Tag Archives: relapse

A Sip Not a Slip

9 May


I had absolutely no intention of putting a glass of vodka mixed with cranberry juice to my mouth.  No desire to have it touch my lips and wash against my tongue.  In fact, when it did, my reaction was so strong, it surprised me.  I immediately recognized that it was not my drink (cranberry juice and club soda) and once I realized that there was a strong amount of alcohol in the drink that I picked up, I turned away from the two women standing next to me and spit it out.  And spit again.  And again. And I think wiped my tongue with my sleeve.  And then wiped my lips.  Repeatedly.  I have not had a drink that contained alcohol in nearly 7 years (2537 days to be exact). What used to be so familiar to me was now a very, very unwelcome stranger.

I’m pretty sure I simply said “Well, that was not my drink!”  The woman whose drink I accidentally picked up apologized profusely.  She knew I didn’t drink. Totally not her fault.  The drinks looked identical. Both had lime garnishes. Both a pinkish-red hue from the cranberry juice. But one had an ingredient that was clearly not okay for an alcoholic. I walked away to return to the work event I was attending. The other woman, a good friend of mine, came over to me and asked if I was okay.  I told her that I was more than a little freaked out at having picked up an alcoholic drink.  She told me not to be too hard on myself, not to give it a second thought, since I clearly hadn’t done it on purpose.  I let it go…for the time being.

When I got in my car, I picked up my phone to call a friend who is also in recovery.  But then I hesitated.  For a few seconds, I worried that if I told her what had happened, should would tell me I should reset my start date and begin again at day one. So I thought about not telling her.  I think that scared me more than picking up the drink.  Sobriety requires “rigorous honesty”.  Keeping a secret about something that clearly bothered me, considerably, was not a good plan.  It doesn’t matter that other people may think it was totally innocent, no big deal, that I was overreacting, whatever.  The fact was that I was more than a little flustered about tasting vodka again, even for a split second.  I dialed the number and told her what happened. She told me it had happened to her, several times, that it was okay, clearly not intentional, that I didn’t fake it and swallow it and continue to drink the wrong drink, and that I did the right thing. She said it was a “sip, not a slip.”  I felt much better.

As Elvis Costello will tell you, accidents will happen. Chances are good that something like that will happen again. I’m actually quite glad that my reaction was so strong.  That I didn’t taste the vodka and feel like I missed it and wanted more. I’m grateful that I woke up today with another day of sobriety under my belt.  Grateful to wake up without a hangover. Grateful it was a sip, not a slip.

“There are no accidents…there is only some purpose that we haven’t yet understood.”-Ritu Ghatourey



Sober Cum Laude

25 Jun


It’s graduation time. A time when so many young people move up and move on. Happy celebrations that mark one chapter in life that is ending and a new one beginning. I was delighted to celebrate some of these special occasions with dear friends recently and to be able to do so sober.

In the midst of the festivities, however, yet another friend in recovery went back out “to do more research”. They fell off the wagon. They went back out to their old world of drinking. Often, the action is facilitated by one particular thought: “I’ve got this now.”   However long they have been sober—10 days or 10 years—they think that they can now “control” their drinking. Sorry to say, that ain’t gonna happen.

If however, you are able to prove me wrong, my hat is off to you. No one I know or have met in my five years of sobriety has been able to do that. In fact, I’ve shared some pretty heartbreaking stories on my blog about people who went back out and never returned – they lost their lives to the disease before they could get back in to recovery.   Once a pickle, you can never go back to being a cucumber.

But many people who go back out come right back in. They get themselves back into a recovery program immediately. We are all human. We make mistakes. This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful, so kudos to those who get knocked down and get back up again. I hope that I won’t find myself in that situation but…

Recovery is not a program from which one ever “graduates”. But then again, neither is life. If we aren’t constantly learning, we are going backwards. I can honestly say that some of the most important and most helpful things I’ve learned have been in recovery. And they are pretty basic things that can help anyone, alcoholic or not.

Sobriety 101 teaches us “one day at a time.” Sounds so simple but yet often so hard to live by. When I first got sober, the idea of never having a drink again, EVER, was completely overwhelming to me. What helped the most was when someone would remind me that I don’t have to do it forever, just for today. Tomorrow is another day, and I will tell myself the same thing. In tough times, this may get changed to “one hour at a time.” Make life manageable for yourself. Break things down into attainable goals.

We also learn another crucial axiom: “do the next right thing.”   Again, alcoholic, addict or not, everyone can use this reminder.   When you come to crossroads, make the right choice. It’s not always easy, believe me I get that, but ask yourself what the next right thing is and find a way to do it. If you need to, ask for help.

