As we approach February 14th , stores fill with boxes of candy, greeting card companies remind us to get to the card rack early and often, and the chocolate-covered strawberry folks begin their email campaigns. The jewelry companies remind us that love and diamonds are naturally related, and the florists are preparing for deliveries. For men and women in early recovery, many challenges may present themselves. Some are single, and feel left out. Some have developed interest or a crush on someone new, but are advised to “stay out of relationships” for some period in the first few months of sobriety (up to a year if the advisor is old-school). Some are in a relationship or marriage, and are negotiating renewed emotional connections, resentments on the part of the partner, confusion about the future of the relationship, or all three of these at once!
For single people entering recovery, the advice to stay single is well founded. Resolving problems leftover from using and drinking can be emotionally draining. For those who have been numbed to emotional variance for months or years, the intensity of renewed feelings and perceptions may be shocking. Many newcomers admit to themselves that they lacked judgment in the relationship arena, when under the influence. Though there is disagreement about the recommended length of time that newly sober individuals should avoid starting new romantic relationships, it is widely accepted that some period of transition is good for newcomers.
Learning the nuances of conducting a long-standing relationship in early recovery presents a different set of challenges. The recovering person is managing strong emotions, and doesn’t know what to expect. The significant other may be angry, indifferent, or on the way out the door. Occasionally, the partner is quite used to calling all the shots in the relationship, and doesn’t feel comfortable with this new person who suddenly has opinions! There may be substantial financial, social, and parenting wreckage to be cleared. Both parties in the relationship may be evaluating whether it is better to work on these things, or call it quits. Like recovery, relationships require attention with a focus on connection.
These challenges can appear in non-romantic relationships, as well. Family members may know us better than anyone, and so are well prepared to push our buttons. They can also offer a level and depth of support that no one else can—but those in treatment are often afraid to involve them. If difficult conversations with loved ones are on the horizon, it is better to have those talks while in a supportive environment, rather than waiting until the client returns home. Having a counselor present for these conversations is universally helpful. The clinician acts as a guide through the tangle of issues requiring immediate attention.
Addiction changes relationships: that much is clear, to addicts and the people who care about them. Addiction breeds secrecy and dishonest covering up, as the addict attempts to protect his behavior from criticism. Communication may shut down, reduced to minimal exchanges about immediate situations. Family members and significant others may unconsciously “give up,” after facing the exhausting loneliness of not having been heard in a long time. Repeated lying causes loved ones to stop believing anything the addict may say, even if the current conversation is factual. Anger and recrimination replace listening and open expression.
For the addict seeking recovery, it is vital that family members and significant others get involved in the process, if possible. Addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In recent years, research has taught us that emotional isolation is perhaps the primary predictor of relapse. People entering sobriety need practice in offering honest communication to the important folks in their lives.
If you or someone you care about has a problem with drugs and/or alcohol, call Sobriety Matters at 713-904-4699. We have lots of experience working with families, spouses, significant others, and clients. Valentine’s Day can be a candy heart that says “Real Love,” instead of a bouquet of wilted flowers—call us!