Remission and Relapse

I was having breakfast with a friend of mine who was intrigued by alcoholism, treatment and recovery.  He asked me about "success rates" for treatment.  That simple question created a cavalcade of thoughts.  What's success for a person with alcoholism?  While people are in treatment at our place only a few return to drinking or using drugs.  What happens after discharge is a different story.  The relapse rate is higher.

I was talking to him about a person who returned to drinking after 20 years of sobriety.  He surprised me when he considered that a success.  He explained that to him it was just like cancer.  Due to treatment the person was in remission for two decades before the illness returned.  What a kind way to look at it!  So many in our field would think that the person "failed" as opposed to the disease flared up again.  While it's true that the person who relapsed stopped doing what was necessary to maintain and enhance his recovery, at least he had a number of years  where he was free from the ravages of this illness.  It's not as black and white as I thought it was.

Perhaps Alcoholics Anonymous' notion about not drinking one day at a time is a spiritually profound statement rather than a trite slogan.  In AA members are asked to not drink just for today and in order to do that ask for help from a Higher Power, reach out to another alcoholic and try to be of service.  If that happens tomorrow will take care of itself.  That's a powerful way to live.

The only problem is now that I have some sense of the concept of remission the question of whether recovery is more than abstinence rears it's head.  The cavalcade continues.