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An image of feet on the street with the slogan banner Gratitude start each day being grateful.

My relapse was long. It took 7 years before I cooked that shot up in the back of my van, it was the first dance with heroin in over ten years. But my world started crumbling around year 3 of my abstinence.


What happened in the third year?

I took my power back. Complete and total control.

Today I understand that my way is most definitely not always the right way. And when I make decisions I have a process I must work through.

I cannot afford to live through one more relapse. I’m to tired to live on the streets of NYC. I don’t think I have the mental capacity to live alone inside my head 24 hours a day. So relapse is no longer part of my system for recovery. 


It started with me finding fault with members of my NA home group.

Yeah, I went to AA and NA for 3 years. I tried to give it a shot and it worked, but I never found the joy and happiness that others get when they go to a meeting. I never had that weird AA sparkle in my eye, nor could I pull a slogan out of my back pocket when someone shared. I sat in my chair, drank the horrible coffee and dreaded listening to the same people tell the same stories. In my jaded view, the newcomers were never really new, just people going out to get high over and over and over again.  I kicked and fought and screamed my way through for 3 years until one day I couldn’t take it and walked out.


My last meeting was in the Fall of ’03. During the meeting a man who had 15 years sober, shared about filling his truck up with gas. When he paid he handed the sales clerk a 50 dollar bill. She gave him back 85 and some change. He had purchased $35 USD in gasoline. The man pocketed the money and left.


He felt bad about it but had no intention of going back. He shared his guilt and regret and that was that.

Another man seated in our closed knit circle. My home group was fairly small. It had everything to become an intimate loving experience, connection and support, love and laughter, but it failed. Because it lacked, honesty, transparency, and individuals who were seeking to find a better way of life in recovery. 

The man looked up from the spot on his hands he was intently staring at for the last 15 minutes and said-

“That is an addictive behavior. You are not in recovery.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said you are not in recovery. If you still behave like this the 15 years in of sobriety are nothing but abstinence. You cannot find a way to God with dishonesty.”

The man went on and on about trust, honesty, and change.

I couldn’t take his diatribe any longer. I jumped in and said,

“Hey, Tim how’s your backyard garden coming along?”

Instantly the conversation was changed. I knew it would. He loved his garden project. 

  • I knew he had recently excavated his backyard and was building a Japanese style garden in the back of his home. I also knew that he fired the contractors and was doing it himself because I helped him build the forms and pour the concrete. 
  • I knew that he collected a pension, social security disability, and awards for being partially paralysed because of an accident he caused while driving under the influence of alcohol and opiates. The accident claimed the life of his wife’s brother. He and the man were thrown from the car and Tim told the police that the man who died was driving.
  • Lastly I knew that he was prescribed oxycontin for the pain, xanax for the anxiety, and ambien to sleep. 

He smiled and said, “We won second prize for our front yard this year, but the backyard is my private paradise. My Buddhist retreat. I will find solace and happiness once it is complete.”

“Yeah, I drove by yesterday and saw you added those huge boulders into the landscape. It must have taken forever pushing those around.” (Wink! ) “How’d’ja do it?

“Physics! I used my big bar and a solid block as a fulcrum. Everything is simple with physics.”

“Tim? Don’t you tell your sponsees that happiness is found within? Are you not happy?”

“you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I guess I do. I know to much and all of it makes me sick. I sit in this room every week and listen and try to find a reason to stay. But I can’t. When I first came here I was busted up and broken. I’m not perfect in all that I do or say, but now I know each of you and all your secrets . I can’t keep coming here because I’m drowning in dishonesty. And you condemn Charlie You sit there and try to take away his recovery. 


“I’m not fucking done sharing. I will keep all of your secrets. Each of you is safe to believe whatever you want to believe about how you have changed, How dare you try to take Charlie’s recovery from him. Who the fuck are you? I’m done.”

My keys to the church landed in the center of the circle with a loud clank. But I didn’t remove the key from my personal keys so I had to walk in the center of the circle and do this. I then dropped the key to the floor once again. But it was anti-climatic the second time.

Total Johnny-style: second takes always suck. 

I then got up and told the group that I would not be coming back. I couldn’t sit there another moment and listen to all the lies. 

I couldn’t take the elitism.

I couldn’t take how some were blind to their dangerous behaviors and irrational thinking yet they still had the balls to belittle others.

I couldn’t  take that it’s okay to go through the day gone on pills because they are prescribed. Yet each of you has the audacity to talk shit about methadone maintenance.

I could go on and on, but I’ve had enough.

And with that, I walked.

I could have handled it much better. I could have defined what recovery was to me. I could have suggested how I felt we all needed to work on certain areas of our lives so we could truly find the freedom from addiction that WE all deserved.

 But instead, I used it as my cue to get up and walk out. Never looking back, Totally Johnny-style.

 Was I right? Probably not, but deep down I feel I was searching for a way to disconnect. But I don’t think my relapse happened here.

Disconnecting from the world I built was not my intention, it was needed to renew my relationship with heroin. This moment marks the spot of my relapse. The process for relapse was long. Seven years later I found myself alone in the back of my van. Holding on too a bundle of dope, a needle and bottle top, excited to reunite with  feeling of safety in heroin’s embrace. Within six months of that day I had removed myself all that is good in my life and I found myself homeless, alone, hungry, and cold.

Have you suffered a relapse? What was it like? What can you learn from it? What can you do differently to sidestep relapse the next time?

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