Relapse in Paradise

sethbeachAfter being sober and drug free for close to 13 years, I did the unthinkable: I had a beer. It wasn’t something I thought about, or planned, or even wanted to do. It was just something that happened. I was with my family on vacation in sunny, beautiful Puerto Rico. My first vacation since being released from prison last August. A family reunion of sorts, as my brother was there with his new wife, my parents were present, and my sister made the trip with her husband and my 15-month-old nephew. It was a time for my wife and I to unwind, spend time with our family and catch up.

But it was so many more things than that—a celebration of my return to society, a chance to meet my nephew and sister’s husband for the first time, a faux-honeymoon for my wife and I, and the opportunity for my parents to have all their kids and extended family together in one place for the first time in 21 years, due to my incarceration. It started innocently enough, lots of eating, walking around Old San Juan and spending time on the beach, then my brother-in-law was like, “Hey dude, have a beer.”

I declined at first, but then I was like, “You know what, what is one beer?” It can’t hurt me. And besides, I am a grown ass man. Out from under the yoke of authority for the first time in decades. I felt like breaking loose. I wanted to party with my family. I wanted to toast my freedom and re-entry back to society. “Cheers!” I said as I clinked bottles with my brother-in-law.

I wasn’t under the restrictive conditions of the halfway house anymore. I had completed my term and was now on federal probation. At the halfway house, I was subject to regular breathalyzers every time I entered the facility from a work or recreation pass, in fact. I was also subject to random swab tests for drugs. Any violation of the halfway house policy of no drugs and no alcohol meant going back to prison. So, of course, I practiced abstinence. It wasn’t anything new to me; I had been doing it for over 12 years. Clean and sober was how I lived.

But when I met my probation officer for the first time, she laid out the conditions of my probation and abstaining from alcohol was not a term of my release. I was scheduled to take three random urine tests a month. I had to call into a drug testing facility daily to see if it was my day to give a sample. So, immediately in my addict’s mind I knew doing drugs wasn’t an option, but alcohol? My brain was spinning. If I wanted to drink, I could drink. I even wrote about my temptations numerous times in my pieces for The Fix.

I had just been through the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) during my last 10 months in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and six months of aftercare at Gateway in downtown St. Louis during my stay at the halfway house, but for all effects and purposes my drug treatment commitments were over. I was relieved in a way. Happy to be done with it, but now I have to question if I need to continue my treatment. It’s not as if I am cured all of a sudden. Though, I wish it were so.

My PO and aftercare drug counselor both concurred that AA or NA meetings, or any other type of continuing treatment, weren’t necessary. And who was I to argue? They could have made it mandatory, but in their professional opinions I was good to go. I had a career to start. I had a life to live. I was hungry and ready. I had things to accomplish, on top of everything I had already accomplished during my incarceration—an AA, BA and MA degree, founding a successful publishing house and website, getting eight true crime books published and getting regular work as a journalist. But what appears good on the outside looking in, isn’t necessarily the case.