Catching the Backslide

It’s been a while since I blogged anything but a sermon. I want to break this silence, and as I thought about what to write about, it occurred to me that some of you shared that you appreciated my openness and honesty about the experiences I’d had at Alternatives, the partial hospitalization program I attended in November. Some of you even said that they’d taken some of the tools and skills I’d learned, and tried to incorporate them in your own lives. I was surprised, delighted, and humbled by that. So I thought perhaps tonight I’d give you all an update on how I’m doing, and also what I’m doing.

It’s been a little over a month since I was discharged, and my mood has been, for the most part, the best it’s been in a very long time. I’ve had some ups and downs, but the downs haven’t been in the same league as where I was in the first half of November. I know that part of the reason I’ve been so up is simply because of the mountaintop experience I had in the program. My usual modus operandi is to follow this pattern: 1) Hit rock-bottom, and feel so miserable and suicidal that I know I need to finally get help. 2) Reach out and get help. 3) Immediately see an extraordinary change, a feeling almost like waking up from a nightmare and seeing the sunrise. (This is the “mountaintop experience.”) 4) Stay in really good spirits for a while, perhaps a few weeks or months, coasting on the good feeling from the mountaintop. 5) Slowly, the glow from the mountain wears off, the sheen gets dusty and smeared, and regular life creeps back in. 6) Lose track of what I learned on the mountain, and go back to my old habits.

Right now, if I follow my usual pattern, I am at the cusp between 4 and 5. The glow is fading. And I’ve had some experiences in the last few days that have shown me that I’m getting vulnerable to the same problems as before. For instance, my wife and I bought our kids a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. On the evening of Christmas, I was trying to get it set up, and it wasn’t as easy as I expected. I ran into some problems with it, and got very upset with myself for not understanding it better. I told my family I was angry at Nintendo for making it so complicated, for not providing clear enough instructions, but in reality I was angry at myself. I should know how to do this. I should be able to do this perfectly. I shouldn’t be making these mistakes.

And I snapped. I started yelling and swearing. Both kids left the room. My wife told me to calm down. I did, eventually. And I was able to get the game system working. But then I felt miserable. Absolutely miserable. The guilt that I’d exorcised in November was back. I had done a terrible thing, I thought. I had traumatized my children, and I had proven that I hadn’t learned anything. It was all over. Well, the kids were fine, as it turns out. They hadn’t run out of the room in terror; they just didn’t want to be around me when I lost my temper. There was no lasting harm done. Everybody understood that it was frustrating, and they were grateful that in the end I was able to get it working.

I realized all that about twenty-four hours after it happened. But in the meantime, I attacked myself. I berated myself. I went to bed very early, just to escape consciousness. I went back to all the old standbys. All my usual unhealty coping skills. But only for a day. Only for a day! As scary as that was for me, to feel for that day like I had completely backslid, I only took a day to climb out of it. And that is fantastic news. Sure, it would be nice to be able to always catch the slide immediately, and end it. But for now, I’m very satisfied that I was able, by myself, to climb back out within a day. That is huge progress.

I really didn’t expect to share that story here. When I sat down and started writing, I thought that I would talk about the items in my Rhythm of Resilience, the regular routine that I’ve been trying to nurture. These are the skills, the tasks, the things that I’m doing to try to prevent myself from making the full journey to #6 in my modus operandi. I think I’ll share them with you in another post in the next few days. For now, I just want to be proud of myself for feeling better right now. Merry Christmas!

Image by Couleur from Pixabay

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