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On Relapse

Originally posted FEB 7, 2023 On The Ultimate Mom Challenge

The dreaded R word.


I hear it in meetings all the time… often sandwiched by shame and guilt. Heads downcast. Eyes wet. Hearts dropping from chests.

“I can’t believe I did it again. It’s hopeless. I’m hopeless.”

I am not a sober coach (yet… working on my certifications though). I am just one flawed human talking to another flawed human. But in these moments of deep despair, there is so much I want to say to someone experiencing relapse. And it goes like this…

Beautiful friend, your worth is not defined by your sober day count. You and your life are just as important and valuable today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

I can see you are stuck. And I will tell you we are all stuck somewhere. We are all in an in between space between one thing and the next. For you, right now, it might be in quitting drinking, but for me it is in phone scrolling, body issues, and about a thousand other things.

People ask me what the secret is to never relapsing. I hate this question, because it’s not that simple. I have relapsed. I do relapse. I am over 5 years alcohol-free, but I am on Month 9 of no purging and Day 0 of hair pulling (trichotillomania). I will always be working on myself because there will always be something. And that doesn’t mean I’m failing. Not at all. The fact that I’m trying is my very definition of recovery. Because it means I’m still showing up for myself.

And you, my friend, continue to show up for yourself too.

Fear not the number on the day counter, or what others’ journeys look like, or the “should of’s” that haunt your intrusive thoughts. I know in my heart of hearts that you CAN do this. Do you know how I know? Because you already are. You keep showing up for yourself. I see you on the sober meetings. I see you reading these words. I see you doing the work. I see you trying, even when no one is watching.

Put the day tracker away if it doesn’t serve you (This type of success measurement works for some, but not for all). Focus on just today. This minute if that feels less daunting. Start right here, right now. Because now is all we really have anyway.

Today I will not drink; and let me tell you why. I will not drink because I have a thousand vices but today alcohol will not be one. I will not drink because today is the only day that truly matters. Yesterday is over… tomorrow is unknown. Today I will not drink because I have so little control over my life but what I put in my body right now is one of them. Today I will not drink because I want my kids to feel safe and I want to show them consistency and structure, something I can only do sober. And today I will not drink because I have seen where that leads and I know it’s the wrong direction.

Sometimes not drinking feels like the only right thing that happened in my day. Sometimes it’s the only validation I have that I’m going to be ok. I make a lot of mistakes but not drinking has never been and will never be one of them.

Look at the trees outside. The are firmly planted in the ground with hundreds of roots twisting and turning beneath the surface. Each and every root helped the tree get to where it is now — strong, secure, and with branches dancing in the breeze. Do you think these trees look at some of their roots with remorse or shame, or do they see each and every root as a building block for a stronger foundation? Each root is deeply entrenched in the growth and balance of this tree’s current livelihood.

I’ve heard relapses called data points. I’ve heard them called slips, trips and falls. What if — hear me out — it was exactly what you needed to get stronger? What if those very roots are an integral part of your long game?

Do not curse the roots that got you where you are today, because it got you here, reading this piece and reframing where you are exactly.

If recovery is doing the next right thing, my question to you is — what will you do next?

You know where drinking takes you. You’ve seen it every morning after a binge. You already know that is the wrong direction. You bless those roots because they are helping you stand up, but you don’t need to make more. So what will you do differently today?

I am not a coach yet, as I’ve said, but I’ll tell you what works for me: sober meetings, accountability partners, listening to podcasts and reading quit lit. Journaling. Meditation. Exercising/spending time in nature and just moving my body.

Pic of me and my mom outside, moving our bodies.

I used to find snow storms triggering because in my 20’s, me and an old partner would make drinking games out of snow storms. It felt like an excuse to drink.. doing shots every time we saw a snowplow drive by or other ridiculousness. But now that I’m sober, do you think I look out the window and try to will my triggers away? Heck no. Yesterday we had a snow storm and I put on my snow clothes and shoveled my mom’s driveway til my shirt was soaking with sweat. It felt so good to move my body! It felt a thousand times better than doing shots til I puked.

Try something new. Do something scared. Go outside — even in the snow or cold! Make today look and feel different than yesterday.

Relapse does not define you. It does not speak to your character or values. It is part of your story in the same way one root is part of each tree’s story. And now you can decide if you want to dwell on that root, or focus on building new ones. Do you want to drink the guilt and shame of how that root still feels, or do you want to acknowledge you are alive and breathing today and get to use that root to help you rise up.

Because, today, we get to build something new.

Today, my friend, we can rise up.

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