The boogeyman.

There’s a monster lurking in the shadows, you’re sure of it. Try as you obsessively might, you find yourself unable to make out its features or even fully anticipate its arrival, but still, you know it’s there, consuming your imagination while remaining just beyond the scope of your understanding. It manages to steal your complete focus at first, sprinkling your day-to-day routine with nagging moments of fear, worry, and dread. After some time, though, when the beast fails to make a full appearance, you begin to convince yourself that you were just seeing something in the shadows that wasn’t really there, a product of the emotional shrapnel left behind in prior wars fought.

Somehow, when the monster finally does reveal himself, you still find yourself jolted by the notion of his arrival. All of the countless hours of fear and dread spent on the anticipation of his alighting are immediately rendered useless, as you first become truly cognizant of the rising tide of a loved one’s relapse.

Relapse is part of recovery. In addiction recovery circles, you’ll hear them say it often. They even print it in publications, seemingly unbothered by the relative permanence of the written word. It’s just one of a number of slogans that are casually bantered around your neighborhood twelve-step group. One day at a time. It works if you work it. Progress not perfection. What’s not to like about those? But relapse is part of recovery? Seriously?

Perhaps the approach is comforting for someone early in recovery. Maybe it’s exactly what they need to hear, a quietly accepted understanding of the limits of our humanity when confronted with the very real perils of addiction. Sure, it’s part of the process, they’ll tell a recovering addict, but be clear, it doesn’t have to mean the end of sobriety. Consider it a new beginning, a starting over, the necessary and expected reboot of an aging franchise. Yet again, one day at a time. Relapse, a part of recovery.

For the non-addict loved one, though, the slogan is not the least bit comforting. In fact, it’s infuriating. Relapse may be “part of recovery,” but it also can be part of death and destruction. Hurt and torment. A crumbling of trust and the loss of relationship. Relapse can, and often does, mean The End. We know this on a very personal level. We’ve experienced — and in many ways, have yet to recover from — the sort of profound loss that can accompany the relapse of another.

In the depths of it, my immediate instinct is to try to piece it all back together like a puzzle, creating a timeline of events and their corresponding emotions, meticulously identifying triggers and signs missed, all in an effort to quantify the inarguable why. What the madness of relapse taught me, though, is that the why is not mine to determine. The unadorned truth is that I cannot control another person’s relapse any more than I can control the same person’s sobriety. It simply will not be micromanaged. Much to my chagrin, again, I have found myself returned to the grand lesson of letting go.

Tangling with one’s boogeyman, whatever that personal creature in the darkness might be, can be an emotional blood sport. The clash can leave us bloodied and broken or it can be a catalyst for an even greater resolve. The choice is ours. With each shadowy altercation, even while I mourn the loss of those small pieces of myself that are inevitably lost in battle, I also discover, hidden in the rubble, the green of previously unrealized growth.


If you haven’t heard about it already, there’s an important movie/documentary coming to theaters in March about the bullying epidemic in this country. I’d urge you to watch the official trailer for the film below and make a point to see the film when it’s released in your area.

Bullying is an issue that seems to get a lot of attention shortly after there’s been an incident of school violence, like this week’s rampage at northern Ohio’s Chardon High School, or the suicide of a bullied kid who simply saw no other way out of a personal hell. While situations like those are certainly unimaginable tragedies, we must also remember that countless kids are bullied each and every day, yet it never makes the news. Quietly, their lives are often inexplicably changed forever.

Please take a moment to watch the film’s trailer, share it with a friend, and take a stand:

PLEASE NOTE: Currently, there’s a dispute about the rating this film has received. The R rating, allegedly due to some of the language of the “bullies” in the film, will keep it from being viewed by many of the kids who really need to see it. To sign a petition directed at the MPAA, with the hope of having the rating reduced to PG-13, click here. For more information on the movie and The Bully Project, visit their website here.


She was just one of several dozen to walk across that stage tonight, a path punctuated by hugs from proud instructors and then, at the end, a diploma in a pristine blue envelope. For each graduate, the night had a different meaning, I’m sure. Some, who still looked too young to drive, will now be out in the world looking for that first “real job.” Others, cheered on by gaggles of excited children in the audience, are undoubtedly looking for a better way forward for themselves and their families. For each one, a different story.

One graduate in particular, though, a 40ish blond woman who I happily call my beloved, didn’t walk that stage in the sole pursuit of a career path or as the next logical step in a predefined educational process. For her — for us, really — this was about something more.

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about my wife being in recovery from a lifetime of addictions. But you see, conquering addiction isn’t a battle that one simply wins, only to put a checkmark in the victory column, then file the whole experience away like last year’s tax returns. It’s a fluid process… full of ups and downs, victories and defeats, crumblings and rebuildings. It’s a difficult reality to accept for someone — like me — without a personal frame of reference for the struggle, but I’m sure it’s an equally onerous truth for the recovering addict to adopt, as well.

So when my wife decided that she was going to go back to school in pursuit of something “new,” a complete 180 from her existing degree, part of me knew that it wasn’t just because a certain career opportunity had somehow piqued her interest. I knew it was going to be an attempt to bring definition to the progress she’d already made and would hopefully continue to make. It would be a process with a beginning, a middle, and a definable end. If successful, it would be more than just an educational feather in her cap. It would be a piece of paper to prove that those small daily victories have value.

Tonight, she graduated with high honors — Summa Cum Laude — which somehow seems incredibly appropriate.

But for the grace.

When you love someone who has battled her very own demons of addiction, as I have and continue to do, the sudden and shocking death of a celebrity like Whitney Houston (or Amy Winehouse before her, or countless others before either of them) isn’t just sad in a “she had such talent” sort of way, but in a very real and alarming “there but for the grace” sort of way, too.

In the coming days, the internet — and blogs like this one, I’m sure — will be flooded with Whitney Houston remembrances. Some people will be reflecting on the woman they actually knew and cherished. Others will be paying tribute to a celebrity they especially appreciated,  identified with, or maybe even “loved” in that odd way we sometimes find ourselves caring about well-known people safely beyond our reach.

And yet, for some of us, those of us who spend a fair amount of our lives juggling a deep love for an addict and the fear of addiction’s ultimate grasp, the remembrances are less about Whitney’s life, or even her death, and more about the (often purposely) unacknowledged frailty inhabiting our own homes.

May Whitney rest in peace, indeed, but may those of us who remain to fight addiction’s battle, or love those who do, find a measure of peace, as well.