When a person relapses back into addictive behavior, it seems like the end of the world. Everything they’ve worked for is in ashes, and they embrace their old demon with reckless abandon.
It shouldn’t have to be that way.
I’m thinking hard about this because I came close to a relapse recently, and a friend now finds himself in a full, free-falling backslide.
A lot of people have a hard time seeing compulsive binge eating as an addiction on par with alcohol and heroin. But it’s just as effective at destroying a man’s life and health as those other things. And since you still need to eat to survive, there’s a lot of fear around this type of relapse, because it seems to suck us in deeper more quickly.
Anyway, this post isn’t meant to convince the skeptics. It’s directed specifically at those who have relapsed to their addictions, whatever the substance. It’s the same message to be had in today’s mood music, from the Sixx A.M. “Heroin Diaries” soundtrack:
You know that accidents can happen
It’s OK, we all fall off the wagon sometimes
It’s not your whole life
It’s only one day
You haven’t thrown everything away.
The best thing to do is accept the relapse and start over. But when the feeling of failure overwhelms you, it’s easier said than done. The point was brought home to me the other day when talking to my friend who relapsed.
He noted that this is his third relapse, and that he wasn’t sure if he could return to the halls of Overeater’s Anonymous. He correctly noted that there are some people in the program who look at relapse cases as pariahs. Most people will embrace you and try to help you regain your footing. But the ones who look at you like an exploded zit can be overwhelming and keep you from going back.
Shame takes on a lot of insidious forms for the relapsed soul.
Talking to this fellow makes me realize just how lucky I was this time. I came to the brink and started getting sloppy. But I pulled myself back before falling off the cliff and going on a binge. A lot of good people aren’t so fortunate.
I really feel for my friend. He’s stuck down the hole and doesn’t know if he can ever find his way back out. He says he’s knee deep in the food and won’t leave his house because he’s putting on weight so fast that he doesn’t want to be seen.
That is one of the shittiest things about compulsive binge-eating: You can’t hide it because your behavior is obvious in the fast weight gain. This disease hangs off our belly like a sack of shit. And when it keeps you from leaving your house, you are in a very bad place. I know, because I spent a lot of years avoiding people because I didn’t want them to see the mess I’d become.
Hell, in my journey to a near-relapse, I didn’t gain weight but still felt bloated and didn’t want to be around people.
In the week since I realized how far to the edge I’d come, I’ve tightened the bolts on my program considerably. I’m starting to feel better, and I’m close to having a new OA sponsor. Like I said, I was lucky this time.
But I feel a little anger toward some of the people in this program for making my friend feel so ashamed. We’re supposed to help each other up when someone falls, not treat this like some powder puff popularity club where the folks with long term recovery are rock starts and the fallen are zeroes.
I shouldn’t feel the anger, though, because that kind of behavior is just another part of this disease. None of us were playing with a full deck to begin with, and even in recovery, it can be hard not to be an asshole.
But as I told my friend: “Fuck them. It’s not about what they think. It’s about what you do to get better.”