Carole Bennett M.A.

From Heartache to Hope

Relapse? Why when everything was going so well?

Things were going so well, then he relapsed. Why?

Posted May 20, 2011

By Carole Bennett, MA


I have been working with a wonderful lady for quite some time helping her understand her husband's alcoholic addiction, as well as guiding her toward her own healthy, confident lifestyle. Everyone was making great strides and days seemed to finally be back to normal. She had reported often that he was clean and sober, attending meetings regularly, found his dream job and they were getting along splendidly.

One day she took a weekend trip and through disconnected and bizarre late night texts from him came to the sad conclusion that he had relapsed in her absence. As per their recovery contract agreement (3 mutually agreeable stipulations - staying clean and sober, keeping his job and being nice to her), he realized that he had broken the sobriety statute and opted on his own to move out and into sober living.

My client was devastated and wondered what had happened from the time she pulled out of the driveway to 48 hours later which resulted in both of their worlds collapsing. Why oh why, when everything was going so well, could this happen? Should she have seen this coming? When she inquired as to why, his response was that his relapse had been percolating for many months and it wasn't personal and she had nothing to do with it. It was just the horrible demon of alcoholism that had plagued his life for years. He was not proud of his actions nor did he defend or justify them; it just happened. He shared that even with his sobriety firmly under his belt, his mind still wondered that maybe, just maybe this time he could drink like normal people. After days in a stupor, he once again realized that he couldn't and started over in his 12- step recovery program.

One of her friends asked her "how bad did he relapse?" After having experienced this before, she retorted that it didn't matter whether it's one drink or 1000, as a relapse is a relapse, and not
only his sobriety, but credibility, reliability, accountability and dependability was now out the window and everything starts over. Her husband felt that the years of sobriety he had under his belt were not wasted, but did admit that with every relapse there is a new sobriety date on the calendar.

So what motivates an individual to purposely put an invisible, destructive gun to their head, and pull the trigger time and time again? As "normies" or healthy ones, we can't imagine how anyone can go down such a path that would deliberately obliterate everything that they/ we hold so near and dear.

Sometimes, when alcoholic starts to get a handle on their recovery, or the going gets too good, they sabotage it. Though they freely admit that they are healthier and feel better, this new
way of life can feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable no matter how hard they try accepting a clean, sober and enjoyable life style. They have known one way for so long (probably a destructive path, but oddly familiar and comfortable none the less), it's exceptionally hard to shake old habits, thoughts and actions.

They might have difficulty trusting that their new life is good, that they've earned it and worked hard to get there, and it will continue to remain so as long as they stay on a clean and sober road. Alcoholic / addicts may not feel they deserve some of the good things that are happening to them, and this can be at the root of their self-sabotage. In addition, the expectations of others
that they will "keep up the good work" can be a lot of pressure.

Sometimes with the slightest hiccup or a continued barrage of hiccups, (whether real or imagined) they retreat to what's familiar, even when they know it's detrimental or may produce substantial wreckage. The ups and downs of life that the "normie" experiences and can work through become monumental hurdles to the alcoholic/addict and life on life's terms can be so daunting and overwhelming, their thinking tells them to bail at whatever cost.

The alcoholic/addict may feel inadequate as comparison to their mates' goals, dreams and accomplishments. They see this as an invisible challenge to keep up or find their own dreams, goals and accomplishments. In doing so, they may raise their bar unrealistically and consequently failure is all too often the outcome. Shame or embarrassment can lead to a relapse.

If you are like my client and have witnessed this scenario with your own loved one, please know that you are not a participant in theirs or anyone's relapse. No matter what you did or did not do, how you said it or didn't say it or whatever role you think you may have played in this outcome, you are not a contributing factor. The alcoholic/addict is the only one in charge of their recovery...or relapse.

My client told her husband that she will pray for the day that when the urge overtakes him again, he will merely say to himself "drinking is not an option" and move on with a confident smile.


If I can be of service, please visit my website www.familyrecoverysolutions.com and I invite you to explore my new book Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict at www.reclaimyourlifebook.com