If there is one thing that I learned during my first year of sobriety it is this: Romantic relationships in early recovery are dangerous.
I watched a great number of my peers in early recovery relapse because they got involved romantically far too early.
The popular wisdom around the program and the tables of AA is typically wait at least one year before you get involved with anyone new.
Another popular suggestion is to get a plant and to care for that plant for one full year, not allowing yourself to date until you have proven to be able to care for the plant for a full year first.
So why are new romantic relationships so dangerous for recovery? What is the big problem?
The issue is this:
When a struggling alcoholic or drug addict first comes into recovery, they have a God sized hole in their heart. They are missing the spiritual component of life, and the only way to succeed in recovery is to rebuild this spiritual piece, one tiny bit at a time.
You cannot suddenly become a spiritual giant in a single weekend after getting sober last Tuesday. It doesn't work like that.
Sure, you can get clean and sober, have a spiritual awakening of sorts, and then start on this spiritual quest to find yourself and to find your higher power. That is totally possible, and people do it all the time. However, the process takes months, years, or even decades to reach what we might call spiritual fulfillment.
You can certainly get clean and sober on a whim, and it might even stick, but you have a ton of work to do if you are going to make your sobriety last. And a whole lot of that work that needs to be done is spiritual soul searching.
So what does any of this have to do with romantic relationships?
Well, you may wonder what it feels like to be early in recovery and to fall in love with someone.
I can tell you exactly what it feels like: It feels as if you were in middle school all over again, going through your first crush, feeling totally dreamy and like you are floating on a cloud. Nothing could ever be wrong about this new found love of yours because it feels so incredibly right.
This is why a new romance is so dangerous in early recoverybecause that feeling of love and infatuation perfectly fills in the God sized hole in your heart, at least temporarily.
And that, perhaps, is the entire key to this whole thing: It fills the hole up temporarily. Not permanently.
And yet when we are going through this new romance, when we are going through the infatuation phase and we are feeling all of the wonderful feelings, it seems as if it is going to last forever. We cannot imagine the feeling ever stopping.
And this is how we trick ourselves into a lack of spiritual pursuit. We give up the search for our higher power. We have a new higher power, and that higher power is the feeling of love and infatuation that we are feeling due to the new romance.
One of the biggest problems that occur in residential treatment settings is that of new relationships between the clients. If you take a bunch of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts with a week clean and you put them all into residential treatment together, some of them are going to fall for each other. It just happens so naturally, and it feels so good, and it is the ultimate distraction from the work that you really need to be doing on yourself. Because really, who needs to write out a tedious and painful fourth step when you are in love? Who needs to worry about their character defects when you have this other person, this wonderful new person in your life, and that person loves you exactly the way that you are? Why would you need to work on yourself or change yourself or worry about your defects when someone loves you so much?
The truth is, in order to succeed in early recovery, you need to work on yourself and improve your character defects. If you fail to do so then eventually those defects will get in the way of your recovery and cause you to relapse. And if your excuse for not doing the work is that you fell in love and someone accepted you completely, that is not serving you at all. A new romance, in this case, only serves as a distraction from the work that you need to do on yourself.
You may believe, early in recovery, that this is your one chance at real love, and that if you turn your back on a new relationship in early recovery that you will never get another chance at it.
This is ridiculous. Who you are in early recovery is not the same person as who you become after a year of working on self improvement. In terms of the kind of person that you attract into your life, you can imagine how different this will be after a solid year of personal growth and self improvement, versus what your life is like during your first week of sobriety.
If you actually do the work and put in the effort to improve yourself and your life, then the kind of person that you will attract after a year of solid recovery is going to absolutely blow you away. If you think you have a strong connection after one week of recovery, just wait until you have one year. Not to mention the improvements that you will make in terms of communication and the ability to love yourself and others after a year of recovery. In other words, after a year of personal growth in sobriety, your ability to be a strong partner in a real relationship improves by a factor of hundreds or thousands.
If what you want is love (and you do), then what you need to do is this:
Start out very slowly in recovery, and learn to listen and take suggestions from other people. Rebuild your life slowly, from the ground up, and focus on being honest with yourself and others. By doing this, you will learn to love yourself and to love your life in a way that is sustainable and healthy. Having reached this level of success in your recovery, you will then attract a person who has the same healthy values that you have. This is the kind of love that is worth cultivating; the kind of love that you truly deserve in your recovery.
Wait a year, work on yourself, become the kind of person that you want to meet.
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