Dax Shepard relapsed after 16 years of sobriety, and it’s all I can think about. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, but in our sober community, when we hear of someone “going back out” as we say, the emotions it brings to the surface are real and raw.
I have always admired Dax’s courage for being so open about his experience in AA and his journey in recovery as a celebrity. He is an alcoholic and cocaine addict. In his podcast, Armchair Expert, he doesn’t tiptoe around terms or verbiage. It’s uncomfortable to come out publicly as being sober; you can’t unsqueeze that tube of toothpaste.
The stigma associated with addiction is never going to go away as long as we tiptoe around the topic and continue to attribute it with shame. How can we as a society expect to make progress when someone like Trump attempted to use the presidential debate as a platform to attack Hunter Biden’s disease of addiction, hoping it would reflect poorly on his father?
Trump tried to use information about Hunter’s addiction issues as a political weapon, insinuating that this should be a source of shame to his father, Joe Biden. To that, Vice President Biden compassionately responded, “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s overtaken it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him.” Biden’s son is likely continually working on his addiction, as a lifelong journey, and isn’t necessarily “fixed.”
I’m grateful for Biden’s response; it took the power away from Trump’s attempts to bully and patronize and took away the scariness of shame by openly talking about what Hunter has faced and continues to work on. We addicts and alcoholics need to hear messages of support; our survival depends on it.
Recently, I too have been more open and vulnerable, even sharing my experience with sobriety on a podcast and in numerous published articles. I am far from a celebrity, but putting something out there publicly is terrifying, especially when the odds are stacked against us that we will “fail.” By putting it out into the universe, we are welcoming your opinion, even when we don’t want to hear it. We are seeking pats on the back and to hear others say, “Wow, you’re amazing!” I also choose to be honest in the hopes that this message reaches others who are struggling, so they know they aren’t alone—especially other moms. Addiction is the one of the loneliest places a human can live, but it doesn’t mean that anyone has to face it alone.
We never want to have to do what Dax Shepard did on his podcast, Armchair Expert, when he admitted he had relapsed after 16 years of sobriety. I was angry to hear about it, but not for any of the reasons that make sense. I never wanted to have more time in sobriety than Dax Shepard. I really hoped for him to continue on, his 16 years as a reference point to my seven. If he can slip, then I could slip, and I don’t like that. The dangerous possibility is uncomfortable. So I’ll be mad at Dax for reminding me that each day we have in recovery is precious. Because that anger feels easier than fear.
In Dax’s podcast, he discussed his hesitation in coming forward. He was terrified of “starting back at Day 1.” With a single slip, all time acquired is lost. He feared by starting at the beginning, he’d just go out in a blaze of alcohol-and-cocaine-induced glory. Never being able to commit to something halfway, I completely understood his thinking. If I’m going to relapse, I will do it with my poison of choice, and I will go harder and farther than ever before. This is why most addicts die of this disease. We want to go right up to the edge without falling off—except we don’t know how or when to stop running.
Luckily, while he was abusing opioids, Dax didn’t relapse with alcohol or cocaine, which was his brain’s way of allowing him this “hall pass” into a new addiction. None of this will make any sense unless you yourself have an addicted brain or love someone who does.
We are master manipulators and gas lighters. The survival of our addiction depends on the elaborate nature of our lies and our immorality. Dax said that ultimately the thing that got him to finally come clean was all the lying. The palpable feeling of loneliness and guilt he experienced while accepting a 16-year chip in AA, while he was high. When we use or drink, it is never just one lie. It is a million lies, all intertwined and entangled to support a singular purpose in life, which is feeding our addiction.
My instinct is to embrace my anger at Dax, and the world’s reaction, and my situation. But the reality is, my anger is a way to hide my fear. And the truth is, I need the fear. The fear is my reminder of how far I have come, and of how easily I could slip.
There will be people within our sober community that will judge Dax for his choices, and they are free to do so. But that’s not how I stay sober. I stay sober by listening to alcoholics like Dax Shepard humble themselves so vulnerably and honestly on the world’s stage. I stay sober by hearing him admit all the ways he tried to convince himself he was exempt from the cunning nature of this disease. I stay sober because a fellow alcoholic had the courage not only to admit his mistakes, but to get up and start all over again.