First Valentine's Day
On my first sober Valentine’s Day I was 26 years old and single, but not really by choice. I had 3 months of sobriety, hadn’t ‘been’ with anyone in weeks and I was getting pretty restless.
I had been going to meetings, quit my job as a bartender, had a sponsor and was attending a step study group. I was all in when it came to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Then I learned the steps weren’t the only thing my sponsor believed in. Surprisingly what she thought of dating in early sobriety I didn’t like…not…at…all.
It was around this time of year in 2001 when I learned of this unholy requirement of hers. My sponsor and I met up for coffee at her house and while staring at my freshly poured cup of AA elixir, I stated coyly “So there’s this cute guy at the Sunday night meeting…”
She looked at my over her glasses, taking them off and setting them on the counter, she sighed.
She was clear and direct, stating emphatically that for the first year of sobriety it might be a good idea to not date, to stay out of relationships and focus on myself. She did say it was only a suggestion and if I didn’t think this suggestion should apply to me, than I might want to have a chat with her sponsor.
“Ok Great! Thanks!” I stated
It was that night at the meeting when I strolled up to Bill with all the ferocity my mid 20 year old frame could hold; and said; “My sponsor told me that I couldn’t date for a year! What do you think about that?”
With all the grace and serenity that is afforded a man with 2 decades of recovery he stated:
“You’re right Kate, 1 year of no relationships or dating is a bit ridiculous; for you, I would suggest 5.”
…. as I write this, I wonder how different my life would have been if I had listened…
…instead though, I chose the former. I maintained one year of sobriety then started vigorously looking for the lucky guy who would be graced with this virgin version of me.
I moved to the T. Dot, (Toronto, ON) and began an extensive thorough search of the large variety of church basements that I now had access to. Attending AA religiously I hunted for a date. I found one or two, but the third was the keeper.
He was 2 years sober, I was 15 months.
He moved in within a few months.
We had a baby & got married.
We had another baby.
We moved 5 times in 6 years.
I eventually left one day with the kids and moved into a shelter.
We ended up in family court and subsequently divorced.
It was insanity, daily.
We never drank; we didn’t need alcohol to cause chaos.
We both tried, but we didn’t know what we needed to, to have a happy healthy sane relationship. Neither of us had grown up with examples and there weren’t a ton of couples to look up to in the rooms. We looked and even our respected sponsors were actually each other’s exes.
We tried diet and exercise, shared hobbies, cooking, yoga, and therapy. He landed in a church…. I landed in a shelter on welfare.
I didn’t know what to do. Most of my sober life had been with this man, attempting to create a home for us and the kids. Now that fantasy was dead and I was left with nothing but myself. I couldn’t stand it…I knew I wasn’t going to drink…so I did the next best thing. Went on the hunt again, except this time I looked outside the rooms.
I found the man I had been crushing on since we had moved to town. He was an active drunk that I found incredibly attractive. We had been working together for months and had developed a friendship. Finally giving myself permission to pursue him was a rush I had long missed. I got what I wanted and then eventually we both got what we needed.
Within days of hanging out with him, I realized I couldn’t keep it up. I was going to end up drinking right along with him and as insane as I was I knew better. As I attempted to cut ties with him, he asked me to take him to a meeting. Against all better judgement I took him…and then told him I couldn’t see him anymore. For some reason I could almost convince myself that sleeping with an active drunk while still married was ok, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to mess around with someone in early recovery. (Now there’s some interesting set of AA values!) I told him to go find himself some sober guys to hang out with.
Shortly thereafter, and just a month since I had left my kids father, I had a rare moment alone while the kids were with their dad. Out of nowhere the sadness, desperation and loneliness hit me. I landed on my knees in the middle of my living room of the tiny transitional apartment sobbing uncontrollably. With my head in my hands I ranted to a higher power that they’d won again, that I was powerless, that I didn’t know what to do anymore. And could they please please PLEASE help me!
It hit me then; at that moment of clarity; how addicted and obsessed I had become. I realized than that my marriage; my fling and all of my other intense personal relationships over the years were just another substitute for the whiskey, or vodka, or gin…
How blind could I have been to not see how I had simply replaced one obsession with another? That I had tried to make him, the kids and the prospect of the ‘family’ life fill the bottomless hole I still had in my core. When I realized that was obviously not working I sought out the first man I lusted after and hoped that a one night stand would work. The insanity was back, all without a sip of alcohol.
