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When Others Go Back to the Dark Side

There’s a lot written and said about ensuring your own sobriety is protected and safe, and so many ways and tools to ensure that. But what happens when someone you love goes back in?

I have experienced this on and off throughout my childhood and teenage years; having an alcoholic parent meant that I was constantly riding the unpredictable rollercoaster of will they/wont they. A high functioning alcoholic in your life means that it’s ever-present – evenings and weekends spent cowering in the menacing shadow of potential alcoholic drama. It’s an awful feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone… at least until I inflicted it upon myself. Being a highly functioning one too, along with a relatively ‘high’ rock bottom, meant that in the most part, I managed to hide the darker effects of my drinking from my children – at least that’s what they tell me, and I hope they are not sparing me when they say this. Suffice to say I do realise the irony of me typing about this and also then entering into the same pattern, and not a day goes by where I question how come I didn't see my own alcoholism coming sooner (well, if I'm honest, I did; just like millions of others, I chose to ignore that as it would mean me giving up my precious drink). Even if the kids are telling the truth, and I hope to god they are, I know I made life hard for others, and for that I am still utterly ashamed and seeking forgiveness.

So, the rollercoaster ride goes like this… when they are drinking, it’s the worst feeling in the world, the unpredictability, the lack of control, the inability to change it, help them or keep your or others safe. Then, the plateau and subsequent dizzying high – they’ve stopped! We’re safe! All will be well. Until the next time. And that always stays, the worrying voice, waiting for the next time. And then, there it is, the relapse, which sends you plummeting down into a deep grief – no matter how many times the vicious circle goes round, the grief always takes me by surprise, even though it’s entirely expected. But this is not a normal, healthy grief. This grief comes with no closure, no release, no promise that eventually, time will heal. Because suddenly you’re thrown back into uncertainty, unsafe, trying to guess which way each conversation is going to go, trying to avoid any conflict or confrontation (of which in my experience, there always is). The feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach, never shifting, just an ever present shadow weighing on you.

And this is where I’m at right now. Stuck as I watch someone close to me drinking their way through the week – promising to stop, but we all know the old adage, ‘not right now, not today’. Last time this happened, it ended in hospital – this time I can feel the dread growing in my stomach once again, helpless, more than aware that the only person who can help them is them; the only person who can put down the drink, pour it away is them; and while I can do mercy dashes and calls to rehab, none of that will make any difference ultimately, unless they are willing to put the work in, put the wall in place, barricade themselves once more on the safe side. Having been through it all many times, I know the self-loathing they will be feeling; the despair, the concentrated, exaggerated self-contempt. Being certain that no one is there to help, and therefore believing it’s futile to try.

So right now, aside from being there as much as I can for them, until they make their way back out of the darkness again, I’m making sure my own wall is strong – meetings every day, taking joy in the day-to-day beautiful normality that sobriety gives me, and relishing the love of my family, a safe home, a clear head, a good life. Because the one thing I can take away from this is knowing that it’s an incredibly fine line for me to be there again – literally one drop of a drink away – I can see how easy it must be to be sure it will be ok to take that one first sip. And more than anything now, I have the horrifying honour of seeing how much it wont be.

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