When it comes to relationships in early recovery, the Golden Rule is to wait—at least a year. The reason for the wait is that relationships, no matter how benign they seem and how good they feel, can be dangerous.
During addiction, addicts will find any escape from their internal world in order to run from a deep sense of inadequacy, worthlessness, and fear. Drugs become the first line of defense against sitting with the self; but when the tolerance grows, and the drug is no longer strong enough to quiet the negative thoughts, addicts will search for something stronger. In some cases it may be a sexual experience and in others it may be the feeling of being desired and needed by a romantic partner. Relationships become a source of external validation, making the addict feel loved, nurtured, safe and cared for. On the surface, it may be hard to find what’s wrong with that. But if addiction, at its core, robs an individual of their ability to care for and nurture themselves, than it is imperative that recovery remove all obstacles and distractions that stop the addict from being in direct relationships with themselves.
Let’s say the addict in early recovery has a negative feeling; they get mad. In the past, they would’ve desperately wanted to escape the emotions and eventually found their way to their drug of choice. Now, in early recovery, the addict is committed to not using. So they get angry, they don’t want to use, but they don’t like the feeling. At this point the addict has a choice: either feel the feeling and be able to soothe and care for their emotional health or find something else to distract themselves and make them feel better. The hope in sobriety is that the addict will practice the former choice with the support of their recovery team, family, and sponsor. However, too often addicts will turn to flirtation, sex, or romantic love to make the discomfort of the negative feeling go away. If the negative emotion is simply replaced by a positive one (like love, desire, sexual attraction), the addict never learns how to process the emotion. This allows the addict to continue to believe that they are not capable of caring for their own internal, emotional world.
In conclusion, relationships in early recovery can stunt the progress of an addict’s healing process. It teaches the addict they can use an external solution to an internal problem. The addict’s ability to take responsibility for their internal feelings, thoughts and experiencing decreases and once again they are not connected to self. Eventually, the negative thoughts and experiences get bigger and, because the addict has not been practicing addressing and soothing themselves, they will inevitably return to their original drug of choice.
I believe the most important love you can have in early recovery is with yourself. Take yourself on a date. Go do something you enjoy. Go figure out what you enjoy. Treat yourself. Spend time with yourself. Make yourself laugh. Let yourself cry and be the comforting should you lean on. Let yourself vent and really listen to what your own needs are. Ask for your needs to be met. Surprise yourself. Fall in love with yourself . It’s only then that we can truly make space to love another.
Many of us in recovery have a cautionary tale of how love in early recovery has created instability in our lives and eventually lead us back to relapse. It became easier to have another person fill our internal world than to learn how to love and nurture ourselves.
The relationship with yourself during this time is the priority—learning to care for and meet your own emotional needs, spending time with yourself and enjoying it (imagine that!), getting to know who you are, and falling in love with the person you find.