When I was in treatment, I was convinced that all of our little group of roughly 40 would grow old together in recovery. By the end of three months I had lost track of most of them, and at least one was dead. Twenty-two years later, I know of five who I’m sure are sober, and at least one of those relapsed but made it back.
At a minimum, three-quarters of us in treatment at any given time will drink or use drugs again. Most of us will do so in the first three months. That doesn’t mean that rehab doesn’t work, or that we won’t eventually get clean and sober, but it does mean that many from a given group won’t make it that time. Addiction is a chronic disease, and its most obvious symptom is relapse. However, the things we learn in rehab are not lost, and they help to build the foundation of sobriety.
There is one thing that can’t be overemphasized: no matter what Junior Therapist qualifications we think we got in rehab, we are in no way qualified to get anyone else clean! Someone a few weeks sober trying to “twelve step” a buddy is a well-intentioned trip back into insanity. Hundreds of thousands of alcoholics and other addicts who failed to believe that fact have themselves joined their friends back “out there.”
The important questions are, first, how do I stay clean and sober, and how can I help the ones who didn’t. We’ve covered how to stay sober in these pages more times than I care to count. We stay sober by utilizing all the tools available to us, honestly, thoroughly and to the best of our ability. We go to aftercare if it’s available. We live in halfway houses if we are advised to. We go to lots of meetings. We get sponsors. We do service work, hang out with sober friends, and learn to live a sober life. Hanging out with someone who’s drinking isn’t service, it’s suicide. (That goes for anyone who’s drinking, not just people we know from rehab.)
We can most help that buddy from rehab by telling him or her we’ll see them at a meeting. If our sponsor is willing to go with us, we might pick them up and take them to a meeting — once. We never go alone! We don’t loan them money, spend a lot of time on the phone with them, let them crash on our couch, or do anything else that will make it easier for them to avoid their bottom. If they get clean again, we follow the advice of those with more sober time about hanging out. If they don’t become abstinent, we say we’ll see them at a meeting, that we’ll be glad to support them in recovery, but that we can’t afford to hang around with people who are using.
That’s what we do when someone we meet in rehab relapses. Remember: we have to take care of ourselves first, or we won’t be able to help anyone else when the time comes. When we’re newcomers ourselves, it ain’t time yet.