I can remember, like it was yesterday, getting my first coin. That thirty-day coin, dazzling red, is my most prized possession. It was the hardest thirty days of my life. It was the hardest because I wanted it more than anything else in this world. It was the hardest because I had put working a recovery program and my sobriety ahead of everything else in my life. I had done a lot of painful work beginning the process of cleaning up the wreckage of my past. I also remember going to celebrate after receiving that coin – at a bar. What? I’m an alcoholic, it makes perfect sense to me. I still was clueless as to the nature of my disease. I went anyways, because it sounded like a good idea. I was with others in recovery. I was safe. Right? No, I was with other newcomers (because we cling to each other in early sobriety) and we are not the brightest crayons in the box. Our bad habits are still deeply engrained. We still thrill seek. We just seek it out the only way we know how.
So off to the bar to sing karaoke we go. I remember sitting there proving to myself that I could do this; hell, I was. I sang karaoke sober for the first time and thought I was the shit. I had arrived. Never mind that I had been sitting there the entire time holding that red coin in my hand rubbing it so vigorously that I made a blister in my palm. Subconsciously, I was trying to rub the red off the coin. You might be wondering why I was trying to do such a thing. Well, those old-timers will always be credited, where possible, for saving my life with the crazy anecdotes they shared with me. Their bat-shit crazy sayings stuck with my that night while I was flirting with fire. You see, I was told that if I could get all the red off of the coin, then and only then could I drink. Believe me, I tried.
Everyone was having fun and I needed more water. So, I headed to the bar. I stepped up to it, fully intending to get my glass refilled. Then, without warning, the thoughts began playing their games with me. It occurred to me that no one was looking. I could take one drink and no one would know. They weren’t paying attention to me. It was only thirty days. I could start over tomorrow. Why not? Everyone else did. Besides, wasn’t relapse part of recovery? That’s what I thought when I stood there.
I had seen so many people relapse and come back in just in the short amount of time I had been there, that I thought it was part of how we do it. I’d even heard people say that very thing in meetings, that relapse was part of recovery. So, for me that meant that in order to be normal I had to relapse at least once. Crazy. Looking back now, I think that is the most dangerous thing that can be said to a person who is trying to recover from alcoholism. It sticks in their brains. It’s a Plan B, a permission slip to relapse. There can never be a Plan B. Besides, nowhere in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous does it say that a relapse is a component of recovery.
I understand that relapse is part of plenty of people’s story. I realise that it is not the end of the world – if you make it back. But, telling a newcomer that relapse is part of recovery just lets them know that it’s something they will do. So, subconsciously it is telling them, “there is no hope for you.” Then it becomes its own entity. There are questions that are left open and unanswered like, how many times am I allowed to relapse? Will I always relapse? When will I relapse, because its only a matter of time before I do? That’s deadly to someone who is dying from this disease. There are too many variables. We need it simple. It needs to be drilled in that dying is what relapse means to those like us.
Of course, we don’t shoot our wounded. They are suffering alcoholics just like us. Their stories are very much a part of the tapestry of recovery. It’s imperative that we know the train of thought that precedes the first drink. The ones that come back from a relapse are the only ones who can tell those of us who have not had a relapse. They hold a golden key. However, telling someone that relapse is part of this journey could be the very words between that person and the first drink. They could very well become the words that seal a casket shut.
Those words entertained themselves in my own mind standing at that bar that night. I asked the bartender what they had on tap. He shot back the list of piss water beers they had. No thank you. I wanted the good stuff. I asked what wines they had. He recited the names of the generic wines they carried. Uh uh. No way. I wasn’t throwing away the hardest thirty days of my life for cheap beer and house wine. The only thing that stood between me and that first drink that night was a higher power bigger than me and my princess attitude. If I was going to throw it all away, it wouldn’t be on that crap. I would be going out large and this house couldn’t do me that justice, so I took my water back to the table, chip in hand.
I know now that it was a miracle I got to stay sober that night. I’m am still so thankful. But, if something larger than me hadn’t intervened and I hadn’t let it, I would have believed those that said, “Relapse is part of recovery.” I almost did. They were right there with me at that bar that night. I hope you remember that the next time some one says that. I hope you think long and hard yourself if you are the one saying it. Those words nearly took me out, and I know me, if I go back out there’s no coming back. I realise that no one person has the power to make me drink. However, why give me a loaded gun if you are trying to help me stop killing myself? I do have another drink in me. I just don’t have another recovery in there. So I tell others the truth of the disease. I don’t sugar coat anything. There is no Plan B for me.
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.
Tami Harper Winn is currently the featured blogger/contributing editor at Drunkless.com. She also guest blogs for several recovery programs. She has been asked to speak publicly and share her story in front of hundreds and has now added podcasting to her ever growing resume. With over six years of sobriety, she openly breaks her anonymity on a daily basis to help others who suffer from the seemingly hopeless disease of alcoholism and addiction. Tami’s day job currently is as a “superhero.” By night she spends her time enjoying her final year with her already published teenage daughter, and ironing her cape as she writes and markets her Sobriety Secrets. Tami was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she received her Masters in Partying. She completed her Doctorate in Alcoholism on 05/20/2010 by getting sober in Boise, Idaho where she now resides. She is the proud mother of three, Mema to five and soon-to-be empty nester/world traveler. Tami works an imperfect 12-Step Recovery Program with the help of a very huge Higher Power. She is also a graduate from Boise State University with a BS in General Studies and emphasis in Criminal Justice. She is currently writing her first book. You can follow her on...