Relapse, Release, or Renew

How does one handle a relapse of a loved one?

Posted Jul 01, 2020

Relapse. How many times have I heard that it’s part of the disease of addiction? Yet, each time my adult son relapses (and there have been several), I’m blindsided and tailspin into trying to fix what can’t be fixed. Stress, anxiety, sleepless nights, anger, frustration, and that pitiful complaint "Why me?” take over. A tsunami of negativity. A relapse occurred recently. My son crashed and burned yet again. Late one night I received a phone call from one of my son’s friends informing me that my son was in jail. The reason being a fight with a roommate fueled by mania (off his meds) and drugs. The roommate’s behavior was fueled by alcohol and who knows what else. The roommate ended up in the hospital with minor injuries and my son landed in jail. His phone calls from jail, at first the rapid speech of mania, angry and hateful words, and then, after he calmed down, my son shared his side of the story and tried to get me to help him arrange for bail. I declined. However, talks and emails with his public defender and case manager, talks and texts with my son’s father, and time spent arranging for money for phone calls and necessities while in jail added to my anxiety, emotional exhaustion, and frustration. After two weeks, my son informed me he was out on bail. I have no idea who provided the money and didn’t ask. 

In the past I had established two boundaries: I would hang up if my son spoke disrespectfully, and I would not bail him out of jail (nor would other family members). I have followed through on both. For those readers who have experienced this recurring nightmare, I know you understand when I write that keeping those two boundaries is progress.

Shortly after my son’s release, he wrote me a long letter of apology. He also signed up voluntarily to participate in a recovery program dealing with addiction, mental illness, and anger management. So where do I go from here?  How much do I dare to hope?

The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu has helped channel my thoughts and feelings away from anger and resentment and toward forgiveness. The Tutus write that when someone betrays your trust, you can either renew the relationship or release it. “The decision to release or renew a relationship is a personal choice that only you can make. Obviously it is easier to choose to renew a relationship when it is a close connection, such as a spouse, parent, sibling, or close friend. With these intimates it is much harder to release the relationship completely, as the threads of memory and intimacy that bind you are strong.”  

They also write that you may need to know that the perpetrator is remorseful. I believe that my son’s remorse is genuine. However, they also say that the perpetrator needs to assure that the betrayal won’t happen again. This is problematic because relapse is part of the disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) estimates relapse rates of 40 to 60%, which is similar to relapse rates for other chronic disorders such as diabetes and hypertension which have both psychological and physiological components. I’ve been dealing with my loved one’s addiction for a long time. The ups and downs. The relapses and the reconciliations. I’ve also been involved in a twelve-step program for loved ones in which I have received love and support and learned that I have choices. At this point, I’m choosing to work on forgiveness. I hope to get past my anger, grief, sadness, and disappointment and renew my relationship with my son. Offer love and support but not interfere with his journey, which I hope will be towards recovery.