At the time of the separation I was 9 years without a drink, was ridiculously aware of my codependent nature and I retreated again into AA. I didn’t drink but I recommitted to the program as it had always been my landing strip, my safe space. While attending meetings the basics of the program started to come back to me…. including the suggestion of that first sponsor; a year without dating/relationships.
A friend of mine posted this on their facebook the other day:
I believe this is what AA members are trying to avoid when they suggest we stay out of relationships for the first year. We have an ability to transfer our addiction into caretaking and codependency. Melody Beatty talks about this at length and is a strong supporter of people like us. (A must read: Codependent No More)
Therefore I do agree with our friend Julia, but I do think she’s missing a larger more important point.
This past week I took my best friend out to dinner to celebrate the 9 years since I took him to that first meeting.
He hasn’t been without a drink that whole time, but he’s sober today, and he’s my best friend, lover and accomplice.
We’ve broken up periodically over the years and sometimes spent years without seeing or speaking to each other. Today we joke that we’re in our 4th and Final Round.
We joke because we know that our relationship is as dangerous to us as any other substance. I could easily loose myself in pleasing and taking care of him. (Which is what the pretty woman above is warning us about!) That cycle of relapse into relationships has become as familiar to me as my drinking career. The chronic repeat of behaviors that cause chaos, the obsession and the idea that it’s his fault not mine and suddenly my life has become unmanageable. Sound familiar?
Since abstinence was the solution I used for my alcohol problem I assumed I would have to be single for the rest of my life. However, Gabor Mate and other recovery experts have made it abundantly clear that those recovering from substance abuse issues require true authentic connection with others to recover.
You’d think that would make me grateful, finally there’s a solution I can work with. But when I started to seek these out I realized how screwed I was.
You see it’s challenging for me to find authentic connection with people because those that I feel most authentically affiliated with are addicts like me…who also (most likely) have suffered extensive trauma. These traumas can cause heightened fear based reactions to normal interactions which can then in turn make close relationships difficult. I’ve learned that without proper strategies, (which 12 step groups have only some) it’s almost impossible for us to maintain healthy lasting relationships.
I didn’t know how to have an authentic connection, especially within a true partnership.
And I know my accomplice had no idea how to do this either…but we’ve decided to give it a sincere shot…together.
What that means for these two neuro divergent recovering alcoholic addicts is that:
1) We are gentle & honest with each other and our selves
2) We are not responsible for the others decisions or choices
3) We accept & encourage each other’s creative neuro divergences
If ever given the opportunity, I would like to ask Ms. Roberts this: “As women we may not be their rehabilitation centres, but can’t we be each other’s?”
I believe a true partnership is supporting each other in becoming the best versions of ourselves.
My partner and I suffer not only from substance abuse issues, but in our house we also deal with bipolar, depression, ptsd and anxiety.
At under a year of sobriety I had no idea the extent of my illnesses.
All I knew was that I was a drunk and I needed help.
Today, I have some sense of the severity of these illnesses. I see the fallout in my children, my ex husband and in the long line of failed relationships before and after joining the 12 step community. A community that is full of sick people just trying to get well…. but who I think are often missing some key components to their recovery.
When it comes to sex and relationships the text of Alcoholics Anonymous gives very little direction. It appears on page 69, of all places and basically acknowledges that there are a range of opinions on this issue; and AA doesn’t take any clear stance. But the text also says we should seek elsewhere for answers regarding issues related to but that are not alcoholism…such as relationships.
Today I know that I still have a tendency to utilize substances outside of myself to fill the hole at my core. Today I also know my relationships have to be trauma informed to be successful and that I have to take care of myself so these relationships don’t become just another addiction.
Today my accomplice and I have a 20 year contract, renewable daily on the condition that we are continuing to honour each other as stated above as well as a commitment to continual growth.
Please don’t assume that these 2000 words or so mean that I have any idea what I’m doing in relationships (I still don’t speak to my ex) or that I have the solutions to a healthy relationship in recovery.
All I’m doing is sharing what experience strength and hope that I have so maybe someone else might identify and won’t feel so alone.
My accomplice and I have done some serious work on ourselves as well as come up with some strategies that work for us, together. As I hope to continue to write about my journey in recovery perhaps I will extrapolate and share them with you at another time.
Right now though, I hope that this Valentines’ day you honour wherever you are in your journey of recovery and perhaps remember one of my favorite spiritual quotes by Ram Dass:
“We’re all just walking each other home. ”
Sorry Julia, I like his take better.
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