Relationships in Early Recovery [A Risky Temptation]
Relationships are a normal part of life, but there are some special considerations that should be taken into account when it comes to relationships in early recovery. For a multitude of reasons, relationships in early recovery are usually not advised by most therapists or other recovering addicts with long-term recovery. The most common advice is for someone to avoid entering a romantic relationship for the first year of their sobriety in order to avoid some of the issues that they can cause for newly recovering addicts.
The unfortunate reality is that complications which are partly, or even mostly, due to relationships in early recovery are some of the most common causes for relapse. This is because those who are newly sober and seeking out romantic relationships are not only potentially placing themselves in risky situations either emotionally or physically, but many times it also points to deeper unresolved issues which someone may be trying to cover up or fix with a relationship in early recovery.
This subject is also a rather contentious one and can cause some to hesitate at the beginning of their journey into recovery. Many people are not able to enter into or stay in significant romantic relationships when they are in active addiction, which makes loneliness a very common issue for those who enter into recovery. Connection with other humans is one of the fundamental necessities for a healthy human emotional state, and telling someone that they should avoid romantic encounters for a whole year can cause some people to question why they are getting sober in the first place. Don’t be alarmed, no one is suggesting that it is necessary to stay alone for a lifetime. Instead, the suggestion to stay out of relationships in early recovery is based on the real-world experience of thousands of recovering addicts. Focusing on yourself and your recovery for a short time early in recovery is going to lay the foundation for the strongest possible relationships for the remainder of your new life.
Relationships in early recovery can hinder self-improvement
Most people who struggle with substance abuse have underlying issues which caused them to turn to drugs and alcohol in order to escape. Whether those issues are depression, anxiety or a number of other concerns, relationships in early recovery can block the necessary focus on self-discovery which is crucial to overcoming these issues.
Working on issues like anxiety and depression can require intensive work for someone recovering from substance abuse. While there are more than one way to address these issues, such as individual counseling, group therapy or support meetings, one thing that most people agree on is that romantic relationships can hold people back from making truly significant progress in these areas. For many, early recovery is a period of profound self-discovery where someone is learning who they truly are. Characteristics, personality traits, likes and dislikes all can become uncovered when someone stops drinking alcohol or doing drugs. It’s a truly exciting time as people are able to step out of the darkness of addiction and into their new lives. However, during early recovery there are also a lot of emotions, both positive and negative, which many experience. While these emotions are a completely normal part of self-discovery during early sobriety, seeking out new relationships during this crucial phase of recovery can many times distort or impede this process.
Once someone has been able to establish their sobriety for a short amount of time, around a year, they will realize that some of the things that they thought they wanted in a relationship or a partner might have changed during that time. This is quite common and another one of the biggest reasons why relationships in early recovery are usually advised against. There is so much internal change that occurs in the first year of sobriety which takes place most efficiently when the distraction of romance is left to wait.
Relationships is early recovery can lead to heartbreak
While it is true that romantic relationships can lead to heartbreak no matter where you are in your life, the pain and turmoil that a breakup or an argument can cause makes relationships in early recovery a significant danger for those with newly established sobriety. A lot of people who struggle with substance abuse do so, at least in part, to cope with things like emotional pain which they are unable to handle without drugs or alcohol. A big part of recovery is learning new healthier and more effective ways of coping with this pain which doesn’t involve drinking or using drugs, but incorporating those coping skills into everyday life takes practice.
Relationships, particularly new ones, can bring with them a lot of emotional highs and lows. For normal people this simply means that an argument within a relationship might mean they have a bad day, but for someone new in recovery these unstable emotions can potentially lead to situations where relapse is a very real possibility. Something as devastating as a breakup can overwhelm a newly recovering addict’s ability to cope in a healthy manner and may tempt them to go back to drugs or alcohol as a way to numb the pain. The same dangers can be apparent with the emotional highs of a relationship as well. Finding someone new brings with it feelings of happiness which are great, but for someone new to sobriety these emotional highs can be dangerous too, potentially leading to a relapse.
