Breaking up is hard to do. Add an alcoholic mind to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for incessant texts and phone calls, erratic, self-destructive behavior, and a deep-running resentment that may take years to effectively work through. One of the most common (and ignored) suggestions that a newcomer will receive is, “Don’t enter into a relationship in your first year of sobriety.”
“One year,” the newcomer will chortle at the absurdity of this recommendation while dramatically rolling his or her eyes. “Yeah, okay. Thanks for the golden advice.” Of course, some will heed the good-intentioned guidance and stay away from intimate endeavors until they have worked through all 12 steps and gotten the ‘okay’ from their elders. Some will spend a year or more focused solely on their own self-betterment, learning to authentically love themselves before attempting bring anyone else into the mix. More often than not, however, eyes will lock from across the meeting room, lustful sparks will fly, and an ill-fated relationship will begin to unfold.
Alcoholics Love to Learn the Hard Way
It seems as if most alcoholics prefer to learn the hard way – from their own mistakes, rather than from the mistakes of others. It also seems as if those in early recovery, those who still lack a spiritual solution, will desperately attempt to fill the void created by a newfound lack of chemical substance with anything that will temporarily alleviate the hollow ache. For some the fleeting relief may come from food, for some it may come from work or money or an unhealthy focus on personal appearance. For many, it comes from sex and relationships. Not only does entering into a relationship in early recovery distract an individual from truly focusing on him or herself, but it can also be exceedingly dangerous.
Before we are firmly footed in our recovery, we lack the skills necessary to handle uncomfortable emotions. We are so used to turning to drugs and alcohol as a means of alleviating emotional pain, that when the substances are taken away we are left completely without adequate coping mechanisms. This is why, in early recovery, we do our very best to avoid situations that could result in heartbreak. We simply do not know how to deal. The inevitable pain of heartbreak could mean a relapse into old behavioral patterns – namely drinking and using, but also potentially sleeping around, engaging in risky and self-defeating behavior, or falling deep into a bitter morass of isolation and self-pity.
How to Get Through a Break-Up in Early Recovery
There is undeniable method to the madness of this seemingly ludicrous suggestion. Don’t get into a relationship in early recovery – you will not know how to handle the almost inexorable break-up, and you will be distracting yourself from the invaluable opportunity to work on advancing your emotional, spiritual, and mental health. Of course, in many cases, it is still going to happen. We’ve all got a little alcoholic rebellion engrained in us somewhere. So when the love of your life (or all of two weeks) suddenly stops responding to your texts, what do you do? Scream and cry and threaten to head to the local dive bar for some $4 well drinks and promiscuous sex? Shut down, remove yourself from life entirely, and weep alone in your halfway house bedroom for days on end? No, probably neither of these options will truly help the situation. Instead, try implementing the five following pieces of advice.
- Reach out.
Raise your hand in a meeting and share honestly about where you are at. Call up your sponsor and let him or her know that you are struggling, and that you will be in dire need of some additional support for the next month or so. Call up your friends and ask them if they want to watch sad movies and cry with you. There is no shame in asking for help; surround yourself with authentic friends who will love you and support you no matter what.
- Dive into your program head first.
There is no better time to dive into your stepwork and take on new service commitments! Ask your sponsor if you can up the ante, and attend some business meetings to pick up several service commitments, such as chairing a meeting, greeting attendees at the door, or making coffee. Being as involved as possible will not only help take your mind off things, but being of service will help to build your sense of self-esteem and self-worth.
- Help another alcoholic.
There is truly no better way to get out of your own head than by helping another individual – preferably someone who has it a little worse off than you do. Not only will this help you to put things in perspective (you will overcome this break-up, things truly could be worse), but helping someone else will provide you with the sense of purposefulness that is necessary to overcoming self-defeating behavioral patterns. Recognizing that you have something of substance to contribute to others will help to smash self-pity and build up an unwavering sense of usefulness and dignity.
- Take up a healthy hobby.
Rather than resorting back to self-destructive coping mechanisms like promiscuity and isolation, take up a healthy hobby like yoga, kayaking, painting, or volunteering at a local animal shelter. Fill your free time with activities that will boost your confidence and benefit your recovery. Of course, this is easier said than done when all you want to do is curl up into a ball and cry. Ask a friend to join you and hold you accountable if need be. Say, “No matter how much a resist and complain, drag me out of the house at 10 a.m. for a spin class.” Just get out there and do it.
- Allow yourself to grieve.
Breaking up sucks. It just simply hurts, and it always will and there is no way around that. Rather than desperately try to alleviate the pain in any way humanly possible, allow yourself to experience it. Cry. Write poems, sit alone in darkness (for a limited amount of time), and cry. Feelings are always, always temporary. No matter how low you are feeling in the moment, in a week or a month or a year you are absolutely guaranteed to be in an entirely different emotional space. Allow yourself to feel, knowing that once you break through the other side of this grief you will be a stronger, more independent, and more capable human being. Walk through this transitory heartache and reap unimaginable, lasting benefits.
Walking Through Grief Will Always Make Us Stronger
Believe it or not, the above-listed steps to overcoming heartache will come in handy throughout the remainder of your journey in sobriety (which will hopefully last a lifetime). No matter what emotionally uncomfortable situation you are going through, reaching out, helping another alcoholic, and allowing yourself the opportunity to grieve and experience the discomfort will help you to heal and grow stronger. Breaking up is never fun, that is for certain – but once you have established and honed a solid set of coping skills, walking through emotional pain will be far less risky than it can be in early recovery. Once you have learned to love yourself independently, you will be far better equipped to heal from the heartache of romantic loss.
Take time to develop a relationship with yourself, first and foremost. Establish authentic, honest friendships with members of the same sex, and work towards developing a relationship with a higher power. When the universe sees fit, an amazing individual will be placed into your life – usually as soon as you stop looking. Try to have faith that everything is unfolding just as it is meant to, and remember – you are never, ever alone.