I was googling “signs of relapse” the other day because lately I’ve felt restless and discontent, and meetings don’t seem to help. So I don’t really go to them, and when I do go, I feel bothered more than soothed. And this is just where I am. I know that now, but I didn’t last week when I was googling what relapse looks like. I remember that my therapist told me when I first got sober that relapse doesn’t start when you pick up a drink. It starts well before you even realize it’s starting.
Googling landed me here, and I read about post-acute withdrawal symptoms like low-energy and irritability and how they are completely normal in the first two years of recovery. I guess what sets them apart from real warning signs is that the bad feelings pass after a few days. This line in particular got me:
If you’re up for the challenge you can get though this. But if you think that post-acute withdrawal will only last for a few months, then you’ll get caught off guard, and when you’re disappointed you’re more likely to relapse.
And maybe it doesn’t matter what we call it, and surely I felt restless and hopeless here and there when I was still drinking and I didn’t call it anything. But I was able to drink it away then, and so I never suffered through any feelings for long. Now I can’t drink, and in certain moments the bad feelings seem permanent, somehow. In those moments, I miss drinking.
Last weekend my family and I took a trip to New York City, and we had a wonderful time overall. I qualify with overall because I am not a city person. There are too many people and many of them seem to be crazy. There are so many things to look at and hear, and sometimes I have no idea what I’m seeing or hearing. There were heavily accented men in dirty Elmo costumes asking us for money. Once we passed a woman with one hand up her shirt, massaging a giant boob. My brain is like a child’s sieve and New York is like a dumptruck filled with sand and weird rocks and maybe a body or two. I enjoyed our visit very much for the happy memories, but all the stimulation made me tense and I didn’t know how to relax.
And so I thought about alcohol for pretty much the whole first day of our trip. I thought back to our trip last year and recalled beers in the park and felt sad. I watched my husband run off to meet a friend for drinks and felt mad. In an attempt to relax, I laid on the bed in our hotel room and uploaded photos from our trip to the zoo while the kids bounced on the other bed and thought “this sucks.” I knew I was cranky because I couldn’t have a drink, and I knew why I couldn’t have one. I knew I was fucked, but it didn’t make the feeling go away. So I just waited it out and went to dinner and walked through Times Square and saw the Naked Cowboy (meh) and sure enough that feeling of missing a drink went away. I will never regret not having a drink.
At the same site I linked to above, I read the reasons we drink are to escape, relax and reward ourselves…in other words, to reduce tension. And I don’t know about you, but I consider myself pretty tightly wound. It’s not all bad because as much as I worry, I get equally excited over the good stuff. It’s something for me to work on, but for now I have to accept that I’m a naturally tense person. Finding ways to relax almost feels like another thing to worry about, but I’ve started to see how exercise reduces tension and rewards me with alone time. Writing is huge because it helps me process feelings, plus I love doing it. Eventually I want to take up meditation, but I still have this vision of me in Lotus pose thinking about old Dukes of Hazzard episodes because I am so distractible. So not sure about that one.
As for the NYC trip and the rut I was in, I feel like I hit a wall but it wasn’t as hard as I was expecting and it barely hurt. I feel kind of silly with how hard I braced for the impact, but I’m sure it takes time to really get the idea that the bad times pass. They always do if I just wait it out.