Another danger of relationships in early recovery comes along with dating another recovering addict or alcoholic. In situations like these the potential for disaster is doubled because if one person relapses the other individual in the relationship may be tempted to do so as well. This is an occurrence which happens quite often in the recovery community, which is why relationships in early recovery are so strongly advised against.
Distractions and co-dependency
Establishing a good foundation in recovery is hard work. In the first year of sobriety it might seem like staying clean from drugs and alcohol is a full time job by itself. Things like 12-step meetings, sober gatherings, inpatient and outpatient treatment programs and therapy sessions can take up a lot of time. It’s important to remember that all of that hard work is worth it. Think back to the old adage “nothing worth having comes easy.” This is particularly pertinent when it comes to sobriety, which is why it’s extremely important to maintain good priorities at this crucial time.
Relationships in early recovery can be a significant distraction which cause a lot of people to focus less on the actions and behaviors which helped them to stop using drugs and alcohol in the first place. This is particularly dangerous in the first year of sobriety, which is the time when these actions and behaviors are supposed to establish themselves as habit. Establishing a new relationship can be exciting, but it can also take up a lot of time. This is yet another reason why relationships in early recovery are strongly discouraged, as they can take away a significant amount of time from recovery related activities. After a year of sobriety it is usually okay to begin to lessen the amount of recovery activity you participate in, but everyone is different. The key message here is that nothing should come in front of your recovery, because without it all of the good things in life would not be possible.
Recovering addicts are also more susceptible than an average person to struggle with co-dependency and sex or love addiction. With new relationships come emotions and feelings which can feel similar to the high you can get from drugs or alcohol. Sometimes those early in recovery can use those feelings to replace the high that they were getting from drugs or alcohol, which can be problematic causing people to make poor decisions based on the desire to continue to feel those strong emotions associated with a relationship.
Co-dependency can also make relationships in early recovery dangerous. Co-dependency is a pattern of behaviors in which you find yourself dependent on the approval from others, such as a romantic interest, for your self-worth. Many times this quest for approval can cause co-dependent people to make personal sacrifices for their partner in order to make sure that they continue to provide that approval. This is usually an unhealthy situation in any person’s life, but it is particularly dangerous for recovering addicts as that sacrifice of self-care can often times lead to a regression in recovery and potentially a relapse. Luckily there are recovery meetings and communities specifically for co-dependency which many people in sobriety choose to participate in as well. These can help people overcome their issues with co-dependency and learn to establish and maintain healthier and more meaningful relationships in the long run.
Relationships are good, just be patient
The advice to stay out of relationships in early recovery can be confusing to some people, as they may think it means that relationships are bad and that they should stay away from them forever. This is not the case, in fact relationships can be very good things. They can provide close emotional support and help stimulate personal-growth among many other benefits. Relationships with other people are truly one of the most important aspects to sound mental and emotional health and no one should be saying that they are to be avoided forever.
The specific advice for newly sober people to avoid them comes from decades of experience from others who have found what works and what doesn’t work so well in recovery through trial and error. If you go to a 12-step meeting and an old timer tells you that you should stay out of relationships in early recovery, they may have personal experience as to why they aren’t a good idea. If you’re curious, ask them why they feel that way and they will most likely be glad to tell you. After all, sharing personal experience is one of the cornerstones of a recovery community and is why they are so helpful at keeping people sober.
There is also no need to feel shame or guilt if you do find yourself in a relationship early in recovery. Sure, they aren’t usually a great idea but if it does happen it’s not the end of the world. Remember, you’re journey is to stay sober not become a saint. There are plenty of people who have found themselves in relationships soon after getting sober and have managed to stay sober. The key is to make sure that your priorities are straight and that your sobriety is your number one focus. As long as nothing gets in the way of that, then you have a pretty good shot.