And Am I Doomed to Relapse?

I am terrified of relapse.

In the past eight months, I personally and intimately witnessed five people beloved by me return to active addictive use of alcohol and other drugs. I witnessed anguish, suffering, bafflement and rage in magnitudes I have only before observed in documentaries on torture.

Detail from Woman Rising by Jackie HarderThe acts done and words said under the influence, and those undone and unsaid, resulted in immediate destruction in their personal lives and in the lives of others. Aftershocks continue.

It could easily happen to me. And, in spite of everything that went down, to them again, too.

  • While many people with substance use challenges do achieve abstinence or harm reduction on their own, most who need help relapse.
  • Asked later, many who relapse are unconscious of the first drink or first use that triggered addictive use.
  • Asked later, many who do stop again can identify some conscious moment that led them to seek help. Many who stop cannot remember asking for help. Many awaken in treatment settings or jails. Many are taken against their wills for help.
  • Most people with substance use challenges have experienced trauma which can lead to detached states of dissociation that can be remembered as unconsciousness.  Dissociation can be a separation of the self from reality so excruciating that it feels like the whole being will break, detachment so powerful that all the mental, emotional, social and spiritual tools one might possess are inaccessible.
  • Trauma episodes can happen without the person’s awareness, simply as a result of being startled.
  • Ergo, life can happen, a trauma episode can happen, dissociation can happen, and the substance – alcohol and other drugs – unconsciously, instinctively, automatically feels like the only way to save the self from shattering.

When I face these realities of addiction, these questions and unknowns in the context of myths and uncertainties, I feel helpless.

When I add scrutiny of my very best efforts to help the beloved people in my life not relapse – the same efforts I am attempting on my own behalf – and my wretched failure – I wonder if I, too, am doomed.

Doomed to be ineffectual in preventing suffering in my own life and in the lives of others?

Cower in my chair, fearing the terrorist attack within, waiting for the extraordinary odds in favor of me drinking again to finally explode me?

I refuse.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”
Edward Everett Hale, American author and Unitarian clergyman

I find it tragically preposterous that I earned a master’s degree in counseling – specializing in addictions treatment – at the age of 47, then began drinking problematically the next yearprobably addictively the year after. It’s inexplicable. And yet it happened.

What is addiction, how does it happen, and how can it be successfully treated, even cured? I yearn to have done no harm to myself or others in my efforts so far to define terms and seeks answers. Continue to seek? As a person who needs solutions, and loves people who need solutions, I see it as imperative that I do so.

Image: Detail from “Woman Rising” by Jackie Harder

And the Congregation Averted Its Eyes
The Unhelpful S-Word in Addictions Recovery


  1. Leonard W Hughes says:

    Hello Anna,
    As I have passed you many times in the hallways of school and of life I sit her reading your posts when the God of my understanding puts them right in front of me.
    I too have an addiction … and mine is to the persons whose drinking and drugging affected my life so much that I lost myself in trying to hide, lie, and manipulate them into quitting their need for the drugs and alcohol, in trying to cope with their every day to day life. I tried to love them until they found a way to love themselves. I failed!
    Then I began my recovery in 1997 at my bottom and wanted someone to tell me to leave her and start anew. I never received that suggestion from the persons in my recovery program. They suggested I look at my behavior in my addiction to this person … and they showed me unconditional love for what I was going through. They made me cry … they made me laugh, but they were always there for me at the toughest of times. They suggested that I not make any life change decisions for a year until I start taking care of me instead of the persons drinking and drugging bother me. I began to let the rage out of me for blaming the person … instead of the disease that had taken over the person. I found in my recovery a way to love the person and hate the disease, and separate the two. I stayed in that relationship for 4 years and found that in my recovery that I was crazier than the person who’s drinking and drugging bothered me. Five years after we parted her addiction end her life with her trying to obtain the drug of her choice on a Saturday night. To this day I don’t call her a drug addict or alcoholic because she never admitted to herself she could live without either of substances in her life. I still love the caring person and mother that she was to this day. She is at peace now …
    I still practice my recovery today because I still have a lot of that craziness still within me and don’t always face the truths in my life. As I grow each year I hope to be there for that one person that was their when I needed help in my life at my lowest point. We lost a special friend in our recovery program two weeks ago who would always tell it like it was (Louise B – 50 years in recovery). She always reminded me that every time “I pointed the finger at someone else there were three pointing back at me”. How I miss her unconditional love …
    Thanks for sharing your life story with us. I find pleasure in knowing at least two people in our class of 1977 have found their life’s helping the addict’s and alcoholic’s still suffering. As for me the only thing I found in my life that is normal is the setting on the dryer as I do my laundry today… lol. Take care my friend …

    Love and Peace in Recovery,
    Leonard H.