“I’m Worried You’re Going to Relapse.”
How many of us have heard this from a loved one after getting sober? How can we reassure them (really reassure them) that we’re not going to relapse or go back to our old behaviors?
Let’s look at Robin for the best way to approach this situation. Robin was a heavy drinker for years. When her kids were little, she was pretty good at hiding it from her family. As the years went on, however, her drinking escalated.
One day, after she’d passed out on the living room floor, her family decided to address the situation and suggested she get help. Robin listened and went to rehab.
When she got home, for the first time, Robin felt great. She didn’t want to go back to the bottle – she was sure of this. But her family was a little hesitant to join her on the celebration train.
When Robin would leave the room, she’d feel her husband’s head poke around the corner to see where she was going. She’d find him looking through her bags to see if there were any bottles hidden.
Robin found herself experiencing contradicting feelings. On one hand, she understood – he had years of experiences of Robin hiding alcohol. But on the other hand, Robin was getting frustrated. Here she had undertaken this huge commitment to herself and her sobriety, and he didn’t believe it was true – no matter how often she told him she wasn’t going to drink again.
What’s Robin to do?
The Proof Is in the Pudding
After you’ve gotten sober, you often don’t have the strongest credibility with your loved ones. No matter how much you explain how you’ve changed, most likely they’re going to keep going back to the memories of you going behind their backs.
We want to encourage you to move away from the “defending” and move into the “doing.” Let’s look at how Robin makes this shift.
One night after dinner, Robin notices her husband, Milo, looking through the back of the cupboard.
“What are you up to, honey?” she gently asks.
Startled, he backpedals, “Oh, just looking for those mouse traps we tucked away somewhere…”
“Oh you saw a mouse?” Robin quickly asks.
“Well, not exactly. But it’s just good to know where they are,” he fumbles.
Robin takes a breath and decides to start an honest conversation with her husband.
“Were you looking for booze, honey?” she softly asks.
Milo gives up the act. “Yes. I was,” he says with a sigh.
Robin nods silently for a moment. “I know I’ve said it before, but I’m so sorry for what I put you through.”
“I know you are. It’s okay,” he responds quietly.
“What was it like for you when you would find bottles hidden around the house? Before, I mean,” Robin responds.
In this moment, Robin has embraced her vulnerability, has moved away from defending herself, and is truly open to hear what Milo’s experience was.
“Not great,” Milo says with a half laugh.
“Anything more than that? I just really want to understand what you went through during all this,” Robin gently pushes.
Sighing again, Milo leans against the kitchen counter. “It really sucked, Robin. I don’t know what else to say. I’d ask how you were doing and you’d say you were great and hadn’t drank at all. Then I’d ask if you bought any wine and you’d look me in the face and say no. Then I go into our daughter’s closet only to find a bottle tucked away on her top shelf. It made it really hard to believe anything you said…”
Lose the ``Fix It`` Mentality
As Milo continues on, Robin listens and remains as compassionate as she can – towards her husband and herself. She tries to listen like she’s hearing him talk about another person. When Robin hears what Milo is saying objectively, she can sympathize with what he’s experienced on his end without going into shame about how she acted in the past.
This conversation isn’t about fixing Robin, or about fixing her husband. It’s about being open and vulnerable with each other.
During this conversation, and many more, Robin learns to make room for Milo’s doubt and respect his experience. By remaining calm and present in the face of these challenging topics, Robin is showing her husband that she’s not as reactive as she used to be. By experiencing Robin’s newfound clarity, Milo can begin to trust that she’s changed and is more open to rebuilding their relationship.