Relapse warning signs?

Old 07-23-2013, 06:52 AM
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Relapse warning signs?

I have been sober for about fourteen months. In that time, I have never seriously thought about drinking again. The pain and heartache that it caused me is still too fresh. It seems inconceivable to me. That being said, I know a lot of people who relapsed after multiple years of sobriety and have heard many stories here on SR of the same. I guess my my question for those who relapsed after more than one year of sobriety is : Looking back, do you now see any warning signs that a relapse was imminent? I can't imagine that you woke up one day and decided a drink would be a good idea. And in that same direction, is there anything you wish you'd done differently that you think might have been helpful?

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Old 07-23-2013, 07:32 AM
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Great question. I don't have any answers as only 7 months in but very interested in repsonses you get as it's something I often wonder too.thanks
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Old 07-23-2013, 08:04 AM
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I spent just over 12 months sober. I was not attending AA/ receiving any treatment or working any program. I decided one day I didnt want to get hammered every night anymore and ended up in the hospital from withdrawal complications.
Well, the reason why I relapsed after a year of sobriety was I just couldn't handle the thought of never drinking ever again. I gave drinking another shot. I was doing just fine with 2-3 max drinks for a few months until I got drunk once. Then all bets were off and I was back to being a raging alcoholic.
What would I have done differently? Had I known I was going to go back to a raging alcoholic I would have never picked up that first drink. Huge mistake.
Im only at 3+ months now. I tossed 12+ months out the window for a stupid alcoholic drink.
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Old 07-23-2013, 09:51 AM
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I was sober for twenty five years. The first half of that time, I was an active member in AA. I had a sponsor, worked the steps, sponsored new people, did service...was extremely connected to AA's program of recovery. I landed in AA because, at the time, there was nothing else available that worked for me.

About thirteen years in, I had been slacking off on all the things that got me sober. When I realized this, my thinking told me that I was able to stay sober without all the things I did to get me sober; I already "did" the Steps, I didn't need meetings anymore, and I no longer needed to spend time sponsoring people. My life had taken off like a rocket ship in every way. I was too happy and too successful to need help. It was only a matter of time, then, that I made a clean break from AA. In the following years, my thinking and attitudes changed slowly for the worse. Without regular participation in AA, I was spending much of my free time with people who weren't in recovery, including daily/nightly ice skating and roller blading in Central Park. There was a big social element to these activities, and people often drank and smoked weed where we used to skate. They also had parties on the weekends which I sometimes attended, though I didn't drink.

Here comes the crazy part: From day one, I never experienced cravings for alcohol during the entire time I was sober. What happened was, that by a dangerous sleight of mind, I thought that, after all those years, maybe I wasn't an alcoholic anymore. That I could drink safely this time. That if things got out of control, I could take the proper action. I had no one in my life to offer me good counsel on all these things, and it's unlikely I would have listened in any event. I ended up drinking in a very casual way, as though I'd been doing it all my life. We're told in AA that picking up the drink is the final act in a relapse. It took me about twelve years to drink after my relapse had begun.

The "insanity" referred to in the Twelve Steps and the AA Big Book is not about all the crazy things we do when we're drinking. It's about the idea/obsession that we can drink safely; that we can both control and enjoy our drinking, despite all the compelling evidence to the contrary.

I blacked out the first night, didn't remember how I got home, though I managed to stay out of any real trouble. I drank occasionally for a time -- "socially," as some would call it -- and saw no cause for alarm. After a couple of months of this, I had overwhelming cravings, and I became a daily drinker, one-to-two liters of vodka every day, in addition to whatever else was available; beer, wine, tequila. My little experiment led to a three-year personal descent into hell. I lost everything important to me. Again.

This time, I take my program of recovery more seriously. I had intense cravings for the about the first year after I returned that left me frustrated, unhappy and sometimes feeling hopeless. I now go to two or three meetings each week, mostly Big Book studies or Step meetings, since that's where AA's program of recovery is. (AA's program of recovery says nothing about going to a lot of meetings to stay sober and doesn't suggest "ninety in ninety.") I don't attend meetings where people dress up like it's date night and tell everyone how great their lives are after a week of sobriety. It's not a social club, no matter how many good people I meet, but it is anything but dull.

