Last week, I had a relapse.
The overall specifics don’t really matter (in the sense that, to an addict, anything can appear to be grounds for relapsing, so it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are)…
Even so, I want to be as thorough and specific as I can reasonably be.
I quit looking at pornography back in September, and I quit smoking and drinking coffee back in October. Though I’ve really struggled with cravings for coffee and cigarettes this whole time, I always felt like I had completely overcome all temptation surrounding porn… but last week I caved in to all three addictions.
I’d been really struggling to “get over” coffee and cigarette withdrawals… waiting for the cravings to pass… waiting for the miserable, hopeless feeling to disappear… waiting for inspiration to strike… for a sign from the heavens that I was “done” with smoking… waiting for something outside of myself to change…
At the same time, I’d started back in on my freelancing pursuits, digging into a program I had purchased back in the summer time but never fully committed to…
And, at the same time, I’d been desperately missing my niece and nephew (who, due to a family feud that does not need to be aired on the internet, I’ve not seen in over two years).
Last Sunday, all of these individual struggles converged into a perfect storm of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair, and last Monday morning it all became too much for me to handle. And I caved.
I didn’t want to, but I was so overwhelmed, my old “addict brain” just – took over. And, almost on autopilot, I drove down to the gas station, bought a pack of smokes and a mocha, came home, and began what would become a three day bender of chain smoking, consuming vast quantities of coffee, and losing 2 or 3 hours a day to viewing pornography.
On Thursday I woke up, and realized that those behaviors were actually not helping me, and I redoubled my efforts to remain sober. Thursday and Friday were pretty miserable days, but by Saturday I was starting to feel more confident that I again had things under control.
And yet, this week, I gave in again.
Yesterday, I flew to Denver to spend Christmas week with family. And the anxiety around traveling was more than I could bear.
So, twice in two weeks, both times under extraordinary circumstances, I gave in to my addictions.
I’m not proud of that – but I’m also not as ashamed as I feared I would be.
Over the past three months, I have endeavored to overcome three powerful addictions – each one of which, I have been battling for almost three decades. In September, October, and November, I demonstrated to myself that under normal circumstances I can control my cravings.
In normal, day to day life, I can abstain from coffee, from cigarettes, and from pornography.
As recently as August 31st, I would not have believed that was possible. On the contrary, I believed that I was and always would be trapped in an endless, permanent, daily cycle of addiction, guilt, shame, fear, remorse, suffering… the list goes on. But today, December 21st, I know (for the first time in my adult life)… that I do not have to be stuck in that cycle.
And that knowledge lets me see these past two weeks in a totally different light… not as failures, but as mistakes.
Not as reasons to hate myself and feel like I can never win… but as experiences I can learn from, in hopes of being stronger going forward.
Not as condemnation… but, yes, as warning signs – signs that there is still work to be done. (But, if I dig deep, I know that with time and effort, I CAN do it.)
Yes, I have relapsed.
Yes, it is a dreadful thing to have to experience.
Yes, it is conceivable, that no matter how much I just want to be done already…
I may relapse again before I am fully free from this trap.
But… I am learning that a relapse does not mean a total return. That, although I have slipped… I have not failed. I am NOT a failure.
I am a person who is struggling to change, and to overcome incredibly difficult obstacles.
And if I were to look at the last three months of my life, and imagine that I was actually looking at somebody else going through those same struggles, and arriving at this same moment…
I wouldn’t call that person a failure, or a loser, or hopeless, or condemned.
I would call that person a champion.
And I would be on the sidelines, cheering for them, offering my support, my empathy, my compassion – and every last ounce of encouragement that I could muster.
It’s time, I think, that I start learning how to do that for myself.