A Mindful Relapse


In February of 2016, after a promising 8-day start on my new blog and new sobriety, I decided to drink. (Or relapse, as they say. But is it really a relapse when it happens every other day?)

Anyway, I had been doing these mindfulness meditations, where you observe your own thoughts, and I had a brilliant idea. I would relapse, but I would do it MINDFULLY. I would turn this relapse into a learning experience. This thought gave me permission to drink (or course). But it also gave me a sense of purpose: I saw myself as a sort of spy, going under cover in the murky world of addiction for the betterment of mankind.

But also, I really did want to witness the mind-boggling process that had knocked me off my feet over and over again, despite my pledges and promises and resolutions. How did this one slippery little decision keep sneaking past me? Because once I made the decision to drink, nothing could stop me.

Here’s what I learned:

The decision to drink always begins with a thought. And it will seem like an innocent one.

The day of my relapse, as I was sitting at home, minding my own business, this thought came to me: My husband doesn’t seem like he’s having much fun lately. He’s been a little stressed out.

And that was it. That was the first thought. And that thought led me to thinking about how I could help him. I would call him to meet for lunch, just like in the old days. He’d be so happy!

The first thought is often disguised as you helping someone you love. Because you’re a good person and you want to help people. (How cunning is that!)

So I call my husband and arrange to meet him in an hour. I have not yet thought about drinking. But I begin to romanticize the setting. This little lunch outing will be fun! Just like when we were dating. It will lift his spirits.

And that was the second thought. My second thought romanticized the past. Because I begin to savor the idea of a lazy Saturday afternoon … the cozy booth lit with candles … the happy server bringing us drinks.

Drinks … how did that thought sneak in?

As I look at the scene in my mind, there’s a frosted glass. And just the sight of that glass has me imagining the icy taste of that drink.

And just like that, the decision is made in an instant so quick that I hardly notice it. I can’t pinpoint it. I’m not even sure I made it all. But someone did, because now the idea that I will drink is a given.

I don’t question this decision. (We don’t want affairs of the heart exposed to scrutiny.) In fact, the decision takes me out of the present moment. I have already projected myself into the future, where that drink is waiting for me. It’s only in the present moment that  the decision can still be undone. But I am no longer there. This is the opposite of mindfullness.

I am already tasting that sweet elixir, feeling the cold of that frosted glass against my lips. In my mind, that golden liquid is seeping into my veins, easing my worries, joining me in the intimate bonds forged by drink.

I am already gone.

I notice the momentary tug of my conscience. You were doing so well! You don’t have to do this. You know it’s not going to end well. But I rationalize the decision to drink by promising future sobriety. I begin to bargain: True — I was doing well, but I can start back tomorrow. February 1st. It has a nice ring to it … a dry February!

I don’t really believe this, but it’s too late now. The drinking voice and I are co-conspirators. I banish all thoughts about stopping, because the decision has been made, and I don’t want to question it too closely because I want that drink badly.

And I don’t want to see that the decision is a betrayal. Deep down, I know it is. But like any under-handed deal, it has to stay behind closed doors. Money has changed hands, and I’ve been bought and sold, though I’m not even in the restaurant yet. A deal has been struck, but I’m almost unaware of it. In that instant, I collude with the drinking voice to cover it up.

At the 3 am witching hour, I’m sick and hung-over and filled with regret. Enter shame. Only then do I acknowledge that I’ve made another deal with the devil himself.

The Good News:

Isolating that first thought was the beginning of taking its power away. I learned to isolate the first thought, and then the next, and then watch them fall like dominoes. That day, it occurred to me that if I watch for the first thought, and question it, and then unmask it, I might finally learn to think for myself.

44 thoughts on “A Mindful Relapse

  1. A good read. It is amazing how these types of thoughts can just invade at any given moment. A moment off guard can lead down the wrong path. I have control over my voice on very few occasions at the moment. Some days i am in its full power before i can even think about trying to fight it? Does that make sense??

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it does. I am learning to let go of those kinds of thoughts, but it takes practice. I try meditating a few minutes at a time, where I try to release all thought. That seems to help. A lot of times I am hit with an image that I want to release. (Some news story that conjures up an awful image or even some annoying scene from the past). As soon as I recognize that it’s something I don’t want, I visualize the image as dissolving into thin air. I then replace it with a thought like “My mind is healing” and I try to inhale and smile, just to counter the effects. It actually works most of the time. ; )


    1. You were sent here by an angel to tell me that. ; ) Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am holed up in a hotel room trying to make this basic idea into a book chapter. I am writing about whose voice it is we hear that tells us it’s OK to drink. (The ego.) I am struggling to stay focused. (Did I say thank you?)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is when playing the tape through to the end helps. The idea arises. It seems reasonable. The fun part is shiny….but then what,..
    Thinking through to the end of the night can often be the eye opener that helps is realize when we are caught in self defeating behaviour. It helps me.


