This online article, ostensibly about life in the coronavirus pandemic, got my attention because of its portrayal of a man with three years of recovery, in the process of planning his own relapse. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to similar accounts, but always from some poor soul in rehab wondering how he’ll put his life back together (again). This is a rare glimpse into the event before it happens.

I sure hope he got through it safely. ‘Cuz if he didn’t, I know he’s kicking himself.

No question that the current crisis is a challenge for recovering folks. Still, when you have years of apparently successful recovery, why throw it aside now? How could that possibly improve your lot in life?

Makes me think of a scene in the movie Bridge of Spies when the defense attorney (Tom Hanks) asks the accused spy how he can endure all this trouble he’s in with the government without giving in to anger and worry. The spy appears genuinely puzzled. “Would that help?” he wants to know.

Of course it wouldn’t. It would probably make things worse. So would a whiskey binge, but most people aren’t thinking straight enough to see that.

There’s a fair amount of literature on the thinking patterns that precede the decision to pick up. Some of my own observations:

  • The focus switches to what isn’t going right with the present, as opposed to what is. This writer, for instance, has genuine recovery assets that simply aren’t available to many people in his situation: a home, a family, an ongoing relationship with a therapist, a physician who’s providing MAT. Does he seem to appreciate that? Not much.
  • There’s secret-keeping from those who matter – in this case, he doesn’t want his wife to know how close he is to relapse, so he avoids telephone therapy sessions. Is it really because it would upset her? Or because she might prevent him from fulfilling his plan?
  • He refers several times to working on past trauma in therapy, but when your recovery is so fragile, I think it’s better to stay present-focused. Don’t worry, your past pain isn’t going anywhere. It’ll still be there when it’s safe again to visit.
  • About that bottle of Jack Daniels he’s been keeping on a shelf in the kitchen for three solid years: I’ve actually run into others who claim it’s been a helpful reminder that they can no longer drink. Seems to me it’s an unhelpful reminder that they can, any time they feel like it. Don’t even have to leave the house.

The writer has obviously been doing something right because after 20 years of substance abuse, he’s three years clean and sober. Nothing to sniff at. Also, he admits to having a similar near-relapse incident just 18 months before, when he was this close to drinking. For no reason at all – that he was aware of.

Makes me wonder if this current crisis isn’t really about virus anxiety at all. That the real action is inside his head.

If I were him, that’s where I’d investigate first.