What You Should Know About Relationships in Recovery
Relationships are a veritable double-edged sword in the recovery process. Many issues of those suffering from addiction have deep roots that are commonly wrapped around unhealthy and difficult romantic relations in both the past and present. When an addict finds themselves pursuing a romantic interest, it is very common for previous commitments toward recovery to slowly wane as their attention shifts from recovery to the familiar and comfortable embrace of another person. An addict’s primary concern should always be toward their own emotional well-being, and while a relationship can very often be a benefit towards a healthy reintegration to normal life, co-dependency that sometimes arises from these relationships can set the stage for a relapse once the initial excitement of the relationship fades away.
Once the layers of service and communal obligation are stripped away, sobriety is actually quite a selfish program. Putting others in front of the commitment to sobriety in the beginning can quickly lead to a spiral of relapse. This is why relationships are not encouraged during early sobriety. Addicts are already in a state of severe emotional imbalance during these moments, and adding the potentially toxic and chaotic aspects of a relationship will often end with catastrophic results.
Veterans in the sobriety community will often offer this piece of advice, “Get a plant. If it still alive after 6 months, get a dog. If the dog is still alive after 6 months, then enter a relationship.” It’s an extreme example, but the message is clear. Sudden life decisions, whether it’s a relationship, moving to a new place, or re-establishing connections with old friends, can often undo significant amounts of self-improvement and understanding that have been accomplished in recovery.
Adopting a new way of thinking is often the extreme lengths that addicts must take in sobriety; a change that requires a significant amount of time to solidify. Many addicts can trace sharp and sudden increases in their past drug use around the drama and turmoil of an unhealthy or incompatible relationship. A breakup can be the catalyst that pushes an occasional user of opiates to finally try heroin, or a difficult divorce can lead one to chronically abuse alcohol as a coping mechanism. These events hold significance long after treatment, and it is essential that there is a solid foundation of recovery in place before the recovering addict takes the plunge and can allow themselves to be vulnerable without risking their own commitments toward continuing recovery.
So how does someone know when the time is right? Unfortunately, that answer is different for everyone. Those who can reflect on their past relationships and how they coped with the difficult moments in them can often glean a pretty comprehensive understanding of how their relationships may play out in the future if things were to go sour. Some are so blinded by either their own emotions or their co-dependent tendencies that they are unable to see the end result. The one thing that becomes painfully clear in recovery is that our own thinking doesn’t always take us to the best places. Sometimes in these instances, it can be extremely beneficial to have a sponsor or some sort of mentor figure who understands the range of your emotional intelligence. These people can often provide you with insight that would otherwise need to be learned the hard way.
The stark reality of the matter is that an addict won’t know if entering a relationship was a bad idea until it’s too late. If a relationship goes sour, it becomes absolutely essential that the person has a solid network of people who can help them stay sober through any difficult times that lie ahead. Emotional intelligence and a degree of self-understanding both play a large role in determining a recovering addict’s readiness to enter a serious and meaningful relationship. Many find that having a healthy and committed relationship with another person in recovery can provide a source of comfort and joy in otherwise difficult moments of recovery, but it is often difficult to tell how these relationships will turn out, making it incredibly important for those who choose to involve themselves to have a strong sense of will and commitment to sobriety.