    Liked by 6 people

  3. I can’t tell you how many times Ive done this. Except I argue with myself, sometimes for over a week, all day, everyday. Untill I convince myself the only way to stop the internal conflict is to drink just one night to ‘get it out of my system’ and then go straight back to sobriety, which ofcourse then takes months to come back. Thank you for writing this and putting it into perspective.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Wow, I’ve used that whole “get it out of my system” thing a million times. And then I have to over-do it because it’s my last drinking binge ever! Or so the thinking goes. I now use the same thinking on sugar. I really think if I eat a huge sundae with a brownie, that I will then get sugar out of my system. It does not work, but I keep trying. ; )


  4. Ghegheghe, funny timing! I’m going through exactly the same with sugar now. I even ‘planned’ a splurge so I could stop the next day. Hey, next day I had some ‘left-overs’…. Guess where they ended up? Sigh…
    I would like to comment on the word ‘decission’ – I am finding that I would LOVE to tell myself that ‘I made the decission to eat chocolate’. That would give me the idea I am in control, but there is no such thing going on currently. If there was a decission it is the decission to not care anymore or to let go of what is experienced as restriction? For me it is somewhere along the lines of ‘I can’t adult today’. Which, in a lot of cases, can be very true and justified, but unfortunately choosing to undo myself with any substance is rather destructive. I’m taking this subject to my blog to see if I can figure out some more here.
    Thank you for your post! Wonderful subject. 🙂
    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And I just wrote a comment to someone else about how I use this same thinking with sugar, which for me leads to chocolate/sugar binges because I’m going to give it all up the next day, in theory. I did an almost sugar-free December, but then Christmas hit. I’m going to try again soon … I’m managing OK but need to knock off that big cookie from Starbucks that keeps sneaking in my order. ; )

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve lived this scenario many times. That ugly voice is loud and cunning. I agree with Anne. When I play the story to the end in my mind, it is easier to shut the voices down. I’ve also started using a 5-10 minute rule. I stop the thought and say (to myself) that I will revisit it in 5-10 minutes. Most of the time I’ve forgotten about it. I’m learning that the thoughts pass. If I give it time. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you — I used to race through the process so quickly I had no idea what happened. The biggest challenge for me was catching it before I made the decision. I would just refuse to think about anything but the drink. I would go through a brick wall before I’d change my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Shawna,

    Have you thought about putting your experiences together into an “Addiction-Breaking Empowerment Course”? You could partner with local AA charters, or other support groups, and help other people start to overcome their addictions using this kind of thought monitoring approach…because you’re right — everything begins first with a thought…then another…and another…and before you know it those thoughts are at the helm, even though you may be unconsciously aware of what’s happening.

    Big love to you, Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking of, but without nearly this much detail or planning! You’ve given me a blueprint!!

      I think you’re the muse. I so love that you put the idea into words, because it’s been just beyond my reach for the longest time. I was going to do a card reading with you to get some clarity. And now this!!

      I’m off to Florida today for a week and I will be working during the days. I’m bringing index cards and a notebook and I’m going to come up with a plan and make this happen.

      THANK YOU for the blueprint!!

      Even bigger love,

      Shawna 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Send me some of your ideas! I would absolutely LOVE to help you brainstorm! My cousin is in jail right now for his heroin addiction, he’s been in and out of rehab for the past 3+ years (he’s only 20, so he’s still got plenty of good life to live!) and I’d LOVE to see him use your experiencing of overcoming and apply them to his situation.

        I know we’re not given any experiences fruitlessly…instead we’re meant to extract the lessons (as you have here) and then turn them into helpful learnings for others. I see SO much potential with this and who knows how many lives you could change for the better thanks to your experience!

        Turning those burdens into blessings…Email me and let’s brainstorm! Xx

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow, I am so psyched! And I was JUST TELLING MY HUSBAND right this second what a crime it was to incarcerate someone with an addiction, and how it’s been “monetized.” And I see a huge potential as well for all of us. What part of the world do you live in? This may require a “site visit.” 😀

        You can tell me via email as well if it’s not something you want out there. I will email you in a few minutes. Thank you for the mind-boggling energy you just sent me!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. NYC is perfect! You’re at the heart of the all the excitement. I was there briefly for Garrison Institute last year, but have not spent much time there. Everyone I correspond with is from NY, so it’s highly doable. (Just sent you an email.)


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