Facing the Reality of Relapse

“Success” is facing the reality of relapse

One of the people I’ve been working with in the recovery community, talked to me in great detail about their recent relapse and reentry into recovery. They have about 35 days and, given some of the details of the episode, that itself is a minor miracle. I’ve known P. for about 6 years. They were one of the first regulars at our church plant every Sunday. They attended the AA meeting I started Saturday evenings, and I got to know their story pretty well – middle-class housewife who began to lose it all and continued to get busted for drinking related offenses. After some jail time, their drinking escalated, being compounded by the death of their husband and loneliness began to set in. Her problems began to mount. I also learned of their extraordinarily high tolerance for alcohol. One episode involved a relapse where they chugged a quart of vodka walking home from work, and passed out on a local thoroughfare partly in the roadway ripe to get clipped by a truck. Of course, they were taken promptly to the county jail once it was determined that they’d violated probation here, and in two other local counties. Their blood alcohol level tested at 0.46, which is more than lethal.

In any case I was told of the terrifying last relapse. Apparently, in an attempt to quit on their own they drank up what they had, and stopped for about 2 days. That’s when the dramatic results of self-detox kicked in. Visual and audio hallucinations (the dog was passing out then trying to break down the door…people that couldn’t be see, were talking outside the bedroom window…the phone rang, but didn’t ring…), loss of balance, falling and cracking their forehead. The neighbors heard the commotion and came to their assistance. A ride to the ER was followed by a 2 week stint in the hospital.

I asked what the doctors said, and she replied, “They said I was really sick. But I asked how that could be since I hadn’t been drinking for a couple days. All they could say was ‘Dear, you’re really sick!’”

Startled by her revelations, I interrupted saying, “Of course you’re sick! That’s what alcohol detox is all about! Without that inordinate supply of alcohol, your body was reacting adversely and your brain was going haywire, practically ‘collapsing.’ You bet you’re really sick. We don’t see alcoholism displayed to such an extent very often, but I would suggest that you take this extremely seriously, because you may be crossing over into the realm of irreparable brain damage. It’s one thing to say you have to quit drinking because you got a DUI or had trouble on the job. It’s quite another to say you have to quit because the liquor is causing irreversible brain trauma.”

Shifting gears, and not wanting to be too dramatic, I added,” In the years that I’ve known you, I seen several major relapses, some that put you in jail, and some that put you in the hospital. Let’s be clear. You don’t want to wind up in an asylum – if they even still have those – but that’s where you’re headed. I’ve never tried to soft-peddle sobriety to you or paint a rosy picture of rainbows and butterflies, but I am gravely concerned, and want you to know. There are a lot of people who hold you in their prayers. I do hope you treat this episode differently, because I don’t want to see you become another statistic.”

Perhaps I struck a chord. The tension seemed to leave  her face, replaced by what could be described as a slight ray of hope that beginning another long journey into recovery might be ever so slightly less stressful if shared with another. I thought for sometime after about why ministries of compassion are so important to me.  Given the stark realities we face, responses may take more effort, determination, and time than most are aware or prepared to undertake. Experience with an ongoing Faith Partners team has reinforced some valuable spiritual lessons for me. In spite of my many earnest attempts and continued diligence over the years, I’ve realized that I cannot sometimes save people from themselves. But neither can I give up on them. All I can do at times is to stand firmly in my hopes for them, with compassion.

In this respect, I’ve also come to realize that the character of “success” derived from Faith Partners outreach takes on another quality: that  of a more sustained determination and growing discernment over appropriate courses of response. Effective skills take time to develop. Should attempts at helping fall short, I can live with that kind of success.

Continued prayers,

Rick Drewien
Sacred Tapestry UMC,
Marietta, GA

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