses, we let him have it (though, obviously, in the spirit of love.).

But it is important too that we don't let someone think that if they do drink again that they won't be welcome back. After all, in the book they also say that it takes some people 'some time' to get the program. Not everyone is 'struck sober'.

I haven't relapsed yet, and for that I'm grateful.

Syd said...

I have been to open AA meetings where people who relapse are welcomed back. But I like the idea that no relapse is the best--no bargaining, no whining, no self-pity--just doing what the steps and the sponsor says. I am glad that you wrote this today.

Jon said...

Mary, thanks for your expanded thoughts on this topic. Later today I'll be posting a follow-up entry regarding this past weekend. I do want to clarify that the AA meetings I'm going to aren't encouraging relapse or even suggesting that relapse is a part of recovery. It just seems like relapse is mentioned a lot. It may also be that I'm listening for that word more.

I'm still trying to figure all of this out.

Jeremy said...

I couldn't agree with you more, I especially love the paragraph:

"Alcoholics Anonymous is for people who want to get sober. They have to make that decision before they get here. We don't convince anyone. Booze does that better than the most eloquent spokesperson."

I must remember that it is not my job to convince anyone. I am so grateful that since stepping into AA, I somehow understood that relapse wasn't an option

dAAve said...

AA = absolute abstience

Me like.

I agree with what you said, but I also believe it's important for people to know that it's nothing to be ashamed of if one slips. For many, it just doesn't seem to "take" on the first attempt.

Annette said...

I love this post Mary. Of course AA welcomes anyone back who has relapsed, but relapse does not have to be, (but often is,) a part of recovery. What a profound thought!

A week or so ago I posted about my mom and I watching all of these old movies that contained some stories about one the woman (Susan Hayward) makes her way to her first meeting and there are people there just being available in case someone like herself came in. The door was open. They took her under her wing and sat with her for several days in her room while she detoxed. I thought of how "simple" for lack of a better term, it was back then. Now we have to see what our insurance will cover, fill out reams of paperwork, see the psych dr. get a referral, see how long our insurance will let us detox in a facility and then what is the follow up treatment going to be? And again, what will our insurance cover, how many thousands will we be out of pocket? Is there a payment plan? Oh wait...most drug addicts and alcoholics don't have now what? Addiction has turned into big business....but that is another post for another day.

100 Dasy Sober said...

I agree with your argument - this relapse mentality is almost legitimizing a drawn out stop start stop start process, where the stopping alcohol part is the struggle.

What about the years of sobriety afterwards, that's where all the work is. Reminds me of an article I read that went along the lies of pharmaceutical companies are interested only in relieving symptoms, not treating the underlying illness.

Lou said...

Great post. I only know what I see in Andrew's NA group, and only in our area. I'm not familiar with AA, except in a round about way.

In the NA groups there is a fair amount of in and out, in and out (relapse wise). What I have seen however, is that everyone is greatly supported when they come back, whether it's been a day or a months (or years). They even go to court with one of their own if they are available as a show of support. When Andrew was making excuses to not go to meetings, two people from the group came to the door and "ambushed" him, and took him. They just were not going to let him possibly relapse without a fight.

I don't know if this is good or bad. This is a younger group of addicts, and most of them are fairly new in sobriety. I do think relapse being a part of recovery is something they have all been told, since almost all of these younger addicts went through treatment at one time or another.

Food for thought, as always.

Pammie said...

Since I left a long comment on the blog you are refering to...I won't repeat it here. You know I hear ya sista!

Steve E said...

Since I have not drank, I don't know much about 'relapse'. It was not in the AA vocabulary when I had my last drink.

In fact, I was just too far gone, too dumb, to realize that I could drink, come back, and everyone would applaud my triumphant return!

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...


I'm grateful for having landed in a group that didn't accept anything less than the absolute truth in the program, and found in that, the spirit to pass it on to others.

I am a product of the work of one alcoholic carrying "THE" message of AA to another alcoholic. And for him and all the sponsees and fellows surrounding him, I'm truly grateful to God!!! :)