A comment on my post yesterday got me to thinking about why we relapse. Why, when we know how good it feels to be sober do we go back? Why do we choose that substance when we know how much better, more fulfilling and wonderful our lives are without it? I mean seriously, how can someone with 10 or 20 years of sobriety, one day pick up a drink and be back to their old ways in a matter of days…sometimes hours? Or someone with 30 days? Or six months? Or (insert time here)?
When I got serious about quitting, I relapsed once. It was between the third and fourth month sober. A friend’s husband had just begun to sell wine through home parties and she was hosting a wine tasting to get him started. (I know you already see where this is going and I know you’re thinking, “WTF?” but stay with me.) I had already started the conversations in my head, with the hubs and with the kids that…
- “I can drink. I just don’t have an ‘off’ switch so I have to be careful.”
- “I’m not really an alcoholic. I just needed to take a break to prove to myself I could quit if I wanted to.”
- “I’m not really an alcoholic. I didn’t need any help quitting. I just did it so that must mean I’m okay.”
- “I’ll just be sure to limit myself to one…or two at a time.”
- “Insert lame excuse here.”
I ignored all the authors I’d read who were just like me. Who drank just like me. Who acted just like me when they were drunk. Authors like Carolyn Knapp, and Jane Velez-Mitchell, and Augusten Burroughs who wrote both eloquently and painfully about people just like me. In fact, it was very minor character in Burroughs’ book “Dry” who said something I credit with starting my long road to sobriety.
It was either his first or one of his first AA meetings (it’s been a long time since I read the book – long before I actually got sober) and he was looking around and marveling at the fact that no one looked like his mind’s version of an alcoholic. Then a woman got up to speak, during her story she said what turned out to be my catalyst. She said that although she doesn’t look like society’s view of an alcoholic, the fact was that when she was drinking she was always the first to arrive at a party and the last to leave. Just. Like. Me.
Yeah…I ignored that too.
And so I went to the wine tasting and I tasted. And before it was time to go I had drained all mine and everyone else’s glasses. I didn’t get drunk, but that didn’t take long.
After I sobered up the second (and final) time, I spoke with a therapist that told me that the 3-4 month mark was a dangerous place. It’s a pink cloud place with a direct line to the beast. It’s easy to believe your own bullshit at that point because you’re feeling invincible! Like you can do anything! I mean seriously, you quit drinking!!! They said you would never do it and you did!
My husband has a phrase he uses when a celebrity makes a bonehead move or puts their foot in their mouth. He says, “Don’t believe your own publicity.” I love that phase because it’s so apropos and it fits the relapse profile (at least for me) to a tee. I believed my own publicity. It bit me in the ass.
Everyone was congratulating me and telling me how wonderful I was and how much better things were and how good I looked. And I was thinking that life had never been better and my aren’t I strong and yes, I, in fact, am amazing! I can do anything I put my mind too! Including drink!
Not so much.
Ever since then I’ve been very careful about this publicity thing. I call bullshit on myself on a regular basis both in this blog and in my head. I tell myself to simmer down and relax. To Be Still. That the beast is a fucking liar and is just filling my head with tabloid publicity designed to sell booze not to tell the truth. And no amount of time away from that wine bottle is going to change that. And to remember that the Big Guy always has my back.
Yes, sometimes it makes me sad. I’ll admit that I miss the experience of drinking wine. Sometimes it makes me mad or it makes me feel weak or I get embarrassed or I feel like a bump on a log at a party. But then I remember that all of that is just a different kind of publicity and I don’t have to believe it either.
And then I go back to my nice, sane, and quiet life that I came very close to losing because of all of that publicity. All of those lies. And I grab my People Magazine to see what the rest of the crazies are doing today.