This time, my commitment to my recovery is more comprehensive and more thoroughgoing. I have a small but strong support system. I'm doing what I need to do to stay sober. All this has helped me to rehabilitate my life and to achieve peace of mind and a healthy perspective on where my life is taking me.

We all learn the same lesson: It's very easy to give away what we worked so hard to get. It all disappears in an instant. Getting all that back again is much more difficult each time we try.
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Old 07-23-2013, 10:11 AM
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Thanks for the post EGNY - really related to your experience. I was sober 12 years and drifted away (after a move to a new state)...stayed sober 2 more years, then drank. I, too, questioned whether I was an alcoholic and decided that I didn't believe in the allergy theory - and actually remember thinking, "I'll do the test the Big Book talks about and, if I fail the test, then I'll just go back to AA." It's now been about 11 or 12 years of drinking and during that time I also became addicted to opiates and am having a b*tch of a time getting, and staying, clean/sober.

Jenni - While there are a lot of potential warning signs, there is still the phenomenon of the "strange mental blank spots" to consider. If you believe that there are times that you will have no mental defense against the first drink/drug, then it's absolutely imperative to continue to enlarge one's spiritual life via steps 10-12. It's just not worth the risk. For some reason, it really is harder to get clean/sober again. I'd heard the saying "don't go out because you might not make it back" before and thought it was ridiculous. Wrong. Sometimes it just won't 'take' again....

To directly address your question: I can't speak to those who relapse utilizing other methods, of course, but for me it was a failure to continue Steps 10-12. I know a gal who quit going to AA/working the steps probably 10 years ago. The last time I talked to her she was considering drinking a glass of wine each night with dinner 'to lower her cholesterol'. Strange mental blank spots...

Bottom line: "For if an alcoholic failed to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he could not survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he did not work, he would surely drink again, and if he drank, he would surely die" and "Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish."

So, I guess I'd have to say signs of impending relapse (even if that relapse takes a while to manifest) is the failure to continue Steps 10-12.
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Old 07-23-2013, 10:23 AM
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wow what a post engy, although i only get about 2 months sober at a time, i can relate to so much of your story but obviously with a lot smaller time lenghts

i have tried very hard at aa in the past, this time my 2 months sober is with no aa meetings at all

but the way you explained about the relapse

i now know after many relapses i feel them coming on way before i drink

this particular bit is me 100%

I thought that, after all those years, maybe I wasn't an alcoholic anymore. That I could drink safely this time. That if things got out of control, I could take the proper action.
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Old 07-23-2013, 12:32 PM
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I had almost no warning signs before my last time out there. Very suddenly I was presented with a huge disappointment. Within hours I was saying f*uckit. The despair was sudden and deep and involved a long term goal I was intent on achieving. At that point I did not care about anything or anyone. Nothing at all seemed to matter.

If you have never been to this awful place I suggest that you briefly imagine being there, if only to devise a plan for what to do next.
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Old 07-23-2013, 12:36 PM
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"strange, mental blank spots" that's how relapse was for me...
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Old 07-23-2013, 12:52 PM
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Strange mental blank spots, I had a few of them in my time. Yeah you gotta take this very seriously It's only your life you are talking about!
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Old 07-23-2013, 01:27 PM
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Thanks for the thread Jenni and thanks for sharing your story EndGame.

This is something I worry about a lot as I really don't want to start drinking again. I don't feel like I have ever been close (in 17 months so far) but my thoughts have lingered that way for far too long at times. I have had a lot of f*ck it moments where I thought I would drink but I just didn't, through choice.

I am surprised at the number of 'strange mental blank spots' here though. My mind is always going back and forth on this stuff. I am not always happy about being sober and sometimes I am deliriously happy about it and times I think I will never drink again and other times I think, maybe one day I'll be able to control it. I always try to heed what my head is up to and I find that those drinking thoughts increase if I isolate myself from my recovery routine. I have never had a blank spot though, I just don't see how that would work.

