Relationships in Early Recovery
I’ve heard that it’s not a good idea for two people in rehab, or new to recovery, to start dating each other. This was from a friend in recovery, not an addiction expert. Joan told me that when someone already in recovery starts dating a newcomer it is known in “Recovery Speak” as “thirteenth stepping” and generally frowned on.
I don’t personally know if the prevailing wisdom about sex and love in early recovery is correct or not, but the idea seems to makes sense, for several reasons. I’m no expert, but I imagine that there’s so much to focus on in rehab or when you’re newly sober that having a new love interest – especially someone in the same boat — would muddy the waters. Wouldn’t someone newly sober have a fragile ego and perhaps link up with the first person they’re attracted to (or is attracted to them) without thinking it through? What about confusing neediness with love? Not even knowing what one actually feels yet, needing to clear one’s head over several months?
Pamela Graham, an MRBC counselor, says that “often, an alcoholic or addict has an obsession to use alcohol or another drug for a sense of ease and comfort. If they’re no longer getting that from alcohol and drugs, left untreated, they’ll often latch onto a relationship for a sense of ease and comfort. That’s why in recovery people need to focus on recovery first — complete treatment, and get through the 12 steps. Otherwise they may get into a codependent relationship. It’s like a drug for them. An obsession — a recurring, persistent idea, which is more powerful than anything –can transfer to a relationship, where people get a sense of validation from others.” The 12 steps, Graham reminds people, work on compulsive behavior as well as other conditions.
As human nature isn’t always wise, here’s a book therapist Mary Faulkner has written about this issue: Easy Does It Dating Guide: For People in Recovery. Amazon.com advertises it as the only book written about this specific topic.
There are always exceptions to every rule. MBRC Counselor Allen Glass knew about one. Here is another I recently I read about. A Sacramento couple after dating in recovery, went on to forge a life together. They met at a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting in 2008 and got married the next year.
The two are an unlikely couple. Paul had spent years in prison and had a drug problem. Jennifer, also an addict, had a daughter from a previous relationship and was close to losing custody. Paul is a drug counselor now, and Jennifer, who went to cooking school after getting clean, is working at a steak house. They’re engaged with life, productive, and happy. Last year, thanks to Habitat for Humanity, they got a house. First they had to clean up their credit report, and then they had to reapply because Habitat had rejected them initially. By then they had another child in addition to Jennifer’s daughter from a prior relationship.
Jennifer volunteers at church and is a sponsor for others in NA. Paul’s pursuing not one, but two college degrees. They know that relapse is a possibility but it doesn’t weigh on them. They’re too busy grabbing onto this second chance and being thankful they finally have a family life.