February 8, 2012

Love in the Time of Recovery

Even after all these years of recovery I catch myself having expectations for Valentine’s Day. How many resentments it has caused. Dates, boyfriends, husbands. Even knowing that Valentine’s Day is a commercially created day, the cultural pressure exists.

heartHow do recovering people practice loving kindness for ourselves and others on Valentine’s Day? How does sobriety guide me into making a Happy Valentine’s Day in or out of a romantic relationship? What does love really mean in the context of recovery?

One of the joys of sobriety is watching other people grow. For me, it has been particularly moving to observe sober men as they change their lives and beliefs.

Early in recovery—just shy of two years and at that point where the fog is clearing—a man named Fred who was in his early 60’s came to my home group one morning. It was his first day out of treatment and he was in pain. His “bottom” involved devastation at both work and home. He hurt. I listened as he spoke and I recognized his grief. After the meeting ended, I watched as the men in our group surrounded Fred, gave him phone numbers and insisted he came to breakfast with them. I watched as the men gathered around him, taught him and loved him.

Even though others in the group had done that for me, too, it was then, with Fred, that I was just sober enough to understand that I was seeing love in action. I hold that moment as one of my sobriety treasures. It was the day I could also see the love that surrounded me and I felt my heart open enough to want that love to surround another person.

Maybe it’s because one of my own wounds is about my father that this touches me so deeply.

This morning at my home group I heard men talk about how recovery changed their lives. Tough guys were softened, fathers recommitted, lost men were found, partners tried again, new romances began and they were trying to do it all differently.

It makes me happy to see men change. To know that under different circumstances my father and my brothers might have changed, too. To know that there is an endless supply of love in these rooms and that we are changed by that love.

In early recovery I used to hear, “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” It felt like a puzzle, a bafflement. I didn’t think you could love someone into change. Hadn’t I tried that all those years before with disastrous results? I know now that I didn’t really love; I was just trying to control someone or to make him take care of me. In romantic relationships, and sometimes as parents, we mistakenly try to love people into changing. It generally doesn’t work.

But in AA it does. We can be loved by our AA fellows until we can love ourselves. And when we have learned to love ourselves, we can then truly love others.

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