Early recovery, relationships, and Valentine’s Day

One mantra people in early recovery hear is that they should avoid major life changes in the first year of recovery. In particular, romantic relationships. While this is certainly an ideal, not every person in substance misuse recovery is able to or even wishes to follow through. Many people come into recovery already in committed relationships. But whether you’ve been with a partner for decades or are facing your first Valentine’s Day alone, there are a few common feelings and situations to anticipate.

Everyone else has a partner except me!” When every commercial on TV and the radio is about what to get your special someone, and every restaurant is promoting a romantic menu with complimentary alcohol, it’s easy to feel unsettled or left out. A brief reality check will quickly show that you know a great many people who are happily single, and also a few who are unhappily partnered up. You can be grateful that you are not in an unhealthy relationship, and that you are building up the character to be happy regardless of your relationship status.

“I don’t know how to be romantic without my substance of choice!” A common misconception is that we were more able to be romantic, or “fun” while we were under the influence. But for people with substance misuse disorders, that “fun” type of using quickly devolved into social, legal, physical, and mental issues. It may feel uncomfortable at first to try to spend quality time with your partner clean and sober, but you will be present in a way that your partner may have been missing for many years. Even a small gesture will be meaningful if it is heartfelt, coming from a clear mind and caring spirit.

“This holiday is all about consumerism!” If you believed what you see in the pharmacy aisles, that might be true. Our society has conditioned us to believe that romance is the same as making a grand gesture, involving spending large amounts of money in order to show that we care. Those grand gestures are merely that – gestures, if they are not supported by real emotions. If your feelings are real, your partner will find them invaluable, regardless of the price tag.

“I just want someone to hold/love me!” If we’ve never spent a significant amount of time single, the physical feelings of loneliness can be especially challenging in early recovery. One healthy way to cope is to invest time in platonic relationships with friends and family members. People who have struggled with substance misuse have often whittled and pared down their social circles, so building those up again is both necessary and soothing when loneliness strikes. Another healthy step is to focus on self-care and self knowledge. When you know who you are, you are not only able to choose better partners for yourself, you are able to be a better, healthier romantic partner.

For more ideas on coping with the stresses of early recovery, visit the Ammon Foundation blog!