by Micah Krey
Micah is a LEAD consultant and is a Lutheran Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and currently serves as the Pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Cockeysville, MD.
The other day someone asked me about my recovery journey. In most instances when people ask about this, the vast majority of the questions are about my past. ‘How old were you when you stopped? Did you have to go to rehab? How did you manage the withdrawal? Did you have others around to help you?’ etc.
But there was one question that caught me a little off guard and my answer to it may have shown. The person asked, “Are you scared that you’ll relapse?” Without hesitation I responded, “Every day.”
I don’t think my response surprised the person, but the abruptness probably did.
Relapse has been on my mind lately. There have been a lot of celebrities that relapsed during the pandemic. Someone close to my personal recovery journey has relapsed and might be unaware of it.
To clarify my response above, I am not actively about to relapse every day of my life. But every day I know that the possibility of me slipping up, is in fact possible. And every day that possible slip up could be a matter of life and death. I don’t say that to be dramatic. When I drink, something changes in me. I will lose all sense of belonging and community. I will lose all sense of loyalty and commitment. And drinking will be my only focus. In the six years that I was actively drinking, I was in a near fatal car accident, struggled with suicidal ideation, experienced daily withdrawal induced tremors and panic attacks, and was hospitalized with pancreatitis (none of which gets at how destructive I was toward the relationships and community around me). During those times I tried to stop drinking 4 times. Only once did I last longer than 3 weeks (which is also the time I started my current sobriety).
Each day the possibility of even just 1 drink (because 1 drink is never just 1 drink for me), is a matter of life and death.
Now before I scare anyone about my health, let me say, there is no doubt that I am safer, healthier, and more supported today than I was 6 and a half years ago.
My wife Sarah, my family, my friends, my Bishop, my congregation, my support groups, and my colleagues have all rallied around me as I have shared my story over the years. I have asked them to hold me accountable as well as support me in different ways and all have done so without hesitation.
I have more supports, more accountability, and more experience than ever before and I am so grateful and so much healthier for it.
But I am just as close, if not closer to relapsing.
Because the day that you don’t feel like you need a meeting, is the day you MUST go to one. The day you feel indestructible, is the day you’ll be sitting at the bar. The day you find yourself alone with no accountability, might just be the day when you throw it all away.
Complacency and ego are the fastest way to relapsing. For as “put together” as I may come across, I hope that you know from my writing, my preaching, and my actions how much I try to live vulnerably, honestly, and humbly.
So, in that light, I share with you that I, Micah Krey, am afraid of relapsing.
Every day it is on my mind. Whether it’s passing on the chocolate cake because I smell rum, or it’s checking my communion glass for the third time to make sure it’s grape juice and not wine, I am afraid.
I don’t have magic words to make each day easier. When in doubt, go to a meeting. When in doubt, call your sponsor. When in doubt, don’t go it alone.
But one thing that has helped my mental state is something that my wife and I call “The Plan.”
“The Plan” is simply what my wife is supposed to do if I relapse. Because every day that I am out of recovery, will make it that much harder to get back into recovery.
So, “the plan” is who Sarah will call if I relapse.
I have also shared with her some of my “tells” and “signs” of drinking. Hiding away or many abrupt changes in schedule. Harsh irritability and anger. If it’s particularly bad, probably the smell of alcohol on my breath. But my biggest and most harmful tell, will probably be me becoming more and more secretive and paranoid.
If Sarah sees these patterns, or just flat-out sees me drinking, there are two people to call first who will be able to confront me boldly (taking some of the pressure off her and giving her support in that moment as well). Then Sarah is supposed to call my family (which will infuriate my drinking-self because of shame). And then we take it step-by-step from there. Assess if rehab is necessary. Return to 12-step work. And move from there.
I pray that this plan is never needed. I pray that I will continue in my recovery until I breathe my last. But I am more at ease in knowing there is a plan, than just hoping for the best.
I share this with you in case this is something that is on your mind. And if it is, I hope that this helps to think through some possible next steps.
If you are in recovery, I urge to make a plan with your support system. Make them aware of what your emotional state might be or what “signs” might point to your relapse. Decide who you want to be called (maybe a sponsor or a friend). But, in the event of the worst-case scenario, I hope that you can be honest with your supports in advance, so that they know how to support you in a time when you may not be able to support yourself.
If you love someone in recovery, maybe gently start this conversation with them. Sarah started this conversation with me after we watched a TV show where a character relapsed. She saw how upset I was for the character. So, she just simply asked what it was that was upsetting me. Slowly hearing me talk about fears for myself and soon we able to start the outlines of a plan. Your loved one may need some gentle coaxing. It may be difficult to talk about for them. Be patient and allow them space to think about it. But your loving curiosity may help them to feel more comfortable with supports around them.
And if you are curious about recovery, for yourself or for a loved one, know that you are not alone. There are many supports out there, including me. Know that you can always reach out to me with questions, concerns, or to share your story. It is never too late to start this journey. And if you have relapsed, you do not have to go through it alone. There is a way back into the journey of recovery and your supports can help you find that way. Please don’t go it alone.
I hope that “The Plan” is never needed. But I also know that if there ever comes a day when it is, I will be so grateful that my supports will be ready to help me when I can’t help myself.
No matter how strong we feel, no matter how many supports are around us, no matter how good we were the day before, alcoholism and addiction are cunning, baffling, and powerful (as we say in the 12-step groups).
Because of this, we are always on the verge of relapse. But being aware of that and keeping it in the forefront of our mind, can keep us sober for today. And tomorrow we remember again.