How I Would Relapse

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How I Would Relapse

By Rob Dinsmoor 08/31/17

When I think about relapsing, I have a few different scenarios in my head, but like recurring nightmares, they all share a single thread.

Rob Dinsmoor

Throughout my five years of sobriety, I have often thought about how I might relapse.

The most amazing story I heard in rehab was from a very rational-looking middle-aged man. He had been sober for a number of years. One day, he stopped for gas, went into the gas station to buy a soda, came out with a six pack, drained it in the parking lot, and now he was back here in rehab.  

I started to view addiction as an alien part of the psyche, located somewhere in the pleasure centers of the brain, at odds with the rational mind. It could trick you into walking down a particular street where the liquor store was, without really knowing why. Further, it could sabotage your life, making bad stuff happen to you like divorce or losing a job, just so that you could have an excuse to drink or use.  

Addiction never slept. It lurked in the back of your brain, subtly informing every decision you made, like some kind of puppet master.  

When I think about relapsing, I have a few different scenarios in my head, but like recurring nightmares, they all share a single thread. I might be out with a group of people, all ordering beers, none of them knowing that I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I would just think, “What the hell.”

I would order a Harpoon I.P.A. because I miss the taste so much. As I ordered it, no sirens would go off in my head, because it is perfectly legal for me to drink alcohol, even if I’m a recovering alcoholic. The beer would arrive with a glass and the waiter would fill it up with liquid sunshine.

For a little while, I would just admire the color, and then I would take a very tentative sip, as if it might explode on contact. Then I’d have a little more, savoring the taste. Then I would drink about half of it, start to feel it only very slightly, and let the rest sit there a while. As the others ordered a second round, I would nurse my first beer, smug in the knowledge that I could stop then. I could even pour the rest of the beer down the drain and feel okay about it.

I might buy another six pack on the way home, confident that I would never have more than half a bottle and I would be fine. Or, perhaps I might go home and nurse a non-alcoholic beverage and congratulate myself on my self-control.

Then, one day when the opportunity arose, maybe even when I was alone at a bar, I would order another beer, because I handled the first one all right, didn’t I?

But I wouldn’t stop at one.

I’d have a couple more and buy a six pack on the way home. But only drink two of them. I would reflect on the fact that even responsible drinkers I knew occasionally had five beers. Of course, I’d continue to buy beer, and then reason that it was fine as long as I had six or fewer—or, as time went on, fewer than 12.

Or stayed away from hard liquor like whiskey.

Or just kept it down to a pint of whiskey a night.  

Or didn’t drink during the day.  

Or didn’t drink in the morning—at least nothing stronger than beer.

Here’s the thing: Knowing exactly how things would progress would not keep me from going down that slippery slope once I took the first drink. I know these scenarios and know them by heart and the only way they’re not going to happen is if I don’t take that first drink. Period.  

I’ve found it very helpful to think about relapsing. By knowing how these scenarios play out, I can halt them early, before the entire tragedy plays out.

Rob Dinsmoor is a freelance writer who specializes in clarifying medical issues for the lay audience.  He has also published several short stories and three memoirs--including You Can Leave Anytime, about his long three months in a rehab facility.

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