By Chris Heide
They say that relapse doesn’t have to be a part of your story. For me, it was a necessary plot twist in the story of my recovery. A period that dramatically and irrevocably altered my course. My relapse provided me with a purpose for my life. Let me explain why.
When I originally went to rehab in 2011, I was 25 years old. I had yet to identify as an alcoholic and drug addict. The idea that I would be sober for the next 50 years of my life terrified me. I could see that I had a prescription pill problem, but I was unable to see how truly damaging that was to my life. This was at the cusp of the current opiate epidemic that is sweeping our nation. I couldn’t see that it was slowly killing me and I couldn’t believe that it was hurting my family. I still had a home, a boyfriend and money. I had a family with weak boundaries, meaning that I was still capable of manipulating them to feed my disease. Deep down I have always loved my family, but when I put drugs and alcohol into my system, I almost forgot was love really means. The only thing that mattered to me what chemically altering the way I felt. Nothing else could compare to that temporary relief. I had yet to hit the greatest bottom of my life. Drugs and alcohol were still the only solution I had to my problems.
Almost after my 28 day vacation, I relapsed. I told myself that as long as I did not go back to my drug of choice, I would be okay. Denial is a power force, especially when it feeds into our desire for immediate gratification. I was still a slave to my impulses and engrossed in the bondage of self. My entire life, I have felt out of place. I never felt completely at ease and never felt like I truly belonged. Aimless and adrift- I always felt I had no purpose in life.
Flash forward 18 months. Yes, my relapsed lasted a year and a half. During that period, my life collapsed. Jails, institutions and death- those all became real possibilities for my life. As I was running out of friends and money, my capacity for self-loathing grew exponentially. I put myself in dangerous situations and experimented with drugs that I had never tried before. I was disinvited from my families Christmas celebration and kicked out of my mother’s house. I was dying a brutal, lonely death.
When I finally got sober again in 2013, my soul was broken. I had run out of options. My back was against a wall, both figuratively and metaphorically.
My sobriety date is 3/19/13. Coming back into recovery after such a tortuous relapse was absolutely the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Essentially, I had to relearn how to be a human being again. I had to relearn how to be an adult, how to care for other and how to keep my word. I had to learn how to love myself again- something that I was incapable of doing for many years. I knew that if I relapsed again, I would surely die. This was my last shot at recovery. With that ominous mindset, I plunged wholeheartedly into recovery.
Don’t let anyone lie to you- recovery is hard work. My solution depends upon my belief in a higher power and the notion that “faith without works is dead”. It take a tremendous amount of courage and humility to face the wreckage of your past. Making amends to the people you have hurt is absolutely terrifying. It is actionable work that must be done in order to ensure lasting recovery.
Today, I am grateful for my relapse. As crazy as that sounds, I know that I was not ready to be sober when I initially went to treatment. Thankfully, that experience stuck with me and I knew where to go when I was ready to get sober again. I reclaimed a seat in a 12 Step program, and with tremendous support, I finally accessed a solution other than drugs and alcohol. Pain is a powerful motivator and the pain I experienced during my relapse was crushing. I was able to use that pain to push me forward towards a better life.
Over the course of the last four years, I was given the gift of purpose. Through a tremendous amount of work, I have been able to discover my true self. My purpose is something that I finally understand. For that, I am deeply grateful.
My purpose is to be an accountable son, a loyal friend and a trustworthy brother. My purpose is to life my life in the present, continuously expressing gratitude for what I have. Above all, my primary purpose is to help other people. For so many years, I felt that I was not of use to anyone. Today, because of my recovery, I can be of use to other people. I can help someone who is still in active addiction. I can contribute something to the world.
Relapse does not have to be a part of your story. For me, without the pain of my relapse, I do not know if I would have learned the lessons that I have. I truthfully gain so much wisdom from that dark period. I can honestly say that I am grateful for my relapse. Because of it, I am even more grateful for my recovery.