How To Fall in Love in Recovery

By Olivia Pennelle 09/16/16

Why me? What is wrong with me? Does The One even exist? I couldn’t understand why I was putting myself out there, and the universe was not responding. 

Woman with heart in thought bubble on chalkboard behind her
Does The One exist?

What is a relationship?

It’s not always what we think it is.

From the moment I walk out of my front door and meet another human being, I am engaged in a relationship. Whether it is with my neighbor, the driver who cuts me off on my bicycle, the hot guy at the coffee shop, the sexy guy on Tinder, the too-close-for-comfort guy in the lift (who smells lovely) or my Disney idea of "The One."

New Beginnings

Recovery wasn’t what I imagined either, in all of its glory, wonder and gut-wrenching pain. It has been one hell of an eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience. It’s life, straight up. No dilution, no tempering. It’s the cold sobering truth. And the rawness, the vulnerability, is what cements our broken pieces back together again to form a new skin. 

In that state of newness, we continue to uncover and awaken. We discover our desires, our human instincts. One of which is to love, to share our life, and to connect with other human beings. Oh how I longed to find The One. The biggest challenge that I have experienced has been navigating that journey in pursuit of love. A road peppered with lessons of lust, infatuation, boundaries, intimacy and a whole plethora of feelings. And I have journeyed along that road learning my truth and practicing congruence between that truth and my behavior. My greatest challenge yet. 

I’ve had to take time in my recovery to really delve into the underbelly of relationships. 

I have had to ask myself a series of thought-provoking questions: What is a relationship? What kind of relationship do I want? What is intimacy? Who should I be intimate with? What are the values, virtues and personality traits that I seek? Do I practice those same values, virtues and personality traits? What does The One look like, feel like and act like? What do they bring out in me? Do I like myself in that relationship? Am I happy when I am with them? What is my language of love?

The Language of the Heart

I have found that mastering the language of the heart, however, is a maturity accomplished only through hard-won experience. And that experience cannot be assumed, it cannot be gleaned. There is no shortcut. It’s a paradoxical suffering. One must experience the pain of lust, infatuation, heartbreak, extreme expectation, fairy tale fantasy (The One), to fully appreciate the sweet nectar of love. 

Given its dynamics, its complexity, and its capacity for pain, is it any wonder that it is suggested we abstain from any kind of romantic involvement for the first year in recovery? The trouble is that the new skin is still taut from the scars—it needs nourishing, it needs to grow and mature. We have to re-learn everything, including our version of The One. We can’t form successful relationships based upon lust, infatuation and fairy tales. I wasn’t able to gauge how to interact with anyone from the guy in the lift, or a guy I wanted to date.

Writer and Coach, Sasha Tozzi, says this:

“After the one-year checkpoint, I still didn’t feel ready or yet capable of forming a healthy relationship with a male, and I was still terrified to socialize sans liquid courage so I was all 'imma just do me.' Project self-love, if you will. I was still learning what love was. And I had learned that attachment is not love. It’s attachment.”

All I had to offer in my first year was infatuation. I had no idea who I was, never mind self-love. Without that knowledge, how could I possibly have any comprehension of what I was looking for? I recall the first time a guy talked to me in a meeting, I went straight to planning our children’s names. 

The truth is, though, I had to learn the hard way. I had to experience the hook-ups, the obsession on dating sites, the compulsion to act out of lust, the longing to fill that chasm of loneliness. I would ask myself, Why me? What is wrong with me? Does The One even exist? I couldn’t understand why I was putting myself out there, and the universe was not responding. 

This is what I learned:

1. Who I am

I had to date myself and get to know me. I asked myself: Who am I? What do I love? What are my interests? What are my dreams, my passions? For if you do not know, how can you communicate that? 

2.  To fall in love with myself

I had to fall in love with myself. I asked myself: What are my assets? What is attractive about me? For if you do not know your worth, how will you let yourself be treated right? I learned this through accepting less than I deserved. I was the late night booty call, the woman he texted when his friends were busy, the one who got the Tuesday night, not Friday night date. My recovery does not mean that I am less worthy. If anything, I am more worthy having overcome my challenges. Love yourself enough to not accept less than you deserve.

3. How to define "The One"

Just because an attractive guy is in your presence, does not mean he is "The One."

I learned that I had a teenage-like version of dating, a fairy-tale ideal. And only in learning what I didn’t want, did I take time to consider the ingredients of what makes a realistic version of "The One." I had to ask myself what made up the component parts: the virtues, personality traits, values, outlook, desires, passion, ambition, intelligence, humor and communication style. I also learned the weight that I placed on each of those components. For me, warmth, openness, kindness, charisma, intuition, humor, security, feeling valued and intelligence are far more important than looks—they form the basis of what I find attractive—but what gets to my soul is a level of empathy, intuition, and openness, a freedom with which they speak and relate to me. 

4. Never settle

Settling for some of the components is not enough. I realized this the hard way. When I’m not suited with someone, I lose all semblance of serenity. I experienced feelings of insecurity, doubt and unease. I drove myself and my friends crazy with the persistent questioning and the incessant checking of my phone. My instinct was screaming so loudly that it affected my sleep and my appetite. When I am true to my instinct and act in congruence, I find peace.

5. Relationships do not make you whole

We have this Disney idea of relationships, that they somehow complete us. It is life’s great achievement to find "The One," have a big white wedding, make babies and become the perfect Stepford Wife. Looking for another half, implies that you are half. You are not. You are already whole. Pursue your dreams in spite of your relationship status. You don’t have to wait for someone to live the life you want.

I had to reach a point where I chose me. Where I chose to be single over comprising not only what I am looking for, but my values. I finally arrived at that place where the scales have finally tipped from pursuing the titillation offered by a quick fling—or the promise of potential—toward the respect and love I have for myself to stand confident in my wholeness. 

Above all, I have learned to have faith and trust in the plan. When I stop chasing it and act in congruence with my instinct, I know peace. 

Rilke says this:

“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

Have I become my own version of "The One"?

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