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One of the first things I was told when I got sober and began attending 12-step meetings was: Don’t get into a romantic relationship during your first year. The consensus was that dating in early sobriety is a recipe for disaster. My experience suggests this wasn’t far from the truth.
I wasn’t even interested in starting a relationship, but I still bristled at the suggestion not to. Like many alcoholics and addicts, I hate authoritative rules. Even if it was just a “suggestion,” it seemed arbitrary: Why one year instead of six months? Why were those already in relationships somehow exempt?
After my requisite whining, I forgot about it. Navigating each day without drinking was enough to keep me occupied. I began doing the work of cleaning up my past and living sober. Dating didn’t cross my radar. Until I met Paul*.
I was eight months sober and Paul had been sober for three months. Prior to that, he had put together three years but had relapsed. He was back on the wagon now, though, and he intended to stay there.
Paul assured me that his relapse had been a stupid mistake. In his mind, he had three years and three months of sobriety. He was more concerned about me having only eight months.
Cautiously, we began dating. My sponsor was concerned, but she trusted me to make my own decisions. Our sobriety would always come first, Paul and I told each other. For a month or so, things went well.
I was pulling into my driveway after work one night when my cell phone rang. Paul’s slurred voice was on the other end…
I was pulling into my driveway after work when my cell phone rang. Paul’s slurred voice was on the other end: “I fucked up, Katie,” he said. “I drank.”
I was stunned. I thought, But you promised you wouldn’t. At that moment, I understood the betrayal my family and friends must have felt back when I was still drinking. I’d promised them repeatedly I would stop and, time and time again, had reneged on that.
Each time I picked up a drink after a period of abstinence, it had been hard to explain to my disappointed family and friends that I was as surprised as they were. I had always intended to keep my promise. Just as Paul had intended to keep his.
“Where are you?” I asked Paul. “Are you okay?” Once I was convinced he was not a harm to himself or others, I hung up the phone.
Paul started going back to meetings and he tried to convince me that nothing had to change. His relapse had nothing to do with me, he said. I made him happy! Besides, it wasn’t like his relapse had negatively affected my sobriety, right?
I wanted to be convinced, but this time I knew better. I didn’t understand why Paul relapsed. I don’t think even he understood. But I was aware that he was only going to figure it out if he stayed sober… and staying sober meant staying out of a relationship.
Early on, romantic relationships tend to be full of emotional highs and lows as we begin to let our guards down. For most of us, this is a crucial part of developing a connection.
But for a newly recovering addict or alcoholic, these highs and lows can be landmines. Many of us struggle with the intensity of our feelings; this may be part of the reason we turned to drugs and alcohol in the first place. We used substances to prolong good feelings and numb out bad ones. Starting a relationship when you’re just getting sober is like riding a roller coaster the day after you’ve had food poisoning: It might work out fine, but a lot could go wrong.
Starting a relationship when you’re just getting sober is like riding a roller coaster the day after you’ve had food poisoning…
So I ended it, to protect us both.
There is no “right” way to get sober. But I do believe firmly in the popular 12-step motto: “Whatever you put before your sobriety, you will lose.” My sobriety had to come first, no matter what.
After that, I would get late night, drunken phone calls from Paul, where he “just wanted to talk” and to make things “right” between us. Hanging up was painful, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
I don’t know if Paul is sober today, but I hope he is. Sometimes I see him at meetings and we wave to each other and then he’ll disappear and I won’t see him for a while. I’m glad that he and I both know where to go to get help.
Photo Source: deathtothestockphoto.com
*Name and some identifying details changed