My roommate returned yesterday evening from his home where he had spent the previous night, and the first thing he told me upon his return was that he had had a “freelapse” earlier that afternoon. He walked his dog to a liquor store—the only place he had remembered seeing Monster energy drinks offered in a 32 oz size. During the purchase, the clerk asked about his age. Still thinking nothing of it, my roommate left the store, cracked open his can, and waited for the caffeine and taurine mix to hit. He told me that he drank five gulps before realizing that he tasted something strangely familiar. I doubt that after five gulps, the “12% alcohol content” printed on the side of the can surprised him.
My first roommate here had over three months of sobriety before I moved into his room. I had about two weeks when he decided to go out. John Doe’s alcohol, marijuana, and benzodiazepine abuse while serving in the Peace Corps sent him in here. The Monday after the weekend he decided to relapse, the staff at Beit T’Shuvah gave him a choice—stay or leave. Instead of a civil response, he proceeded to sneak out and get drunk again Monday night. Before he left, he wrote a note to me on the title page of my journal, telling me that he loved me and to stay in touch. I haven’t heard from him in more than four months.
As soon as a vacancy opened up in my room, John Doe II promptly moved in. A crack-head with almost two years of clean time (though most of it accumulated in prison), J.D. II knew all the tricks of sobriety. He read the big book more than any other text, and he was an avid reader. He was supposed to pick me up from the airport when I returned from Thanksgiving in New Jersey, but instead, he decided to smoke crack. He came back to Beit T’Shuvah strung out at 3 a.m. a day later, curled up in his bed, and screamed in his sleep for three days straight. After a two-month stint of sobriety following that relapse, he successfully lobbied for reinstatement in his old union. He picked up his first paycheck one day last week and no one has seen him since.
Whether presenting itself as a lifestyle choice, a “mistake,” or a reaction to responsibility, relapse is a malicious shape shifter, claiming victims left and right. I know my lamentations will do no good, but I hang on to hope, both for the individual living in turmoil and all those in his life that feel the impact. Each person I have encountered since my stay here has a unique gravity to fight. It is up to the individual to choose if that gravity will take him down. What’s pulling you down? Are you acknowledging your choice? Or does your responsibility yield to an excuse?