rehab romance

Recovery Romance? Ah — Maybe Not

Valentine’s Day is one of our oldest Western holidays, dating back to the 5th Century. Valentine was executed for performing the wrong marriages, subsequently declared a saint, and ever since we have associated his feast day with love, marriage and general togetherness.

We’re told “No relationships in the first year” and here it is, the Relationship Day, so I thought I’d discuss relationships in recovery.

  • We don’t know how to have healthy relationships with ourselves, so we certainly aren't capable of having one with someone else
  • Nothing could possibly distract us more from our program of recovery
  • Relationships trigger the “I want, I want, I want” reflex that all addicts have in abundance
  • For most of us, it was so long since we had a relationship sober (if ever), that we may come to feel that we have to have drugs or alcohol in order to perform.

Lust is a powerful force. It’s intended to make us bond with another human being for purposes of procreation (that’s science, not religion), and as such there are few emotions more consuming. It’s supposed to distract us from just about everything except eating, sleeping and running away from loud noises in the bushes. It acts on our brains and bodies in the same regions and in the same way that drugs do: massive doses of dopamine and lots of “feel good” when we get what we want.

There is a reason that relationships are one of the primary causes of relapse: we are so driven that we can easily convince ourselves that “It won’t happen to me. I can have a relationship and we will recover together.” And we’re so used to having our way, convincing ourselves that it’s worth the price, that we do dumb things almost as a matter of habit. Recovery requires focus. It doesn’t need any more changes in brain chemistry than we’ve got already.

When we’re pursuing that particular pleasure, common sense takes a back seat — just as it does when we’re seeking our drugs of choice. People in early recovery can’t afford to be distracted, and can’t afford to let common sense out of the driver's seat. If we can stay clean and sober, get our act together, and learn how to live a healthy life, we have a really good shot at someday having a healthy relationship as well.  Later.

Think about it: who would want to have a relationship with someone who's as messed up as a person in early recovery?  How messed up would they have to be?  Besides, people change when they get clean. They change again while they’re recovering — often several times. Established relationships fall apart, often as not. The chances of a rehab relationship or a recovery romance working are vanishingly small. The question we need to be asking ourselves is not “Will this work,” but rather “Is getting laid worth my sobriety?”

That’s the bottom line, folks. Valentine’s Day or not.

Romancing the Relapse: Relationships in early recovery

U. S. Library of Congress

One of the first things we hear in recovery, both in treatment and around the rooms of the support groups, is “No new relationships in the first year.”  If it’s not one of the first things we hear, it’s certainly one of the first things that get our attention.

That’s hardly surprising.  Emotions that have been suppressed by alcohol and other drugs are suddenly bubbling to the surface with none of the edges knocked off.   Add to that the fact that we’re feeling at loose ends, with all that time on our hands that we formerly spent using, and the fact that we really don’t want to face life directly yet, and we’re ripe for distraction.  Since rehab romances are one of the most common issues in early recovery, it crosses our minds, “Why not, as long as the other person is in recovery too?  We’ll have so much in common!”

Human beings are hard-wired for romance.  We are wired to be attracted to “our kind of people,” and to become obsessed with them to the virtual exclusion of everything else until we have consummated the relationship and are well along the way to creating a family unit — at least theoretically.  That’s nature’s way of making sure we continue to produce little people.    One of the most basic things we have in common with other people in early recovery is addict behavior.  We speak the same language.  If we find them sexually attractive as well, of course we want a relationship.

Because such relationships are so all-consuming, in early recovery they create the ultimate distraction at a time when all of our attention needs to be focused on learning how to exist and progress without our drug(s) of choice.  Anyone who has been “in love,” (lust) knows how the other person consumes our thoughts and — with opportunity — our time.

The bare facts of the matter are (a.) we need to give our full attention to our program until we have mastered the skills of sober living; (b.) we need to learn to have healthy relationships with ourselves before inflicting them on someone new; and (c.) any relationships we enter so soon after getting clean and sober will almost certainly fail as we grow in different directions from the significant other.  Last, but hardly least, relationships in early recovery are, in the opinion of many, the number-one cause of relapse.  That’s what you’re likely to have most in common.

Make sense now?