In AP Sobriety, things get a little more complicated. We hear things like “change I must or die I will,” “attitude of gratitude,” “stinkin’ thinkin’” and, my personal favorite, “turn it over.” Again, all of these can be useful to non-alcoholics as well. Who doesn’t have “stinkin’ thinkin’” sometimes?   Many of us could use an attitude adjustment, and we can all stand to have a little more gratitude. I realize that is very difficult when times are tough. That’s where the “turn it over” part comes in. One thing I’ve learned on this journey of sobriety is to trust in my HP, my Higher Power. When things get really difficult, I have to remind myself to turn them over. Some things are bigger than I am, but not bigger than HP. Whatever your Higher Power, your Spirit, your God, remember to turn things over to It/Him. I know that without my HP, I wouldn’t be sober right now.

Whether you are in recovery or not, there are certain things in life that we could all use refresher courses in.   Sometimes we just need to go back to basics, like the lessons above. I’ve had 1854 days in sobriety school and I learn something new every day. Thanks to all of you who have taught me life lessons along the way. You have my attitude of gratitude.

“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” William S. Burroughs





War of My Worlds

22 Oct

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles narrated the famous Halloween episode of The Mercury Theater on the Air radio drama anthology series that would go down in history. That episode’s broadcast featured an adaptation of H.G. Wells’  “The War of the Worlds”, creating widespread panic due to the radio reports of an alien invasion by Martians. In 1997, director Barry Levinson played on this theme in the film “Wag the Dog”, in which a fictitious war is created by a political campaign spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer in order to divert attention from a presidential sex scandal.

Now take that down about a million notches….here’s my own little War of the Worlds. A purely selfish piece for me to turn to whenever I may get that strong urge to drink. What has helped me the most when I have a really overpowering craving is when someone tells me to “think it all the way through”. In other words, don’t just stop at the thought of how much you want a drink, and how good it would taste and feel, but continue the thought process all the way through to what happens AFTER.

Hopefully you won’t skip this introduction and think this is real post about me picking up again……or I’ll have a lot of ‘splainin to do! The Walking Dead,  Friday the 13th, even the Exorcist do nothing to me compared to this—this scares the crap out of me. It doesn’t have to be drinking or alcohol addiction—it can be whatever temptation you face that you know you have to fight. When your defenses get down and that little devil (temptation) on one shoulder is beating the crap out of the angel (conscience) on the other shoulder, think it through to the end.

Thanks for tuning in and letting me “think it through” with my blog:

I guess it was a matter of time. I could only fight for so long. Salivating at the sight, or even thought, of a tall, smooth glass of wine. I picked up the drink, put the glass to my lips, closed my eyes and tilted it back. It was like a long lost friend giving me a huge hug It warmed my entire body as it went down my throat, into my stomach and sent little sparks up to my brain. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced in such a long time. Almost two and a half years. A huge wave of thoughts came rushing back. First sip—check. Second sip here we go. This one was a little bigger, and faster. More warmth. More thoughts. And we’re off to the races.

The glass was empty before I knew it. And I was feeling good again. That happy, euphoric feeling was coming back, pushing reality back down deep inside. The depression and anxiety were dissipating. The bottle wasn’t far away—it was almost like a reflex that I always kept it close to my glass. I refilled my glass and put the bottle down, close again. As I sat and drank more, cares were rapidly thrown to the wind. This is totally fine, I thought. I got this. I can drink now and stop when I should, when I’ve had enough. It will be a one-time thing. Perhaps I could just return to my current path of sobriety and no one would know. I don’t want to throw away all the time, days and chips I have accumulated. I don’t want to have to change my sobriety date. No one will know. Fill ‘er up again. And on it went, until the bottle was empty.

I felt great. More alive, carefree, and happy. Since I’m already drinking, just this one time, I may as well keep going. All in if I’m going to be in at all. I look for another bottle. Not my preference, but it will do. It’s got alcohol in it, which is really the only requirement at this point. I put on some music and sing along. Oh, how I missed this feeling. Better get something to eat. That’s a smart plan. That will keep the alcohol from affecting me too much. Look, I’m even making sound decisions and using good judgement. That and the fact that I have the munchies.

But just then I hear the garage door. Crap. I can’t let my family see that I’ve been drinking. I hide the empty bottle at the bottom of the trash can. I hide the open bottle, still half-full, behind a cabinet in the living room. As usual, I can’t conceive of letting any of that precious liquid go to waste. A swift cleanup of the crime scene— a skill I had nearly perfected over the years. I quickly opened the peanut butter jar, swirled my finger in it and then rubbed it on my tongue. That should do the trick to hide the smell of the wine. I look in the mirror and rub the redness from the wine off my lips. Turn the music down. Grab my laptop. Just a normal night.

