Relapse is an unfortunate situation and though it can
be more common with one who is new in recovery,
there are many individuals who relapse after years and
years of living a clean and sober life.
My client Rachel has had a roller coaster ride with her
sometimes sober, sometimes not husband. They had
not been married long and though the love and connection
were very evident between them, his relapse
and true slavery to his addiction began to present insurmountable
odds against an honest and respectful
union. She and her husband Matt would stitch together
a few good months as he professed to work a clean and
sober program by attending 12 step recovery meetings
worked with a seasoned sponsor and appreciated his
job and the future it held.
However, something would come along and upset the
sober apple cart. After one relapse too many, Rachel
felt she couldn’t go yet another round in the ring with
Matt’s promise to reexamine the reason for his relapse
and what he could once again do differently. She felt
she just couldn’t take another deep breath and hope
that maybe this new time would be the charm.
She asked her husband to move out and though she
professed to him that she would always love him, this
was no longer a HEALTHY relationship for her to be in.
Matt couldn’t argue and both were truly saddened by
A few weeks later, Rachel received this letter and I appreciated
her sharing it with me and giving me permission
to share it with you. I have condensed certain portions.
My dear Rachel,
My hope is you will read this letter and take your time
with any decision about our future. The purpose is to
explain, as best I can, what my thinking and feeling is
about my alcoholism and our future relationship.
I do not want to give up on our relationship. At least,
not over this or in this manner. A decision to break off
our (whatever we have) relationship of living together,
having fun, enjoying this life together should not be
thrown over away over my illness. So with that being
said, my drinking was not an effort to break up or grow
apart or move away from you in any manner.
… the drink wasn’t taken in anger “to show you” or “get
back at you.” It was taken because I am an alcoholic
and the most natural thing in the world for me to do
is take a drink. This is the condition that I need to recover
from, and thus far have failed. I have been in a
“relapse” mode for the past year and it was preceded
by a two month period of “planning to drink.” I don’t
just suddenly drink. Usually, with me, it is planned out.
Relapse thinking continues and my mind continued to
entertain the idea that somehow, someday I would be
able to drink and/or smoke pot. I just couldn’t surrender,
and my condition tells me it will be okay to drink,
even though all the evidence shows that to be untrue.
That is what I suffer from. That’s the insanity.
Alcoholism is not a moral issue. It is an illness. I did
not drink to harm you. I do not drink ever with malice
or intentions to hurt family or friends. I have no power
in that choice …. When my defenses against that first
drink are nonexistent. The idea is to build up a defense
that I can access on a daily basis. I have done it before
and I want to get back there. It takes time for the mental
obsession to leave. Then it takes work for the obsession
to stay dormant. I am planning on achieving this
again. Too much good, too much to live for …. and you
are a big part of that.
I need time away, from living together, to work on myself.
I want to be with you, but only after working on
what needs to come first … me.
Grateful is a term that I need to achieve, and can only
achieve this, through action.
There is no question that this is a sincere and truly intentional
quest from Matt. Rachel concedes that this is
the same record having been played before, but sung
in a different key. Rachel is not looking to punish Matt
for his disease, but she realizes that there comes a time
when it’s not about him, but about her and how she
sees her life.
Many relapses happen due to an argument or blow up
and coming to the conclusion that you are out the door
can be easier as it is often fueled by anger. Domestic
violence or substantial out of control behavior can also
help pave the way to that decision.
But when your loved one approaches with hat in hand
(no matter how many times) your heart aches with a
difficult decision; accept the alcoholic/addict as they
are regardless of their relapses, or hit the pause button,
take a time out and see if some substantial sobriety can
We get so bogged down with the alcoholic/addict and
their addiction that we can lose sight of who and what
we are. So much emotional, psychological and physical
attention spent on the alcoholic/addict can turn us into
mere shadows of ourselves.
Matt and Rachel will regroup in six months or a year and
examine the landscape then; no communication between
them during this time so neither is sidetracked
by emotion. Remember, this is not a punishment, but
a healthy indicator of what their future may look like.
I applaud them both for taking responsibility for their
own lives as painful as such may be.