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Oops!... I Did It Again

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

I have been spending a little time as of lately absorbing some knowledge about the reality of codependency... and relapse. I am here to tell ya, if you think or believe that drug addicts and/or alcoholics own the market on relapse, then you are solely mistaken. Relapse happens to everyone. Every race, size, color, gender, age, religion, or belief. And no one is exempt... except, of course, those that perpetually choose to live in denial (covered eyes & ears Emoji). Just for the sake of sake, lets break down what relapse looks like. For you WordNerds according to relapse means 'the act or an instance of backsliding, worsening, or subsiding'; 'a recurrence of symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement'. Synonyms for relapse: backslide, return, regression, collapse, meltdown, crash, decline, reversal, setback. The opposite of relapse, as you might guess, is growth, maturation, ripening, advancement, development, evolution, progression (something in me wants to add 'Ta-Da!'... smh). Over my lifetime I have heard relapse referred to in so many ways, some you might be familiar with or have used yourself, like 'fell off the wagon', 'hit the pavement', 'got hit by the diet train', 'returned to la-la land', 'once a junkie- always a junkie', 'fell back into the bottle'. There are so many more that flood my brain, but I think you get the idea. Little quips to refer to relapse tend to always be negative in nature. Relapse can happen to a chemical addict. To a sex addict. To a food addict. To a retail therapy addict (aka shopaholic). To a relationship & love addict. To a religion addict. It can also happen to a busybody, to a gym nut, to a perfectionist, to a rager, to a bully, to a grudger, to a former smoker, to an approval junkie. We- every one of us, has the propensity as well as the probability, to fall to relapse. And if you are a reader who is sitting there shaking your head, arms crossed in defiance, thinking you are immune to relapse... ya best check ya'self! Relapse does drive by's (or sit-ins) in everyone's lives... your's included.

"I am having a break down in the Barnes & Noble parking lot". That is the message I sent out on FB Messenger. That, as well as 3 phone calls to 3 different numbers, with 2 of those being hangups when no one answered before the voice message sounded. I was freaking out! And by freaking out, I mean I was crying hysterically and felt like my life had just exploded into a million tiny pieces all at once. I could not find a grain of gratitude, not even the size of a stink'n grain of sand. What caused this break down in the Barnes & Noble parking lot? I would like to be able to blame it on other people, on lack of money, on unfair weather conditions, or on quarantine crazies. But nope! This breakdown... I had no one to blame. No one but me. Oops!... I did it again! I had somehow allowed myself to once again become neglected, victimized, needy, overreactive, controlling, dependent, depressed, afraid, obligated, and trapped. And let me tell ya, I do lose my 'cute & sweet Patty' when I get caught in an ugly cry. And this time, well it turned into an ugly, ugly cry. This breakdown I was having, some of you might recognize, as the codependent crazies. The good news? Well, the good news is that I was able to recognize it. Years ago that certainly would not have been the case!

I remember a time when I was just over two years into my recovery journey, when all of a sudden I came face-to-face with what reminded me of the old me. (Yikes!... I know). I was easily offended, more withdrawn, quick to tears and even quicker to a hot temper. It's funny how I cannot seem to recall what happened at that specific time in my life to trigger this, but I can remember with absolute clarity the sandy path I was walking along under a palm tree, daylight was slowly fading as the path lights sparked on, and I admitted to one of my recovery step sisters, 'I think I did recovery wrong. Either that, or I can't be fixed like everyone else and I will be forever broken'. And she laughed. Out.loud.even. I can tell ya this, that sure didn't help my easily offended, hot temper switch. Lucky for me, even with a hot temper, I am more prone to keep my trap closed than flapping, which was a very good thing in the moment. Good, because instead of reacting I was able to listen- and to hear her, when she told me, 'You are not broken or unfixable, Patty. You are in recovery. Relapse happens'. And then... reaction happened. 'What do you mean relapse happens?' I hissed at her (so much for keeping my attitude in check). ' I am not back with an abuser, or an alcoholic, or an addict. I have stayed very much single for a long time now. There is no way I am in relapse!'. Very gently and kindly she shared her own personal story of her first relapse after starting her recovery journey. Although her addiction was not my addiction, it made sense to me. She had felt the very same things I was feeling now, the things I had been trying to fix, correct, control, or minimize. That conversation, along that sandy path, helped me to finally understand that relapse is a normal part of the recovery process. And that relapse is much easier to accept as a positive (and necessary) part of the process than to mold it in your mind to be some kind of evil, painful, to-be-avoided-at-all-costs plague that is out to rob you of your recovery and to take your very life. I do want to speak to those of you who have lost someone you love to relapse. A loss can occur by death, or distance, or change in relationship, or the breaking of trust, or the signing of divorce papers, or by an utter and complete disconnect. Loss just hurts no matter what form it comes in. I am so sorry if you have lost someone you care about to relapse. I cannot imagine the pain that is- or has, caused you. But someone else's relapse is not your relapse. It is between them and their higher power. The best thing that you can do is to keep your hands off of it, allow God to work in and through it, and to re-focus on you. God is going to use that relapse to do something that person is unable to do on their own. Even in you.

