Four Steps I Took When My Loved One 'Halfway' Relapsed

By Lindsey Hall 02/18/16

One thing I've learned is that being supportive means keeping your loved one accountable.

Four Steps I Took When My Loved One 'Halfway' Relapsed

Relapse—the dreaded “r” word.

In a world where binge drinking, drug use and eating disorders/addiction are on the rise it’s likely we all know someone who is either suffering from an addiction or subsequently in recovery from one.

For eight years I struggled with eating disorders and the consequences that ensued from putting my body through tremendous trauma. Even despite two years of recovery now under my belt, I’m still the first to admit that it is often a murky road to navigate, so what do you do when your loved one inevitably teeters the ambiguous line between recovery and relapse?

Recently, I learned for myself when my best friend/ex-partner was diagnosed with the flu. Currently in recovery for pill and opiate addiction, my friend was prescribed Tylenol with codeine, which he has struggled with, and is not allowed to possess in his sober living house.

In the past I, too, have been prone to putting myself in situations that I know could lead to a relapse so I tried immediately (and as best I could) to put myself in his shoes and think about what I’ve needed when I’ve been on the treadmill, unable to get off, or sitting in the dark with a box of cereal, trying so desperately hard not to fall into the binge cycle I created for myself.

Ultimately, here are the four steps that worked for me: 

1) Check Your Emotions

When my friend told me he had received codeine, my immediate reaction was to play cop and demand that he freeze with his arms in the air.

“You can’t have that!” I wanted to scream. “You’re an addict. We’re different than other people. DROP IT. THROW IT AWAY. WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? YOU’RE GOING TO RUIN EVERYTHING.”

It’s easy to act impulsively when you think your loved one is taking a step in the wrong direction. All I wanted to do was micromanage and snatch that medicine out of his grasp and flush it all down the toilet.

However, from my own experiences I know that this approach never works. In the beginning of my eating disorder recovery, I once told my parents that I had hidden a box of crackers upstairs in my bed. I hadn’t binged them yet, but I had hidden them so I could set myself up to if I wanted. 

I knew that was unacceptable and so I came clean, but after I admitted it to them they went into a panic and called my treatment team to see if they should buy locks for the pantry door and my bedroom. While I knew they were doing this out of a good place, I ultimately felt caged and defiant.

It’s natural to worry, but do your best to stay calm. When your loved one is teetering on that ambiguous half-relapse line, they are likely going to be very temperamental and sensitive. Now is not the time to play cop, I had to remind myself. Now is the time to listen.

 2) Keep Open Communication If possible

As most of us are not always near the ones we love, I too was far away from my friend that day. However, as we sat on the phone I did my best to obtain all the information I could from him. I asked where he was, and about the medicine he received, how many pills, and how he had gotten the prescription in the first place.

He admitted he didn’t tell the doctor about his past drug abuse but “wanted to get whatever they prescribed” because his head hurt terribly and he was running a fever.

He was angry about feeling ill, irritated by my questions, drowsy with sickness, and repeated several times "I don't like feeling this way. When I was high I never felt shit."

I sympathized as best I could, but I’m not even going to pretend that it’s easy. While I couldn’t feel the physical pain he was in, I could feel and remember all the times in the past that he had omitted information from me, his family, and his friends about pills and heroin. Memories of finding him in bathrooms with blackened foil and smoke glazing his eyes pelted my memory like hail.

“Omission is just as bad as lying!” I could hear myself thinking.

I tried to stay calm though, reminding myself that he was in a vulnerable position, and I continued to talk to him as he drove home. Once I knew he was back at his sober living facility, I immediately called for help.

3) Bring in the Support – Don’t Handle Your Loved One Alone

I called his house manager, assistant, and his mother. Did I feel like a rat? A little, and I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. However, recovery can often mean life and death and I knew he needed all the support he could get rather than the anger and resentment of the past.

Did I think my friend was relapsing completely? No. He has been working hard at sobriety, going to AA every day for months, and making the right choices in terms of who he is surrounding himself with. My friend has the desire to be clean and sober, but he was walking the tightrope that day which we all have a tendency to do in the beginning of recovery.

He chose to sit in a doctor’s office and omit his situation with drugs just as I have omitted a meal when I’ve thought I had a reason to justify not eating. There was a sliver of opportunity to relapse with explanation and he took it – as many would. 

However, those of us in recovery have to be accountable for our manipulations or else when we are given an inch, we’ll take a mile.

Ultimately, nothing drastic happened. I talked amongst the three people and confided in them what medicine I knew he had in his possession. The house manager immediately returned to the sober living home and woke my friend up. They gave him the opportunity to tell the truth by asking how the doctor’s visit went, and he admitted to being prescribed Tylenol with Codeine and gave it to them without any argument.

All the pills but the one prescribed were in the bottle.

However, because my friend brought the pills into the sober living house, he was asked to leave for three days and write an apology letter to the other men in the sober living community. “If I bend the rules for him, I bend the rules for everyone,” the house manager said to me. “He has to understand that he can’t omit things when they benefit him.”

I agreed.

4) Find A Good Time To Talk

Those of us struggling with addiction hurt the people we love the most. It’s never our intention, but it happens. Part of recovery is being able to face when we slip up and affect those near to us.

I care for my friend. Currently, we’re not together because we understand we have a lot of work to do in order to have a successful relationship, but over the past 12 years I have always been on his side just as he has always been on mine. It was hard to call the house managers because I was worried he would get in trouble, but being supportive is keeping your loved one accountable.

The next night, my friend called from his parents' house and I admitted that I had called the house managers. He was a little ruffled at first, but when I talked about how scared I felt, he came to a place of understanding.

Ultimately, I needed him to hear that his behavior has consequences just as I needed to hear when my parents set in my treatment facility and cried over their fear that I was going to die on a treadmill one day. If not, I knew I'd feel resentment towards what happened the day before so it helped to express how his actions affected me once he was in a calmer place. 

Later, he texted me and said thanks. “Honestly you did the right thing yesterday. I was not ok. I was so sick and wanted to feel better instantly so I didn’t care at what cost. Thank you. I love you.”

Those of us in recovery sometimes need a little help when we’re put in positions that can compromise our progress. Don’t apologize for keeping your loved one accountable. You could possibly be saving their life.

A misplaced Texan living in NYC, Lindsey Hall is a book publicist by day and eating disorder recovery activist by night. In recovery for nearly two years, you can find more insight into the eating disorder recovery process on her blog, or Instagram and Facebook.

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A misplaced Texan living in NYC, Lindsey Hall is a book publicist by day and eating disorder recovery activist by night. In recovery for nearly two years, you can find more insight into the eating disorder recovery process on her blog, or Instagram and Facebook.