Resurrecting Sobriety from the Ashes of Relapse

By Ken Wells - 01/08/2021


“Once you’ve seen a solution to the disease that’s tearing you apart, relapsing is never fun.” ― Anthony Kiedis, Scar Tissue

Desperately I want to avoid the fear, the isolation, the sense of being all by myself- even though there are many times I seek to be alone. So much anxiety, feels like I want to crawl out of my skin. Inevitably, I seek to be isolated- far away because everyone drives me nuts. There’s no desire to be the life of the party or to be at the party at all. At the same time there’s this compelling fantasy that everyone is with people they care about, having fun with connection and that I missed out what everyone else has. Like flash fog that descends quickly, there is a penetrating sense of dread that envelops, with pressure filled discomfort that dominates and drives me to escape. Yet, I can’t let go of this constant never stopping list of things to be done. The angst and misery that comes from the push to do more to keep from being less becomes a never-ending mind fuck. It all cascades into a pain-filled sense of wretched gloom that ends in a cul-de-sac of meaninglessness.

Like a vice grip that tightens, the options for escape seem few.  When it becomes intense enough, I began to lose my way and the dawning of addictive acting out rises like the sun from the eastern sky to fill the emptiness, to medicate the loneliness and wash away the fatigue that comes from mindless activity. The junkie worm inside creates an itch that changes everything I see. Looking at porn rises up as the only way out for self-soothe with accompanying rationale like “it’s only porn”- “I’m not fucking anybody”; “no one needs to know”. It’s a “bliss” that has always delivered what it promises- a powerful seduction from painful emptiness, even though it lasts at best for a short time and most likely for only a few seconds. The corridor of anticipation is so compelling that inwardly the barriers break down and the boundaries begin to melt the resolution that has kept me sober.  It begins in my guts and numbs my head from all the pressure, loneliness, and emptiness that exists in everyday life experiences. Inside I cry “I just want out from having to care so much for others who suffer and my own painful struggle”, even if for a brief moment. I get desperate in thought even if I don’t get to look at a porn site! Internet eye candy will do. Just the anticipation of the search is better than the painful drudgery of trying to figure out an impossible relationship and all the other struggles I have in my life. So, I look at the porn and choose to face the painful reality of relapse hangover— later.

Recovery is for quitters is an aphorism that makes addicts chuckle. Truth is for most addicts quitting is something that happens more than once. Like lying in an MRI scan machine, the options for escape seem few. For many, getting out in front of themselves to see the outcome of relapse before it transpires to avoid the downfall only comes after suffering the painful dregs of recovery failure. Wallowing in the mud of backsliding, it seems impossible to crawl out of the pit of despair. Relapse is absolutely draining and debilitating to the addict and everyone connected. The question becomes how to resurrect recovery from the juggernaut of continued self-sabotage? To this quandary I make the following suggestions for consideration:

1. Get out of the street so the bus doesn’t keep running over you:

It’s incredible the many times I listen to a story of relapse where an addict describes the fall out of recovery failure with painful results tattooed all over their face and tattered marks of emotional torture dominating their body posture, yet they won’t pull themselves off the street where the bus of addiction keeps running them over.  A porn addict who won’t block electronic devices, or who leaves a door open to go around the block just to explore what they might be able to see. A sex addict who decides to shift the relationship from friends with benefits to just friends. This is often referred to as “rain checking” when an addict keeps the option of acting out open. Addicts in chronic relapse have lost their sense to get in out of the rain of addictive urge. So, the first step toward resurrecting recovery is to focus on getting out of harm’s way.

2. Get Hungry: 

It is not uncommon for addicts to know what they need to do to get unstuck and stop relapse but lack the desire and the initiative to do what is needed. So, they wallow in the mud of relapse failure. Sometimes it’s a pattern of making commitments with no accountability followed up with broken promises and more relapse failure. Hunger is more primal than basic ambition. You can be ambitious to make a million dollars and then settle for a fraction of the amount. You can’t resurrect recovery unless you are hungry, which is deeper than lust. Deep hunger kicks in when you realize that your addictive urge will consume your very soul, and with desperation you determine to do whatever it takes to prevent the starvation from completion. Getting hungry is not a feeling of inspiration or enthusiasm. It’s not a gift someone bequeaths to you. It’s a survival instinct that is simply expressed through action.

3. Be honest and shoot yourself and others straight:

No room for bullshit here. It’s true that one of the most difficult challenges in life is to be emotionally honest at the deepest level. Fear, insecurity and anxiety often invade and prevent openness and honesty. Congruency requires accountability in order to manage hypocrisy and inconsistency. Addicts fail with honesty when they do not live in consultation. Essential recovery demands insulation and transparency in order to confront distortion and isolation. Honesty means you have to tell on yourself. The last thing you want to be honest about is the first thing you must consult with others in a recovery community. It’s the only way back to stabilized recovery.

4. Stop the competition and comparison merry-go-round:

Doing more to keep from being less is a form of competition which becomes a race to the bottom for addicts. You will lose yourself when you become stuck comparing your insides with another’s outside results, behavior and life position. Only by embracing who and where you are will you find stability that leads to poise in the presence of addiction.

5. Quiet your Spirit:

Most addicts in relapse will respond with “yeah, sure, easy for you to say”. The turmoil and chaos that is triggered from relapse is overwhelming. Trying to be quiet can be like sitting still in the midst of a tornado. Yet quietness becomes an addict’s strength. It’s in this place you re-discover the table legs that support you being an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. In quietness you can re-focus on the metaphors of being a spring in the desert, becoming eagle-like, reigniting your eternal flame and applying velvet steel. In quietness you will be able to focus on what it is you want to attract in your life. It’s a place that will help you maintain the thought with passion and absolute intention which you will eventually act upon because the ancestor to every single action is a thought.

6. Embrace the emptiness and face the fear:

Recovery failure always creates hollow emptiness inside. The first response is to run from it or to fill it in with more addictive behavior. The metaphor is that of running from a pack of wolves chasing you in the woods. The pack is relentless. You become more exhausted with hardness and stiffness until you break again and again. It’s the soft and subtle response that will prevail. Turning around a facing the wolves is analogous to facing your fear. Rather than beating yourself up for your mistakes, affirming your humanness and proclaiming a commitment to yourself when others disapprove of you is healing. Facing your fear involves summoning the courage to embrace relapse failure. It entails meeting the world in all its painful variety with feet spread and arms open, neither accepting or rejecting everything, but leaning into what is nourishing and letting the rest move on through. When you stiffen and harden with resistance you will tend to break. This is the wisdom of a torn heart.

7. Always know that the best you can offer any situation is your heart.

When you fail you feel needy and inadequate. Yet, all that is expected from anyone in every experience is to return to and be true to your heart. This is the place to create accountability for inconsistency, incongruity and hypocrisy. To live with white hot intensity and to be hungry for continued growth is all that is demanded from any one in one day. It is the heart where poetry is lived. Heart living is the original art. When all is said and done, being goes much deeper than doing.

It’s within the heart that you learn to define yourself as a capable person who inspires others by consistently living your values. In human frailty you are transformed to treat others just like you with dignity, inspiration and respect. From your heart you become guided by principles and boundaries with a deep-seated love and compassion for all. You will be defined not by the achievements you have created but by the way you show up each day in humility with a deep-seated love for self and all sentient beings. You will become a catalyst for growth with consummate passion that burns deep within. Recovery from relapse begins and is completed from the depths of your heart. 

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