Relapse is part of the recovery process. Sometimes, we humans, just need to get worse before we get better. My own personal take on this concept goes something like this- I love coconut. Like, I really love coconut. When I eat coconut I get really bad welts in my mouth, my throat gets insanely itchy, and I get these really painful pimples on the sides of my face or on the back of my neck and shoulders. When I use products with coconut in them, like shampoos, body washes, or lotions, I also get painful scabs, sores, welts, and pimples on my scalp and parts of my body that can last from mere days to weeks. Funny thing is, I went through this insanity stage that lasted many (many) years where I would use or eat coconut products, which was followed by this 'known' painful and unpleasant reactive phase, then turn around and do it again after giving myself a few months 'to rest' in between. I just somehow expected my body to suddenly not mind coconut anymore. In case you have never heard the definition of insanity, it is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. During one of my reactive phases, when I was once again covered in sores on my scalp from using... you guessed it, coconut products, I happened to complain out loud to a coworker about my 'dilemma' with coconut. She looked me right in the eyes and said, 'That is self abuse'. I was stunned speechless. How could I have not seen it like that before?! Every time I would work hard at knowing and accepting the truth that coconut is not good for me, that it literally harms me, I would make a conscious choice to go right back to coconut expecting the outcome to be different. That is relapse. And, I am embarrassed to admit, I still choose to eat coconut now and again.

Maybe for you, relapse is spending long months invested and committed to a healthy diet that you are even succeeding at, only to find yourself (by yourself) two layers deep in a triple layer death-by-chocolate cake with no intention of putting down the fork. Or maybe you have succeeded at not becoming involved again with red flag men. You did all the hard work, you worked all the steps it took to get yourself free from the vice of those types of relationships, and now... relapse. You find yourself looking across the table at a red flag man with a snicker on his face waiting for you to pay the bill and put out after. Or maybe you have managed to stay sober for a number of months, you have earned your 18 month chip, you proved to yourself, to your family, your friends, and to your recovery community that you are on the good path- for good, only to find yourself waking up with an empty booze bottle snuggled up against your chest and a fierce headache to remind you of your new reality... relapse.

Relapse comes in many forms. In my case, I was allowing my boundaries to come down. I was handing out money I didn't have. I was covering bills that were not mine to pay. I was saying 'yes' when I should have been saying 'no'. I was permitting others to treat me with disrespect, disregard, and abuse. I was failing to take care of me in loving and healthy ways. And I was trying my best to control the world around me, convincing myself that I somehow had the strength and the power to keep the world from caving in. And... I hit my wall. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. Financially. I will admit, I did let relapse whip me for a bit. It is so easy for me to slip into old patterns of berating myself, of feeling guilty for not being enough for others (even when that is not my job or responsibility), of wrapping myself in a cloak of shame. This used to be my 'normal', my 'comfort zone' if you will. I did not know how to face a day without feeling guilty, ashamed, responsible for others, loathsome of me, and wading waist deep in the ripples and waves of PTSD. Survival... and saving everyone within my reach, was the only way I knew how to live. Let me tell ya, that is no way to live! Resorting to those old patterns of guilt and shame is second nature. And when it happens, I would like to blame recovery for failing me, for not doing the cleansing and healing work it is supposed to do. But if anything, relapse is proving to me that recovery is at work in my life. Today, I can recognize relapse. It may take me a hot minute to recognize it... but at least I do! And that is victory! That is growth! That is the cleansing and healing power of recovery in motion! Relapse (backslide, return to, crash, regression, collapse, decline, meltdown, reversal, setback) is intended to bring change (growth, maturation, ripening, advancement, development, evolution, progression). I once heard it said about relationships,' it may not be easy but it's always good', and relapse kinda works like that. What change is relapse working in me? Well, I am no longer handing out money that I don't have. I am making changes to the things I say yes to, and the things that require me to say no. I am no longer permitting others to treat me unkindly, with disrespect, disregard, or abusively. I am choosing to take care of me in loving and healthy ways. And I am telling myself (over and over again, as many times as it takes) that I do not have the strength or the power to keep the world from caving in. I am not supposed to <3. And neither are you! When relapse comes into your life, because it will, are you going to allow it to destroy you... or are you going to greet it with an openness to change, an acceptance to do the work that needs to be done, and with a heart ready for positive change?! I hope we can cross paths on the sunny side of relapse!

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Patty, You are one of the most beautiful, amazing, caring, honest , funny women I know! I love how you share your recovery journey with others and how much you have helped me along my recovery journey. Yes it is different form yours but still similar in many ways. Thank you for your encouraging words of wisdom giving HOPE to all who listen!

Love you so much,

Aunt Pat

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