What I learned from my Relapse

Hi I’m Patti and I’m a recovering woman. I got sober in 1988, two days before my 30th birthday. I was so grateful to find recovery, my life improved in every way when I got into recovery. I had connection with people I respected and trusted, and most importantly, I really liked myself.

But then we moved, and the recovery community where I moved was not like where I had been. The meetings were very different, and mostly there were not many women. I missed my tribe. And then I got arrogant, really arrogant, and figured — ‘Oh I can do this alone, I don’t need anyone else, I’ve got this.’ I quit going to meetings and I started to romanticize what drinking was like, I painted a whole picture of what drinking used to be like and what I used to be like when I drank … and my life started to change and I decided I could drink, and after almost 13 years of recovery, I relapsed. And here is what I learned when I relapsed …

The first thing I realized was how much I had romanticized drinking and what drinking was like, and what I was like when I drank. The reality did Not match the romantic version…

The next thing I learned was that the hangovers were much worse than I remembered, much more toxic. Part of that was that I was now 43 years old and my system was much more heavily impacted and could not tolerate the alcohol. When I drank, I got drunker faster than I remembered from my 20s (when I used to brag that I could drink anyone under the table.) And my body could not tolerate the toxicity of the alcohol; I got really sick every time I drank… but that didn’t stop me.

I also re-learned all about shame. I felt shame absolutely everyday after I drank. I blacked out almost every time I drank, and I felt intense shame trying to remember what had happened the night before … and even more shame when I learned what really did happen. I gave up booze the first time because my own mother died of alcoholism when I was 16 years old, and I swore I would never be that mother… and yet when I picked up booze again after my sons were born, I saw my mother in me.

And I learned that perhaps in my 20s drunk people were fun … In my 40s, they were not! Drunk people are repetitive and boring … they think they are funny, but they aren’t, they do and say stupid and sometimes really offensive things.

But most importantly, what I learned is that I hated me when I drank. I did not my behavior; I hated who I became when I was drunk.

Thank goodness, I was able to find my way back to recovery, and have been clean and sober again for about 7.5 years. I am healthier, happier and just a much better person since I got back into recovery. I am grateful beyond measure.

I have been exploring these topics on TikTok … I know — it sounds ridiculous! A 64 year old woman on TikTok! But it has a surprisingly strong recovery community … I was pleasantly surprised. It was actually my 25 year old sponsee who told me I should get on and share… so I listened to her and it’s been fun! Here’s a link to the video I did about my relapse:


And here is a link to a wonderful TED talk about relapse:


There is a lot of shame around relapse, but if a person can find their way back to recovery… I think there is so much we can learn.



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Patti Clark

Patti Clark


Author of This Way Up:Seven Tools for Unleashing Your Creative Self and Transforming Your Life. Winner of the International Excellence Best Self-Help Book Award