New Romance In Early Recovery: A Candid Discussion
The 12 Steps of Alcohol Anonymous are our working plan to achieve the spiritual awakening needed for a substance free, well-adjusted, and happy life. We at CORE who live the program confidently assure you that the Big Book Promises found at pages 83-84 are real. They happen for everyone who devotes the time and effort to make this rebirth possible. Our sincerest desire is that every client works the program, receives the blessings of these promises, and successfully continues forward in all areas of life, including love.
Love and romance are among life’s great gifts. They’re powerful. Some people spend a lot of time thinking about them. The music, art, and literature industries largely depend on them. These themes naturally come up in recovery meetings, too.
The question of whether and when to get into a new relationship looms large for some who are new to recovery. It can be a delicate, personal topic for newcomers over which they might passionately debate. Old-timers, by contrast, never seem to debate this issue. They always seem to give the same advice: at the very least wait one (1) year before getting into new relationships.
For CORE staff, house managers, or sponsors, the matter of new relationships is usually raised by a client who approaches them about a fairly common experience. He announces that he has met someone and says, roughly:
She is a vision, a goddess. The most perfect, dazzling creature he’s ever seen. In this big ol’ crazy world of seven billion people, his meeting her was no accident. If it had been any other day, place, or time, then they never would have met. Fate brought them together out there at Moonshine Beach (or wherever). She’s the most beautiful, exciting person he’s ever known. He cannot stop thinking about her and must see her again . . .
The reader will get the drift. Without belaboring the various permutations that this story might take, this girl pretty much is the jam in his jelly roll. He’s confident in his sincerity. He further believes that she may be the one, and he is sharing because he wants our input, advice, or reaction about getting into a new relationship.
We with time in the program understand how critical this junction is. We lived through early recovery, too, and since then we individually have seen the experiences of hundreds, or even thousands, of persons in similar situations and how things turned out. We know how important this man’s decisions are, since his choices here mean the difference between reaping the promises of the Big Book, or a relapse from which he may or may never return.
Our advice and counsel remain consistent: in early recovery this is inadvisable, and he should be patient; he has nothing to offer her until his recovery is strong. We might further counsel that, if he really cared for her, then he at least should have the courtesy to warn her that he is early in recovery and not yet ready for a relationship. Looking at the big picture, that’s the hard truth to share if he really cares for her.
We won’t become the arbiter of anybody’s life here. We simply are here to help and to advise that there are good and sound reasons why someone in early recovery should avoid pursuing a new relationship.
Poor relationships result when one of the partners has an unhealthy relationship with themselves. As substance abusers we had identity issues to begin with. By the time we got to recovery, we really had no idea of who we were. Our lives were consumed with compulsive, uncontrollable substance abuse. We had reduced the entire world, with all of its activity, as big and as wide as it is, to a narrow day-to-day, even minute by minute, pursuit of alcohol or drugs. In our obsessions we neglected and abandoned families, friends, careers, passions, values, ideals and dreams. We had no life and cared about nobody. It’s no surprise then that many of us also felt to be of little worth and unworthy of love. When our relationship with ourselves is toxic, our relationships with others suffer the same fate. By quitting alcohol and drugs we don’t suddenly become cured. Without developing our sense of identity and self-worth, it’s not possible to form balanced, healthy connections with others.
Happily, all of this changes with real recovery, but this takes time. The 12 Steps are designed with forming this strong self-identity in mind. During our first year of sobriety we really are becoming a new person. Our recovery means so much more than simply not drinking or drugging. We’re adopting new and different beliefs, convictions, directions, goals and values apart from what characterized our pasts. We’re finding ourselves and developing clear ideas of who we are, and who we are not, apart from drugs and alcohol. We’re rediscovering our compassion for others and desire to be of service. While the 12 Steps provide a ready plan for these positive developments, it takes time to incorporate the qualities that define authentic and decent human beings. Our realizations, insights, and changes of heart don’t happen overnight, or in a matter of weeks, or even months.
As our sense of self takes shape, then the promises occur. Cf. Big Book, at 83 (“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.”) Before that, however, disaster is foreseeably certain. We’ve seen it too many times to believe anything different. Falling into a new relationship simply substitutes the high of illicit substances with the high of romantic relationships. We compromise our recovery program just to have somebody to help us feel better about ourselves. Our new program becomes the relationship. Insecure and needy, we lose ourselves in a co-dependent arrangement and withdraw from all support. Resentments set in, and we’re too immature, insecure, and needy to manage what happens next. We’re cut off, powerless, and trap ourselves in the cycle of addiction again. This unfortunate result is completely foreseeable and should not come as a surprise. When we get into a new relationship early in recovery, we invariably come to regret that decision.
There’s no way to be gentle about this: finding a new relationship in early recovery distracts us from our chance at real recovery. We who offer advice on this topic care about you and the quality of your recovery. Freedom, happiness, serenity, peace – all of these in lasting abundance will be yours to share if you focus on your year here at CORE and work your program to its fullest. We want nothing but the best for you!