Relationships in Early Recovery
While popular mythology in the 12-step recovery circles can be “no relationships for the first year” exists, this is not a mandate nor is it always the best way to steer newly recovering addicts.
Most of those who were instrumental in writing the seminal piece in Alcoholics Anonymous, referred to as the “Big Book,” were married. Only a small handful of those folks were in the process of divorce, it being the 1930s when that was a radical departure from the norm. So this is a construct of latter day advice that is not necessarily the best to heed. This saying imposes something on newcomers that may not benefit them in their process. While it is the easiest way to deal with the issue, it is certainly not the most practical.
Some of those who are in early recovery are still married and have strained relationships with which they must face some uncertainty and discomfort while they begin abstinence. This is tricky maneuvering and should be handled delicately by them and their spouse and children. No one has complete understanding of what this person’s path is to be. Those who would help the newly recovering addict should advise them on what to do in their relationships, nor any other area, to be certain. They must learn to navigate these waters with support, not advice.
For those who would like to begin relationships with others in their early recovery, it can be advised that they take it very, very slowly. Chances are that they will do what they want to anyway, which is the most common thing that happens. If they are well-supported and want to remain sober, they will learn how to clean up any messes they may make in their early attempts at interacting with others. This may happen for them in jobs, in their extended families, or in their relationships with significant others’. Dating in early recovery is challenging, at best, even for those who have long-term abstinence and have worked through many of their issues. Relationships are the litmus paper that opens the doors to fears and personality quirks that may remain buried until the presence of a significant other releases them from hiding. This is a natural part of the recovery process.
While careful counsel will request that they abstain from relationships that are triggers for emotional instability, it is sometimes what proves to the newcomer that their recovery is stable enough to weather the storm. The ups and downs of life will test their ability to abstain, and this area is certainly a powerful challenge to maintain the balance necessary to continue to practice their recovery tools. Lessons that can be learned in relationships may be the most important taught. While not advocating for “jumping into the water,” one can certainly see that it is not always sound advice that they remain abstinent in this arena as well. Practicing spiritual principles is something that takes place in every conceivable part of life; relationships will be the foundation for many of both their recovery and their addiction. It is important that everyone learn to navigate them. Perhaps not well at first, but that is why they continue to “practice” spiritual principles. The lessons learned are certainly worth the risk. If they are dedicated to their recovery, this is an added incentive to remain so.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.