Punch Drunk Love
Romance, for me, has always been as intoxicating as drugs. Will I ever be able to find love without feeling drunk?
The first few years of my recovery, I only dated people from the rooms. While that’s certainly not a suggestion, at 21, the guys in the program kept me coming back. (If you’re going to go that route, may I suggest finding members of a different 12-step program or—better yet—a neighboring city?) I was thrilled when I finished my eighth step: finally the time had come for me to go make amends to all my exes so they could now see how healthy and sane I was and then decide that we should probably get married and make babies. Then I met up with my sponsor, who went over my amends list with me, calmly crossing off every. Single. Ex.
“Those are living amends,” she said. “One day at a time, don’t show up at his house at 3am and throw pennies at his window while he’s in bed with his new girlfriend.”
I was, of course, offended, but I reluctantly agreed. The next week, I bumped into a particularly shiny ex on the street—obviously, this was God’s will. I casually began my (mentally well-rehearsed) amends speech. Not two weeks later, we were back in bed.
“I used to go to those meetings,” he said while we were in middle of making out in his twin bed at his mom’s house.
Whether they were addicts, non-addicts, mismatches or just jerks, the initial rush of chemicals renders me senseless and impairs my ability to make healthy decisions.
“Is this bedroom talk?” I wondered. I silently urged him to shut up and go back to kissing me.
“It’s really all about control,” he added. “Just don’t be dumb.” He doesn’t identify as an addict, though my personal opinion is that real normies don’t land in 12-step.
Christmas was a few months later. After eating with my family I went to a meeting, spoke at a second one out of town, and then chaired a midnight meditation meeting. Afterwards, feeling oh so spiritual, I went to the local dive bar to meet up with my ex. There were six of us milling about the dark bar when Mae, a fashion-scene girl, pulled me aside.
“Hey, do you want a bump?” she asked me.
“A bump?” I asked, still perplexed. Apparently, I’d been out of the game long enough to completely blank on basic drug terminology.
“Yes. A bump… of co-caine.” This time, she spoke slowly.
“Oh! No! Thanks, though!” A second later, I was absolutely appalled. Me! Doing cocaine! Didn’t she know what a pillar of recovery I’d become? I just went to a meditation meeting! I walked back to the guy.
“Dude. Mae just offered me a bump.”
“A bump?” he said. “I want one!” And with that, he was off, joining Mae and every other dude in the ladies restroom. I sat at the empty bar awkwardly sipping cranberry juice with the bartender. That night, the ex and I had sex in the backseat of his black 1970’s Cadillac. I felt gross and dirty.
My sponsor was far too classy for a simple “I told you so.” Instead she presumptuously announced, “Honey, anyone you’re attracted to probably should be in a 12-step program. That’s just how it is. We are attracted to other addicts.” I vowed never to date another guy who wasn’t in recovery, therapy, or working on himself in some way.
Addicts, I’ve come to learn, are not slow learners; we are quick forgetters. Six months later, a new guy messaged me on MySpace (this was the pre-Facebook dark ages): I like poison too, he wrote. I scanned his profile and saw that we had three mutual friends, all in recovery.
Are you in the program? I typed out.
What program? I like your profile song, he replied.
Ahh, right—“Poison” by Bell Biv Devoe: a song I’d posted as a conscious warning to any potential suitors in the wake of my affair with a fellow 12-stepper who’d told me that he wanted me to have his babies but just needed more time to break up with his girlfriend. I was thick with self-loathing and trying to steer clear of all men. The MySpace suitor sent a few more messages over the following weeks but I didn’t respond. Eventually, perhaps as a last attempt, he sent a link to his music. Oh talent. Intoxicating talent. We agreed to meet for coffee that Thursday.
He was only sort of cute so, as a precautionary measure, I over-shared, going through the whole “I’m a recovering addict, troubled childhood, tortured artist” preamble that was supposed to make him run for the hills. Instead, he just sat there mesmerized. It was as if the title “addict” had some Hollywood glitz to it. He wanted to know more: when did I start using? What was it like? What made me stop? A few weeks later, he wanted to come to a meeting. And then he wanted to hear me speak.
Six weeks after that first coffee date, we moved in together. We started pumping out art, taking road trips, making pop music, creating fake videos about being long-lost reunited siblings in love, and just acting ridiculous. We got two cats and named them Frida and Diego. It seemed like love. For the first four months, he was incredibly supportive of my recovery. But slowly, as he started to learn recovery speak, things started to change.
“What step are you on?” he asked one day. Ahem, what?
“Isn’t it codependent to pick up the phone every time your sponsee calls?”
“When you call yourself an addict, you are just reaffirming that you are sick and broken,” he offered one day. “You are manifesting it.” The digs started to get more pointed.
“You’re really driving two hours to secretary a meeting at a convention?” He looked at me like I was crazy.
“I’m actually going for the whole weekend, but yeah.” I decided to break it down for him with the response that seemed to be most effective with artists and other creative people who don’t get it. “When I was using, I wasn’t creating art—I was too busy getting high. Once I got clean, I was able to pursue my art again. So as a thank you to the universe for allowing me to follow my dreams, I continue to show up for the program that helped me get off drugs.”