March 7, 2012
In early recovery the rules of relationships are pretty clear. Not that we follow them necessarily. We all know the stories that are funny when told years later. The ones that begin with, “My sponsor told me not to date in my first year, but…” That “but” is always a prelude to some disaster or heartbreak. Later we understand why “no relationships in the first year” makes sense. It turned out to be much better to not date or marry or maybe even get divorced in that crucial first year. But we moved on.
Some of us came into recovery not wanting any romance. We had given up relationships to drink alone, so after a couple years of sobriety we had to be coaxed into dating. Others had to learn the difference between dating and wedding planning. Three dates is not an engagement. But we learned how to date. We passed around the audiotape of recovery speaker Terry Gorski talking about how alcoholics date. We laughed. We learned.
Some of us married or remarried. Some sober marriages lasted and some did not. But we stayed sober. In our home groups we held each other’s hands and passed the tissues. We endured the heartbreak. And hearts do break harder when you are sober because you feel everything a lot more. Sometimes we felt an additional layer of pain and shame because we were sure that we’d be wiser in recovery. We felt the frustration of believing that surely after all the step work and maybe even therapy too that we could make a relationship or a marriage work this time.
But those of us who stay sober for a decade or more do get to laugh—and sometimes cry—later on. We find many ways to heal and grow in this part of our lives. Sometimes we learn that no matter how committed we are that one person can’t make a relationship work.
Some of us do have new marriages, some decide never to marry; some stay with the same person they were with when they got sober and they do the heavy lifting of marriage counseling and therapy. Sometimes people discover that they were drinking to cover up a different sexual preference and they have the pain and joy of coming out in recovery. They also have to learn how to date. Some of us decide to have serial but intact and decent relationships. We take responsibility for the sex and the money, those tricky issues that bogged us down in our previous relationships.
So what are the rules for love and romance for a woman or man in later recovery? Well, we know now that some of the things we thought in early recovery aren’t necessarily true. We know by now that there is no 13th Promise (After I work the steps I’ll meet the love of my life.) We’ve grown enough to realize that our partners don’t have to be Twelve Step people. We don’t have to only date or marry people who are in AA. (Though it doesn’t hurt if they know about Al-Anon—after all, being with us they qualify.) But even though a new partner doesn’t have to be wrapped in a Twelve Step package, it does help if they value personal growth and are interested in their own growth and spirituality. After all it’s a language and relationships are about communication.
We do use our sponsors to talk about our relationships. We talk about our “side of the street.” We value the men’s and women’s meetings where we have a place to talk about sex and relationships with others.
We discover that having ten or more years of recovery gives us a much-improved sense of humor. And that goes a long way in relationships. We learn that The Promises come true, even if the 13th promise doesn’t, and we learn that we can have a wonderful life in a loving community even if we don’t have romance in our lives.