I listen to my children’s updates from the day – school, sports, activities etc. I listen but I don’t hear anything because the entire time my brain is preoccupied with trying to make sure I didn’t leave out any incriminating evidence and that I don’t appear at all tipsy. I go overboard trying to seem like super mom who is engaged and listening. Yet I have no idea what they are talking about.

My husband kisses me and I’m praying that all he can smell/taste is the peanut butter. He looks at me and I start to panic, wondering if he can tell. Or am I just being paranoid? He heads to our room to change, not appearing to suspect anything. But I turn around and see my daughter. She’s looking at me with her beautiful blue eyes and seems to be looking right through me. Nah, she can’t tell anything. She’s only thirteen. I ask her a few questions about her day, being careful to enunciate every word and not slur. I’m confident that I sound totally fine. I guess just as confident as I was all those other times. She heads off quietly to get ready for bed.

I think about staying up and finishing the open bottle when they are all asleep. I hate to waste it. And I would have to get rid of it somehow anyway. But I’m starting to feel pretty lightheaded. And tired. And drunk. It was just because I didn’t eat, I’m sure. Brush my teeth and hit my pillow and I’m guessing I was out cold in a matter of seconds.

I woke up to the sound of one of my boys slamming the toilet seat down in the bathroom down the hall. I open one eye and quickly close it after it is attacked by beams of light breaking through the wood shutters. My head is pounding. Why? My mouth is dry and feels like a cat crawled in during the night and camped out on my tongue. Oh. Shit. I have that horrible feeling I haven’t and in quite a while—the confusion and fear over trying to remember why I felt the way I did. Hungover. No, it can’t be. Let me think…ouch that hurts. Think more gently. Grab some water on my nightstand. As I guzzle it down, memories of gulping down wine last night start to emerge. Holy crap. There’s no way I did that. Why? How am I going to face my family? I tell myself that they don’t know. How could they? And how could I feel so hungover after only a bottle and a half of wine? It used to take much more than that.

I get up to go to the bathroom and my head pounds with each step. I’m feeling pretty nauseous now too, thinking that a tall glass of Coke on ice would hit the spot. When I make it to the bathroom, I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror. It’s not pretty. A glimpse is all I can handle because I realize that there’s no way I can look myself in the eyes. No one else may know. But I do. And no one else could possibly make me feel worse than I feel about myself right now.

I should get some coffee but I don’t think I could stomach that. I need a Coke. But we never have any in our house. And that would be a dead giveaway as it was always my hangover drink of choice. Maybe a few crackers. Or a banana. Or stick my head in the freezer for a few seconds. All those things rushed into my brain, like instinct from the old days. I start to realize the significance of what I had done. All those battles I fought and won, only to lose the war by picking up a drink this one time.

How am I going to face anyone? My family? My friends from the program? My friends who have supported me? My friend who hasn’t missed a day of checking in on me? My therapist? My blog readers? Myself? Shit. All that hard work just went down the toilet, along with the spit that was building up in my mouth as I got more nauseous. Almost 900 days. Ruined by one. Actually a few hours. Now my confusion started making its way to anger, then to guilt and on to shame. What have I done?

I have activated that ever-present, cunning, baffling and powerful disease inside. It is strong. It is clever. It is victorious. Game over. I lose. The dead guy in the hockey mask has caught me. The zombies have me cornered. My head is still spinning around in a complete circle despite the attempted exorcism. And I have become just another one of the high percentage of alcoholics who have relapsed. One publication, from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcholism states that approximately 90 percent of alcoholics will experience one or more relapses during the four years after treatment. Other studies have relapse rates that range between 50-80%, and some say only one alcoholic out of three will be able to maintain sobriety. These are not very good odds. And they are very, very scary. I always believed I was special. An exception. That I could beat the odds.

And now, I can either hang my head in shame and continue down a path that will eventually kill me, or I can pray for forgiveness and strength and get back on the right track to sobriety and what, I know for a fact, is a much better life.

I DID NOT DRINK.   Above was all fictitious, and about me “thinking it through”, perhaps a bit too realistically, since many people thought this was me talking about actually picking up.  Real fear for me is not of Martians invading or the zombie apocalypse.  It is fear of failing, i.e. going back to drinking.

Bill Cosby said something that rings true to me: “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” My desire to succeed in staying sober IS greater than my fear of failure right now.  I will NOT pick up a drink.  I don’t want to feel like I imagined I would and described above.  So Drink Devil on my shoulder, take a hike.


“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”—Confucius

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