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Heartbreak in Recovery

Ah, love. One of the most complex sentiments of human connection that is so difficult to quantify into words. Love can create wonderful memories with those around us; it can align our life with someone else; it allows us to get outside of ourselves and consider the needs of others before our own wants and desires. Like anything in life, love is a balance: a never-ending see-saw of emotion that can sway as time goes on. As recovering addicts and alcoholics, we are not the most keen on understanding and expressing our emotions. Many of us turn to drugs and alcohol initially as a means to suppress, enhance, or eliminate any sort of uncomfortable or unfamiliar feeling. In active active addiction, much of what we feel is artificial, a consequence of the toxic substances we ingest into our bodies. However, as we find recovery, and live a life free from drugs and alcohol, our emotions become real; good or bad… they are real. We are forced to process our inner-most reactions to life in an entirely different way. A situation you might eventually face? Heartbreak in recovery.

As we have discussed previously, addiction is a disease of connection. We as human beings crave connection with something, or someone. In active addiction, many of stay completely isolated from the world, shackled by a secret that is our substance of choice. As we stay on the outside-looking-in, we resort to the only connection we know that works: drugs and alcohol.

As we get sober, we still crave connection. 12-Step Fellowship programs allow us to connect with our fellows, a program of recovery, and a spiritual entity of our understanding. This process is crucial to obtaining and maintaining long-term recovery. It provides a safety net of support and an unwavering connection to others that can help us along the way. As we progress through the journey, and we find a firm footing in our program of recovery, we then often seek connection in another form: love and romance.

Now, if you noticed, we said… after we find a firm footing in our program of recovery. We did not express that suggestion by accident. In fact, it is actually a critical component in surviving heartbreak in recovery.

What do we mean? Let’s look at an example.

After many years of active addiction, Chris has finally decided to give recovery a shot. He starts going to meetings every night and enjoys the fellowship of other young people seeking recovery. However, he is hesitant in regards to doing the work, such as getting a sponsor, working the steps, and creating a relationship with a higher power. Nonetheless, Chris is confident that he will stay sober for good. After 90 days sober, Chris meets a young lady at a meeting who he finds attractive and sweet. She has also celebrated 90 days sober, and the two begin talking before and after each meeting. They exchange numbers and commence to see each other outside of meetings where the romantic relationship begins.

Chris is elated. This is the one, he tell himself. This is the girl that will help me in my journey and provide the comfort and support that I need. In the coming weeks, Chris stops attending meetings in order to make more time to spend with his new partner. She has become his entire world, his only source of connection or human contact. His program of recovery had been put on the back burner and far away in the rear view mirror. After weeks together, Chris tells the young lady that he loves her, and that she is the one he wants to spend the rest of his life with. Although enamored with Chris, the young woman is not ready for that sort of commitment, and she informs Chris that she can no longer see him.

Chris is now devastated. He has lost his confidant, his support, his life. He had envisioned many happy years with his newfound love that came to a crashing halt in that one instant. Now, completely alone, Chris has no idea what to do. He hadn’t attended a meeting in weeks; he didn’t have a sponsor; he had no network of friends. All he had was her.

All alone… Chris picks up a drink.

Sound familiar?

Let’s try another example.

Alex finally found recovery after a decade of substance abuse and bad decisions. He started attending meetings, and practiced all the suggestions that were provided to him. He obtained a sponsor; he worked the recovery steps; and practiced a life of service to others. Considering his life to that point, Alex fully committed to changing himself, and making his program of recovery his number one priority.

As the next year goes by, Alex enjoys his new life as a sober man, and with the help of his network, decides it’s time to start dating again. He meets a young lady through some mutual friends with whom he shares many common interests. They begin seeing each other on a regular basis, but Alex remains true to his word that he stay fully committed to his program of recovery. He still attends meetings regularly, calls his sponsor, and interacts with his network.

Alex and the young lady date for over a year, and openly express their love for one another. They imagine ultimately starting a family and building a life together.  One day, Alex finds out she had simultaneously been seeing another man for the last several months. Alex had already experienced trust issues in the past, and this news comes at a complete shock based on the wonderful time they had spent together. Alex stood there stunned and devastated.

His first thought? If I drink, I can make all of this pain go away. Even with over two years sober, his initial reaction still circled around a drink. However, throughout the course of the romantic relationship, Alex never veered off the path to recovery. He continued to practice all of the suggestions that he heard on day one, and those basic, actionable steps are what can ultimately save him during heartbreak in recovery.

Thriving in pain, Alex picks up the phone and calls his sponsor, who suggests he calls another friend in the program to continue to talk about how he is feeling. Alex picks up the phone again and speaks to a friend who also suggest he call another member of the program. This process repeats itself until the sun goes down. From there, Alex attends a 12-Step meeting where he expresses honestly about how he is feeling; he discusses the unbelievable betrayal, lack of self worth, and incredible heartbreak he finds himself experiencing. The room floods Alex with support and encouragement that he can get through this. Alex returns home and falls asleep… as a sober man.

Now, these are very loose examples, and are in no way absolute. But they illustrate the important components of surviving heartbreak in recovery.

Remember, humans seek connection. We seek a connection to something that can give us support, self worth, and unconditional love. Early in recovery, as we are recently separated from the only connection we have known, we tend to seek that bond in the form of other people, in particular romantic relationships. We become convinced that if we can only find the right partner, the man or woman that we want to spend the rest of our life with, we will be fine. We can stay sober.

Unfortunately, in our premature quest to find love, we tend to overlook the necessary and simple steps that are actually designed to keep us clean and sober. They become a chore… a useless series of homework assignments that require us to get uncomfortable and change. Instead, we find it much safer to find a partner and seek connection in the arms of another.

However, it doesn’t always work out that way. Things happen. People move on. People cheat on their partners. People become disinterested. All of the plans we had envisioned in our heads can come to a stop just like that.  From there, we are left to pick up the pieces. We are forced to sit with uncomfortable, and quite debilitating, feelings of heartbreak… of the realization that maybe that person won’t be in our lives forever. As our connection fades, we will result to another form of connection. What will we connect with, then?

Well, if we haven’t taken the necessary action in recovery, we will ultimately resort back to the most comfortable connection we know: drugs and alcohol. Although the relief is temporary, it is all we know. It is the only avenue we know to take the pain away.

On the other hand, if we have taken the time to get to work, to put pen to paper, and to actually try to change ourselves, we don’t have to pick up that drink or that drug. Instead, we can find connection in something bigger than us… something that is unwavering, loyal, and always available: recovery.

We can connect to the program, the all encompassing program that includes the steps, sponsorship, meetings, and service. When we put it all together, we have something that we can rely on; something that will allow us to push through the unrelenting pain that is heartbreak. Recovery doesn’t promise that life will always be great… but it does promise that we don’t have to pick up a drink or drug under any and all circumstances, as long as we do the necessary work.

If you are experiencing heartbreak, you are not alone. It happens. Don’t stop. There will come a day when you don’t feel the way you do right now. Stay on the course. Pick up the phone. Have faith.

As always, if you or a loved one are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out. Our Executive Director is ready for your call to point you in the right direction for treatment services.