I have spent the better part of this day dealing with the aftermath of a friend’s relapse, and I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut. Before I get into that, I want to tell you about my friend.
We met on my first day of treatment and became fast friends. We found immediately that we shared a fondness for a certain TV show about nothing, and I hung on to his passion for recovery like a life preserver. When it came time for me to work the first baby steps of our 12-step program, he was the one who put the time in sharing his experience and helping me see through my clouded vision. As I fumbled my way towards a spiritual center, his faith prodded me to aim higher.
It was this man who helped me with my misguided attempts at responsibility when I moved into a more active role at our facility, and it was with his gentle understanding and unwavering belief that would remind me how we grow from our struggles in recovery. He challenged me to work through obstacles rather than to run away or cower in defeat. When my own character defects bubbled to the surface and brought me into a state of fragile humility, he offered comfort and support. And when he moved on to a greater challenge, he told me he believed in me and brought me along for the ride. For 17 months he was one of my most trusted go-to guys and a true friend.
I’m not one to put him on a pedestal, though it may sound that way. You see, like me, he has his flaws. He recognized himself for what he was—just another addict. He trusted me to call him out on his issues just as I could trust him to do with me, and it is from that humble trust that I find myself heartsick. You see, my friend relapsed last night.
I spent some time with him this morning, and saw first-hand the remorse, guilt, and self-hatred that every alcoholic or addict feels. My heart sank from his downcast eyes as he mumbled “I’m sorry.” Later, as the craving for more drugs began to dominate his mind, I saw someone I no longer knew–and yet someone I recognized deeply: the beast that still resides in me.
It’s an ugly, damnable thing to see one’s own tortured soul face-to-face.
My friend was taken to the facility we both started in, and while that is encouraging it is also heart-wrenching. I know something of the humiliation and decimated self-esteem he will experience, if he can somehow muster the courage to see this thing through again. I can only pray he finds it in himself to get honest about what happened and why.
Now that the dust is settling and the flurry of activity is dying down, I am left with that kick in the gut. I will grieve for my friend and pray for him. I will remember that he did an awful lot of good for so many other struggling alcoholics and addicts. I will remember how much this experience hurts, and I will gently remind myself that as deep as this cuts, it is an ice-water reminder that I have inflicted a pain just as deep, a despair just as great, and a bewilderment as insanely perplexing on my family and friends. Like many alcoholics and addicts, I did it more than once. And like my friend, I am capable of doing it again.
Ironically, this does not shake my faith. It strengthens it and sharpens my resolve to do what is necessary today to stay sober. It calls me to examine my own program and aim a little higher, try a little harder. None of what my friend taught me is cancelled out because he relapsed. It is still with me (and with him when his head clears enough to see it), and while I can use hindsight to look back at the now-obvious warning signs there is no room for shoulda-coulda-woulda for either of us. There is only now. And tonight when I am able to finally let go and shed a grieving tear or two from my friend, I will hear these words from one of our mutual favorite movies echoing in my pained mind: