Photo of Author: Justin Mckibben
In the past I have written about my personal experiences in relation to my recovery. I’ve written about my first time in treatment, about my relapse and about my opinions on a few other topics. My story is nothing too special, there are thousands of people out there with the same story, and at the same time it is a miracle unique to me.
Today I have been asked to write about my experience with returning to treatment after a relapse, what it taught me and what differences I noticed. There are a few specific elements of my second time around in treatment that I want to emphasize. As always there’s a lot more to this story that I could go into, but the article would take forever to write, and longer to read.
Frankly a lot has changed between then and now. My second time around has been awesome, and a lot of that has to do with those differences and similarities that set it apart from the first time, but in the end it has taught me that not everyone gets another shot, so I’m blessed to share my story of my second time around in hopes someone else won’t have to risk it.
Woke Up Wanting to Live
When I first came to treatment I was exploiting it as a week to take a breather before a big run. I had no intention of getting clean and staying sober, and I had actually made an elaborate suicide plan, which I had every intention to carry out after detox. Thankfully something happened in treatment that changed my mind, and I ended up staying sober for a while. The second time around was different to the effect that I really wanted to change. After a relapse cluttered with alcohol and pills I had been swallowed up by the old familiar depression, and the desire to die was slipping its way back into my every waking moment. Even though I knew that there was a way to have an incredible life, I was ashamed and miserable, and partly feeling sorry for myself.
Then one day after a few months of a serious binge, I woke up on the floor of my drug-dealers basement, curled into a ball on an old mattress. That day was different though, because I was astonished to have this feeling of a deep desperation to live, like a healthy fear that I was going to die, but this time I didn’t want to.
As far back as I can remember, before I got sober the first time on ‘accident’, I had felt like death was my only way out. But after months of sobriety and growth in recovery, life was too beautiful to throw away, too amazing to ignore. So when I woke up wanting to live and welcoming the memory of what I was missing, knowing what was right on the other side of sanity, I had another spiritual awakening. I knew my life could be full again.
The ‘Apple Analogy’
Once in therapy there were analogies shared with me that I have often refer back to, and one is meant to teach people about the concept of accumulated experience. Accumulated experience is basically saying that every time you experience something, you retain that instead of losing it.
This is translated in this context to anyone who has ever been to treatment multiple times and who says it’s not working for them. The Apple Analogy is this:
If you have an apple, and you eat it, the apple is gone.
You can never have that exact apple again.
You may have several apples in the future, they all might be similar, but none of them are the exact same apple.
So no matter what, you cannot lose the experience of that first apple. It may be gone, but that experience will always be yours. The same goes for every apple after that. No one and nothing can take those experiences from you, and you can use the collective experience whenever you chose to apply it.
I believe the same goes with drug and alcohol treatment. Not that I think people should relapse as often as they eat an apple, but that no matter how many times you think you have failed at staying sober, your experiences add up and you can apply them to each other to help you get clean.
I went to treatment again, and I learned new ideas and had new experiences that I related with my first experience, and all that collective experience helped me feel more confident than I ever thought possible about my recovery. Relapse should not be considered ‘part of recovery’ in my opinion, because it is not a requirement to get sober. That being said, it can be a part of some of our stories.
In reality part of me was afraid to go back to rehab, to come back to the rooms of a 12 Step fellowship, and to face the people who I had gotten sober with. The shame I thought I would experience held me hostage for a while. I assumed that everyone would view me as an outcast and a disappointment, especially by those who had helped save my life the first time. That fear actually kept me from getting help, but as much fear as I had it was all wasted on insecurities and expectations that were baseless.
When I came back to rehab, the people there were of course not thrilled that I has relapsed, but they were content to know I was alive, and made sure to make me comfortable in treatment. The clinical staffs, the residential techs, everyone who knew me and who came into contact with me were just happy that someone that needed help was able to get it.
Most incredible, the people in the fellowship, who I had only gotten to know over a period of about 5 months my first time around, were so welcoming and supportive I didn’t know how to react! I had expected to hang my head and avoid eye contact when I came back to the rooms of recovery, but I was met at those doors with such love and compassion that it moved me in ways I am still so grateful for today that I cannot find the words to express it. I thought I should be ashamed coming back, but I was immediately reminded that there is no shame when your able make it back.
Respect the Disease, Accept the Journey
At first I didn’t understand the ‘one-day-at-a-time’ philosophy, because I believed I would stay clean forever. When I relapsed, I gained a new respect for that saying, and for the disease of addiction. It showed me that not only was that obsession to drink and do drugs cunning, baffling and crazy powerful, but that I could not expect to stay sober on the actions I took yesterday, or assume I am cured forever. I know I have to consistently work for my recovery, and for my freedom from the obsession. I cannot fool myself into believing that one drug is safer than another for an addict and alcoholic like me. The desperation and devastation of true addiction is too grave, and I have an affliction that in my opinion requires a spiritual solution for emotional catharsis.
Again, no one should EVER be ashamed to relapse and return to rehab. It is a miracle that people who relapse make it back at all! Too many people never do, and the disease eats them alive. Too many people stay using drugs because they are afraid of the guilt, and too often it kills them. I owe my life now to the fact that when I came back to treatment, and ultimately to the rooms of recovery, the people there respected my journey and met my return with unconditional love.
I believe I owe a debt to the recovery community and the fellowship I may never repay. They took me in and taught me what it meant to live, and be free… twice! It was shown to me the amazing resolve of a fellowship of alcoholics and drug addicts to stand by their fallen friends, to not shoot the wounded, and it has shown me the importance of acceptance in both who I am, and of my disease. I am grateful, and I’m only here because the program of recovery is made for people who sometimes need another chance, because it’s never too late to change for life.
I pray that anyone who has any doubt about coming back to rehab can somehow see that the world always has more to offer, and when we think we have everything we need to know, more will always be revealed. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.