Several of my rehab comrades have relapsed since we were in residential. Statistically speaking, this wasn’t just likely, it was practically inevitable. For whatever reason, some people don’t make it 24 hours. Sometimes it seems to happen without warning: one minute someone’s fine, the next minute the drink (or whatever) is in their hand.

During the final weekend of inpatient, we got a lot of education about relapsing. What we were taught is that it never actually does happen out of the blue. There’s a process that starts with a “stuck point” — basically anything that causes unhappy feelings or stress — which can eventually lead to the moment when the addict returns to their substance of choice.

That was sort of an intimidating thing to contemplate. Just don’t experience anxiety, anger, hunger, irritability, sadness, guilt, shame, doubt, fear, grief, complacency, exhaustion, jealousy, worry, self pity, indifference, discouragement, boredom, frustration, or moodiness, guys! Okay, good luck out there!

Of course, the point of the lesson wasn’t to tell us that we were supposed to maintain sobriety by magically avoiding negative feelings for the rest of our lives. It was to teach us to take action when we feel off-kilter. Ask for help, call a sponsor, go to a meeting, pray to a higher power, etc.

Still, I wonder if being stuck is just … an imperfect way we cope sometimes. I know that there were a few weeks when I identified with the line from Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: “Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”

Aren’t there times when we simply have to feel what we feel, because there’s no shortcut to feeling better? Or is that what I tell myself, because I know I didn’t do what I was supposed to do?

Maybe it’s only luck that I haven’t backslid. I want to believe otherwise, though. I want to believe that somewhere in my all second-guessing and foot-dragging and pigheadedness, I’m doing something right.

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