Relapse and Shipbuilding
Many years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Alaska. Unlike most tourists, I did not spend any time in Anchorage or Nome but rather stayed in Anchor Point, the furthest point west on this continent. Anchor Point is so far west it is almost east. Only twenty-eight miles from Russian territorial waters (or so the locals told me), it was a rustic and wonderful step back in time. In summer, the lush and unspoiled beauty of this part of the country is hard to beat.
I came home from that trip with a number of indelible memories. If I close my eyes I can see very clearly the beautiful log homes, experience the friendly generosity of the people and the lingering, pervasive smell of wood smoke. Every house, it seems, had a wood burning stove. I remember having dinner in one of those log homes with a local family. It was that meal where I discovered that I loved fresh dug clams and homemade rhubarb juice.
On one of our excursions into Homer, we decided to take a stroll down the little jut of land called Homer Spit, which is the home of an enormous harbor. Walking the spit is very much like taking a walk through a leafless forest with the tree trunks all swaying and rocking in the wind. The masts of the boats and ships seemed to go on forever. The gulls and other sea birds were in constant motion wheeling and diving and calling to each other with their distinctive cry. On the leeward side of the spit was a city of multicolored tents that housed the migrant cannery workers. We walked, taking it all in and enjoying the day but eventually tired and decided to turn back. On the return trip something caught my eye that has returned to my thoughts countless times since.
There was a boat on the windward side of the spit resting awkwardly on its hull. It was one of the many boats that each year succumb to the violent storms that winter brings to that part of the world. My first reaction to the little ship’s plight was a smile. With the fireweed growing up through the deck and the gaping hole in its hull, the poor wreck was the identical twin of The Minnow from Gilligan’s Island. Explorer that I am, I had to take a closer look. I scrambled down the scree and was met with a low growl. An abandoned dog had evidently decided that the boat would make a good home and had taken up residence. I sidestepped quickly trying to keep the dog in view and still move to a better vantage point. It is hard to move quickly on uneven terrain while attempting to appear nonthreatening and friendly.
I did not want to invite an attack from the boat’s guardian but since I was still determined to get a good and unobstructed view of the wrecked boat
I kept at it.
I made my way around the boat’s port side to the stern so I could take a picture from the front. What I saw there has affected me profoundly. It was one of those still and perfect moments that put life in such absolute perspective that epiphany is inescapable. The wind died. The dog became silent. The sounds of the waves and gulls faded into the background. In this surreal stillness the name of the boat written on the hull in large block letters stood out bold and clear. The name of the little wreck was the TRY AGAIN II. If not for the strange moment of relative silence the significance of the name might have completely passed me by. This sad wreck of a boat was not the TRY nor even the TRY AGAIN, but the TRY AGAIN II. What a beautiful monument to the hardiness and tenacity of the human spirit. My imagination caught fire with images of some rugged captain who refused to be beaten by the elements and whose indomitable spirit forced him to pursue his dream again and again and again.
At this point my mind leapt forward and saw not the shattered hull before me but a ship newer and sound. I saw a ship proudly riding the waves of a stormy sea. The ship’s name:
TRY AGAIN III.
In my years of working with addicts, codependents and their families, I have seen countless human examples of this rugged little boat. Addiction is a notoriously chronic disease. Those I have known that have done best in their recovery are not people with superhuman will power or perfect adherence to the program they have adopted in recovery. The ones who have been most impressive are those who have tapped into what the captain of the TRY AGAIN II had. They have a dream of freedom from substances that is not destroyed by seeming failure. When they suffer setbacks they immediately begin building again. Every attempt brings knowledge and experience. They say in recovery circles that the goal is progress not perfection. I am not usually a fan of platitudes, in fact you could say I have a rather severe case of platitudinitis. In this instance, however, I am willing to get on board.
When dealing with a chronic disease there is a fine line one must walk. Understanding that addiction is a chronic disease does not mean that one can take his or her recovery lightly. Approach each attempt with seriousness and a true desire to achieve a state of remission. Listen to those who have more experience and success than you. Attend meetings. Work on your character and spirituality. Battle with the addicted mind. Do all of this as if your life depends on it. It very well may. And if you experience relapse, begin to build again. How one responds to relapse is critical. Don’t hide failure, examine it, learn from it. Ask yourself hard questions. What contributed to my relapse? What was I doing that I knew to avoid? What was I not doing that I know to do? Tap into your support network and TRY AGAIN.
Written by David Blackwell
David Blackwell EdS has worked in mental health and addiction for almost thirty years. He is currently contributing to the field as a consultant and is a founder and partner of K Recovery based in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information visit krecovery.com or email David directly at email@example.com.