We can all breath freely. Order has been restored to the universe. Wounds have been healed. Life as we know it is returning to the way it should be because after a really weird and sad, booze-fueled feud, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart have reunited and are back together and on the road. Listen, the Trump era has done some fucked up shit to a lot of people and Ann and Nancy apparently fell victim to these shitty, sad times. But they’re back and so am I.
Back from where, you ask? I’m not sure, exactly. But I sort of got derailed by the holidays, which isn’t really a thing and I know this. Like the holidays are just normal days with more delicious food and tinsel covered depression. It’s not like I was abducted or became paralyzed. I was just being fat and lazy and watching Christmas specials. Nevertheless, the aforementioned season knocked my seanologues writing off the track. Shockingly, I hadn’t written over here at all in 2019. Sure, new works could be found elsewhere but I wasn’t here. But it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t home. “Come on home, girl,’ he said with a smile,” Nancy Wilson sings on the track “Magic Man.” (Also fun if you sing it in a 90’s way like “Come on, homegirl!) So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve come home to this blog. Oddly enough, the whole idea of coming back and returning has been fresh on my mind lately.
If you are lucky enough to stick around in the halls of recovery, you get to see it. People come back. Back after a relapse, back after a period of isolation, back from a near death experience. It’s like the cycles of Elizabeth Taylor’s life but in real-time. These phoenixes rise out of the ashes and miraculously show back up for more crappy coffee and rambling stories to let us know that they’re still alive and that they still need help. When I first got sober, it would really depress me and rattle my cage when people would relapse and come back. It poked holes in this ridiculous fantasy I had that sobriety was forever and easy to hang onto. I would become obsessed as to how it happened and why they relapsed. I wanted to why and how and mainly what I could do so it wouldn’t happen to me. I wrongfully pitied them and acted high and mighty, like “Poor things! I’m so glad that’s not me!” I’d also keep them at arm’s length, as if getting close to people who relapsed would make me relapse too. Sure, I was really afraid of relapse but I was also kind of a dumb bitch.
Thankfully, time, experience and lots of heartbreak changed my mind on people who relapse and come back. My judgement is gone. Ditto my need to get down to the bottom of why they relapsed. I no longer pity people. Seriously. This sounds like hippie garbage but I just love them, no bullshit. Not love them, only if they stay sober. Or love them because their sobriety looks like mine. I love them period. Mainly, I feel love for them because they have a shit ton of courage. They came back, despite the ever daunting odds, and opened their mouths. We don’t shoot our wounded, they tell me. But I can do better than not shooting them. I can love them like people who are suffering from a disease and leave it at that. This isn’t a noble thing to do, you jerk. It’s the right thing to do.
Can you imagine if we were all like, “That stupid whore Olivia Newton-John went and got herself cancer again. What a moron!” We would never. In fact, if you have anything negative to say about ONJ in general, I would suggest keeping that vitriol to yourself. Yet our reaction to relapse (including my own) is soaked in misunderstanding and judgement. But the fact of the matter is that it’s just a deadly disease that is really hard to beat. As deaths by drugs and alcohol hit all time highs, we have to face the fact that most people with this disease won’t make it or at least won’t make it on their first time. I am lucky enough to have many examples of people in my life who came back after a relapse and had a rocking comeback that even the sisters Wilson would approve of.
The first person I ever took all the way through the 12 steps relapsed a few times. Ditto a person I’ve been sponsoring who just celebrated 18 months. Three more with relapse in their stories all newly back have also recently joined my sponsorship family. (For what it’s worth, relapse happens to be a part of the stories of Robert Downey Jr, Elton John, Anthony Hopkins and Demi Lovato, all of whom I do not sponsor but I am open to the idea!) Likewise, two of my favorite sober friends on the planet had more than a dozen relapses a piece. What all these brave, hilarious and tough-as-nails people in my life taught me is that the more you try, the better chance you’ll have of making it stick. The fact that they keep fighting and coming back, even though they’ve been knocked down a million times, blows my mind. I don’t know if I have that kind of fight or will to live, if I’m totally honest. Plus, my pride is out of control and I don’t know if I possess the humility to ask for help yet again or the courage to own my whole story. I hope that I would and I know just who I’d call if I did relapse and needed to come back.
Yet for as common as relapse and coming back is, there’s the bigger reality: most people don’t come back at all. Where I got sober in Los Angeles, people would vanish regularly from the rooms of recovery and you’d learn later that they had lost their lives to this disease. It sounds morose but you kind of just got used to people dying, although it never made it less sad. Statistically in the United States, this stark reality is pretty common. Like I said, it’s a tough disease to beat.
At my non-writer job at a hospital working as a recovery mentor, this reality is ever looming. When patients leave the hospital, I get to work with them in the community. But many vanish and it’s hard not to worry immediately that maybe theyre no longer alive. Last week, one patient that I often had that worry about magically resurfaced. She called me and told me she had 90 days sober. Despite a series of dramatic hospitalizations, she had come back. Not only was I relieved but I was overjoyed and it gave me confirmation that I needed to keep doing the work that I do. Because for every 10 people who dies or goes out or varnishes, there’s that one who comes back. And to miss their triumphant return and heroic journey would just be crazy.