From reality-T.V. star to working at a treatment center is an unlikely journey, especially for someone who is only 27-years-old. But for Jason Wahler it is where recovery has taken him. Wahler rose to fame as a star on the MTV reality shows “The Hills” and “Laguna Beach,” where his rocky relationship with co-star Lauren Conrad was shown in painful detail. After several DUIs and a suicide attempt, Wahler sought treatment for alcoholism, appearing on “Celebrity Rehab” in 2010.
Now, the former L.A. party-boy has transformed his life. With four years of sobriety under his belt, Wahler has married the love of his life and is helping others in recovery. Renew sat down with Wahler to discuss being young, sober and in love.
Renew: You met your wife Ashley in 2010, when you had been sober for just shy of a year. How is your relationship with Ashley different than relationships that you had when you were still drinking?
Wahler: For me personally I hadn’t been in a sober relationship ever, from high school to when I originally got sober back in 2010. Everything, having alcoholic tendencies and being an addict made my relationships very dysfunctional. It became a big lie basically.
This is the first real relationship that I’ve had where it has been healthy. There’s no shadiness in it. There is no cheating. It’s been the biggest blessing. I never would have thoughts that I could have a relationship like that.
Renew: How did you know when you were ready to date again after starting recovery?
Wahler: When I got sober my biggest triggers were relationship and boredom. I had to finally take the initiative and the guidance to focus on myself and not be in a relationship — especially an emotional relationship — for the first six month to a year. By doing something that was very hard for me to do, a contrary action, it ended up turning into a marriage and the best relationship or my entire life.
I’m someone who always wanted to be in a relationship, but when someone said to me that when you’re in an unhealthy state of mind, you’re going to attract unhealthy people that really sunk in with me. I had to find out what I really wanted. When I was using I was attracting people in a similar state of mind, which is very unhealthy. After I cleaned up I was able to find somebody who was an appropriate fit and who I couldn’t be happier with.
Renew: It sounds like you and Ashley have a nearly perfect relationship.
Wahler: Obviously we have our ups and downs, but we’re in a spot to be able to talk about stuff when it happens.
If something is going on one of the things I’ve practiced over the years is having clear communication. That’s the key for anything – not holding stuff in and letting the other person know what’s going on. A lot of the time it’s not them, it’s shit that you’re going through. I’ve had jealousy issues and things like that, and I just let her know ‘this is what’s going on and this is what’s bugging me.’ I never would have done that before. I would have just acted on it without really processing the feelings. I’m able to communicate a lot more clearly and really express how I feel. Feelings come and they go, and being able to deal with them in a healthy way is important.
Renew: Ashley isn’t in recovery herself. Does that ever make is difficult for her to understand your journey?
Wahler: Ashley has been so supportive since when we first started dating. I think in this day in age everybody understands what an alcoholic or an addict is and what needs to be done. She went to al-anon meetings and did what was appropriately asked of her and advised of her to support somebody in the program.
She set her boundaries and the first thing I said to her when we first met was, ‘look, my sobriety is more important than anything, meaning you or my family, because if I don’t have my sobriety I wont have any of that.’ I think she saw when I said that how serious I was.
Renew: That could be pretty intimidating for someone in a new relationship to hear. Now that you’re married is recovery still your top priority?
Wahler: It is 100 percent. I live it day to day. There’s no telling what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I know… When I get back into my alcoholic behaviors I start to lose everything around me and it’s a downward spiral so quickly. If recovery isn’t number one, I’m fucked.
Renew: What are some of your favorite sober dates that you and Ashley go on?
Wahler: We’re more at home than going out, but we still do a lot of dinner and movies. We do a lot of travelling. The best part is we actually remember the trips.
We do anything that anyone else does, but it took time. The first year and a half of my sobriety it wasn’t like ‘let’s go out to L.A.,’ but now I can. We went to Vegas. If I get uncomfortable I tell her. There have been times I’ve been uncomfortable and left, and she supports that 100 percent. It’s very rare that that will happen, but that’s my boundary that I’ve set. She gets it.
Renew: What advice would you have for people who are considering dating for the first time in recovery?
Wahler: Make sure you’re in a healthy state of mind. The biggest thing is making sure that you’re recovery comes first. When you’re in a decent state of mind you’re going to attract people you want to be around anyway. Make sure your sobriety is at the forefront of everything.
And, I can say today that I don’t think dating is wise in the first six months. There is no way you’re going to be able to focus on a relationship when you can barely take care of yourself.
Renew: Jason, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, and congratulations on your sobriety and your new marriage!
Wahler: I wouldn’t have it any different. I just can’t believe how good life gets when you get sober. I never thought it was feasible.
That’s the thing: it takes time. Everyone wants instant gratification, especially addicts, but anything worth having takes time. It’s much more fulfilling when you put forth effort and get the reward.
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