Carole Bennett M.A.

From Heartache to Hope

A Love Letter After His Relapse

Handling the aftermath of a loved one's relapse is different for everyone.

Posted Apr 13, 2012

Relapse is an unfortunate situation. Though it can be more common with one who is new in recovery, there are many individuals who relapse after years and years of living a clean and sober life.

My client Rachel has had a roller coaster ride with her sometimes sober, sometimes not, husband. They had not been married long, and though the love and connection were very evident between them, his relapse and true slavery to his addiction began to present insurmountable odds against an honest and respectful union. She and her husband Matt would stitch together a few good months as he professed to work a clean and sober program by attending 12-step recovery meetings, worked with a seasoned sponsor, and appreciated his job and the future it held.

However, something would come along and upset the sober apple cart. After one relapse too many, Rachel felt she couldn’t go yet another round in the ring with Matt’s promise to reexamine the reason for his relapse and what he could once again do differently. She felt she just couldn’t take another deep breath and hope that maybe this new time would be the charm.

She asked her husband to move out and though she professed to him that while she would always love him, this was no longer a healthy relationship for her to be in. Matt couldn’t argue and both were truly saddened by this event.

A few weeks later, Rachel received this letter and I appreciated her sharing it with me and giving me permission to share it with you. I have condensed certain portions.

My Dear Rachel,

My hope is you will read this letter and take your time with any decision about our future. The purpose is to explain, as best I can, what my thinking and feeling is about my alcoholism and our future relationship.

I do not want to give up on our relationship. At least, not over this or in this manner. A decision to break off our (whatever we have) relationship of living together, having fun, enjoying this life together should not be thrown over away over my illness.

So with that being said, my drinking was not an effort to break up or grow apart or move away from you in any manner … the drink wasn’t taken in anger “to show you” or “get back at you.” It was taken because I am an alcoholic and the most natural thing in the world for me to do is take a drink. This is the condition that I need to recover from, and thus far have failed.

I have been in a “relapse” mode for the past year and it was preceded by a two-month period of “planning to drink.” I don’t just suddenly drink. Usually, with me, it is planned out. Relapse thinking continues and my mind continued to entertain the idea that somehow, someday I would be able to drink and/or smoke pot. I just couldn’t surrender, and my condition tells me it will be okay to drink, even though all the evidence shows that to be untrue. That is what I suffer from. That’s the insanity.

Alcoholism is not a moral issue. It is an illness. I did not drink to harm you. I do not drink ever with malice or intentions to hurt family or friends. I have no power in that choice ... when my defenses against that first drink are nonexistent. The idea is to build up a defense that I can access on a daily basis. I have done it before and I want to get back there. It takes time for the mental obsession to leave. Then it takes work for the obsession to stay dormant. I am planning on achieving this again. Too much good, too much to live for … and you are a big part of that.

I need time away, from living together, to work on myself. I want to be with you, but only after working on what needs to come first … me.

Grateful is a term that I need to achieve, and can only achieve this, through action.

Love, Matt

There is no question that this is a sincere and truly intentional quest from Matt. Rachel concedes that this is the same record having been played before, but sung in a different key. Rachel is not looking to punish Matt for his disease, but she realizes that there comes a time when it’s not about him, but about her and how she sees her life.

Many relapses happen due to an argument or blow up and coming to the conclusion that you are out the door can be easier as it is often fueled by anger. Domestic violence or substantial out of control behavior can also help pave the way to that decision.

But when your loved one approaches with hat in hand (no matter how many times), your heart aches with a difficult decision: Accept the alcoholic/addict as they are regardless of their relapses, or hit the pause button, take a time-out, and see if some substantial sobriety can be obtained.

We get so bogged down with the alcoholic/addict and their addiction that we can lose sight of who and what we are. So much emotional, psychological and physical attention spent on the alcoholic/addict can turn us into mere shadows of ourselves.

Matt and Rachel will regroup in six months or a year and examine the landscape then; no communication between them during this time so neither is sidetracked by emotion. Remember, this is not a punishment, but a healthy indicator of what their future may look like. I applaud them both for taking responsibility for their own lives as painful as such may be.

If I can be of service, please visit my website and explore my new book, Reclaim Your Life – You and the Alcoholic/Addict.