I'd be really interested in hearing about people who relapsed that weren't in AA or went back to it as a recovery method.
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Old 07-23-2013, 01:50 PM
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Originally Posted by EndGameNYC View Post
We all learn the same lesson: It's very easy to give away what we worked so hard to get. It all disappears in an instant. Getting all that back again is much more difficult each time we try.
What a powerful story, thanks for sharing this, EndGameNYC This has helped me...
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Old 07-23-2013, 06:53 PM
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It's a really great question and, sober for 90 something days, one I think about every day. I have no cravings...yet. I am so vigilant...maybe too vigilant. Almost not living life right now out of fear of relapse. Such a hard balance.
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Old 07-23-2013, 08:54 PM
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Balance for me meant living from one extreme to the next, and hoping that everything in life would somehow average out in my favor. My strategy didn't work out very well at all.
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Old 07-23-2013, 09:50 PM
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I have had 2 stretches of sobriety that each lasted ~7 years only to relapse each time, once for a year and once for 8 years. I have been sober a little over 3 months now. Both times I got sober I went to AA but did not work the program of AA. In my mind I did do the first 3 steps, but looking back I never did steps 2 or 3 and I changed my mind on step 1. I also stopped going to meetings after a few years so I had lost all connection to those who may have been able to help me.

The first time I relapsed me and my ex-wife had separated. I didn't drink for several months after that, but looking back my relapse started way before we separated. My active alcoholism was just waiting for the fuse to be lit. The day I actually took a drink I went to a bar with a friend and ordered a drink as casually as if I had never quit.

The second time I relapsed I had gone through heart surgery a few months prior to the relapse. Pretty much the same exact scenario, just with different details. Looking back both times I stopped any form of recovery and relied on myself to keep me sober. You would have thought that after doing it once before I would have recognized the same pattern happening again but I didn't. Things were going well in my life until they stopped going well, and both times I went back to what used to work for me when things weren't going well...alcohol. It nearly killed me this time.

The good news is that I am sober today, back in AA, and working the program as if my life depended on it, because it does. I am reasonably happy today and I have gotten in touch with a HP that I never found in the past. It has been a huge relief knowing that I don't have to do this alone this time. Thanks Jenni for starting this thread and thanks EndGame for sharing your story. I seem to learn more about myself every time that I honestly look back at my past mistakes and it helps me grow.
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Old 07-24-2013, 06:35 AM
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"I can't imagine that you woke up one day and decided a drink would be a good idea."

I was toild this is how it usually happens, hence premeditated drunk. got pretty buggered up when I was told I was on one. then about a month or so later I got the fu** its pretty bad and was headin up tot he store for a 12 pack..after a shower. that time in the shower was enough for me to see I started headin for the 12 pack about 3 months before that shower.
it was all caused by me not putting in the footwork to change me. I got complacent.
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Old 07-24-2013, 07:02 AM
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Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful posts. I guess that's what causes me the most worry-the mental blind spots. I am talented (as I'm sure we all are) at denial and rationalization. In other words, I believe my own BS. I take time every night to review my day and to assess whether or not I am living sober. Not without drinking-I know I'm doing that. More so, that I am living my life ethically and am always seeking out balance. Imbalance gets me in trouble.
I'm also a volunteer EMT and this has been keeping it real for me. I've seen everything from respiratory distress, suicidal ideation, to death this summer. All brought on by alcohol. I don't want to ever, ever go back there and will do everything in my power to see that I don't.
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Old 07-24-2013, 07:40 AM
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Originally Posted by jennikate View Post
In other words, I believe my own BS.
Thanks for the post, it has been really interesting to see the answers, all of them have been very helpful for me, as I am just over 1 year sober. It seemed at times in the very early goings, that time moved very slow. Each day was a mountain, and it just was a slow crawl to get through it. Now things are speeding up and time is flying by.

As far as the quote above Jenni, that is my biggest fear also. I fear that someday I will start rationalizing that it's OK to go back out. This kind of post reminds me that I need to bury that kind of thinking, or work on changing my thinking long before I even get to that point. And that means staying active in my recovery in one way or another, every day.

I think the most vital reminder from those posting above has been how damaging a relapse can be, and how hard it is to get back on that wagon for a 2nd or 3rd time. Getting sober is NOT easy, and NOT fun, and it's something I don't ever want to have to do again. Thanks for the reminders guys, that it just ain't worth it.
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