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Did I Just Relapse? It Sure Felt Like It...
I’ve been completely sober since March 4, 2010. I haven’t even taken a Benadryl.
When I had back surgery. I went through the entire process with no pain killers. When I told the surgeon to make sure he didn’t prescribe me any drugs, he looked at my with confusion and fear. I’m the only person out of the thousands of peoples he’s cut open that refused pain meds. It was brutal agonizing pain. I’m talking pain that makes you question your willingness to live. But I didn’t take any painkillers, because the pain of being a junkie is way worse.
I tell you that to give you some context around the importance of my sobriety. I will do anything to protect it. It’s the most important thing I have. Whatever it takes, no matter what.
It’s more important than my relationships, and my job, and my businesses, or anything. All the people who love me would understand the sentiment behind that statement, because they know that without my sobriety, I would lose all of those things anyway. Out of everyone, my sister was the one who saw me in my darkest moments. She’ll be the first to tell you.
If I don’t have my sobriety, I literally have nothing. It’s the most important thing I will ever do with my life. I’m not the kind of guy to do a cheerleading sessions about it and tell everyone how much better their lives could be if they got sober, instead I’m simply recognizing that if I don’t have my sobriety, I have nothing at all.
Sobriety is a process.
When you are first getting sober, it’s very common to have dreams. The dreams go through a weird evolution. At first, you have dreams where you’re using and it’s great, and you wake up and feel guilty for enjoying it. In the dream you actually get high, you can taste the booz, you can feel the drugs go inside of you and you have that euphoria, but then you wake up and feel ashamed as though you let yourself down. The entire day is spent reminding yourself that it was just a dream.
These dreams are very powerful. I’m not joking about this. Ask anyone who has gotten sober, they will tell you about the emotional whirlwind that drug dreams will put you through.
Over time, as you start to get some time in recovery, you start to have dreams where you get high and you feel awful, because you feel like you relapsed. I’m talking in the dream, you instantly regret what you did. I’ve even had dreams where I took pills and then made myself throw up to get the drugs out of my system. You wake up and your heart is pounding and you say out loud “holy shit it was just a dream.”
These dreams are also powerful. You know conceptually that it was just a dream, but you feel like deep down in your soul, you still have this monster that wants to get out. It’s a struggle to keep him in a cage. So those dreams make you question yourself, because you liked being high, but you hate the shame.
And finally, when you are much stronger in your recovery, you start having dreams where you feel a strong desire to get high or drunk. Maybe there are drugs around you, or maybe you’re at a party where people are drinking and using and everyone is having the best time. Usually, the people at the party don’t know you’re in recovery, so in your mind you’re thinking of all the ways you could get away with it.
There’s always a temptation to pick up because you know you could and “no one would find out.” But usually (at least for me) in those dreams, you don’t actually pick up a drink. I’ve had many of those dreams where I literally laugh at myself and say something like “what the fuck are you doing Tim?” and then I’ll leave the party and wake up. These dreams are a reminder of how fragile my recovery is.
Drug dreams are for real. They’re easy to laugh about, but ask anyone in recovery and they will tell you about how powerful these dreams are.
I give you that entire prologue to tell you about the dream I had last night.
As I sit here with my morning coffee, I can’t recall the entire dream. But I clearly remember the important parts.
Here’s what happened…
I was at a bar with my friend Blake. He had some friends that I don’t know. Blake is a business acquaintance of mine and we were talking about ways we could data mine the Stodzy site to create tech products for dentists and healthcare workers.
One of Blake’s friends came over and offered me a beer. For some reason I said yes, I sat there for a while acting natural, and eventually I took a sip.
In the dream, I told myself “this doesn’t count.”
In real life, I actually have taken two sips of alcohol since getting sober. One was at a company Christmas party where the waiter brought me a cocktail not realizing that I said no alcohol. I took a sip and spit it up on the table. I didn’t swallow any of it and it was actually pretty funny. We all had a good laugh at my expense and accepted it for what it was.
The second time was a wedding in Chicago. It was actually the same exact circumstance, except this time I spit up the drink on the table in front of a bunch of strangers, and I was the only one laughing.
So in this dream, when I took the first sip of beer, I “recalled” those experiences I had and I used it as a way to justify the fact that I had taken a sip of beer.
But about half way through the beer, I realized what I had done.
I started panicking. I started pacing around the bar.
I was telling myself things like…
“I just wasted the last 10 years of my life!”
“10 years of sobriety gone, just like that!!'“
“I’m such a fucking idiot!”
Tim, you pathetic fucking loser!!”
I’m telling you, it was intense. The walls were closing down around me and I was already thinking stuff like “well fuck it, I already relapsed, I might as well go find some dope. Where can I find drugs in Nashville?”
That’s about when I woke up.
When I woke up, my heart was pounding. I was in my bed with my wife next to me and my dog sprawled out all over me as per usual. I was back to real life. It was all a dream. I didn’t relapse. Everything is okay.
I feel very startled. I feel like this could be a bit of a warning sign to get a bit more involved again with my recovery.
I’ve been doing some virtual AA meetings from time to time, but I certainly have not been active in my recovery.
As soon as I woke up from the dream, the first thing that came into my head was how fragile this is. Everything I have in my life, I owe to getting sober. People who have never been through it don’t understand.
If I were to relapse again, my life would instantly deteriorate around me. I don’t know how to “chill and have a drink.” I don’t even know how to eat one piece of candy and walk away.
Just yesterday, my neighbor brought us over a King Cake (they’re from Louisiana) and I stood over it like a starving dog and ate it until I felt sick. It’s funny but it’s true. It’s an embedded part of who I am.
If I find something that makes me feel good, I obsess. The obsession is a gift and a curse.
Now, if you add alcohol and coke and OxyContin into the mix, that obsession quickly turns into getting arrested, or stealing, or hurting someone, or fist fights, or overdosing and dying alone.
The shit is real. It happens all the time. I’ve lost countless friends to drug overdoses. (Miss you Jay)
It’s been years since I had a drunk dream like that. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a dream where I woke up and said “Oh thank god, it was just a dream.”
I feel like this is a wake up call. It’s not “just a dream.” It doesn’t happen like that. When you get sober, your body and your spirit and your soul all team up to keep you sober. If you maintain a relationship with your higher power, your “connection with God” creates a wall of amour around you to make sure you don’t even think about touching the shit.
I think that dream was a message from my higher power, telling me to tighten up and to keep my recovery front of mind.
I don’t have any other choice.
Phew… That felt good to write. Thank you for listening to my therapy session.