When Keith went to rehab, it was the hardest day of my life, outside of the days I lost my grandparents. The man I spent every waking moment with when I wasn’t at work was going away for 30 days and for the first few days, we wouldn’t be able to talk at all. It was scary. It was terrifying. But it was the best thing to ever happen to him, me, and us.
His recovery forced me to go into recovery of my own, causing a long line of emotional roadblocks that prevented me from truly supporting him. Although I started dating Keith long before his recovery, there are things I wish I would have known about or read about before he came home, because it was an experience I wasn’t really prepared for.
Problems Don’t Go Away
As someone that battles with anxiety and depression, I’m the queen of thinking of the worst-case scenarios. Whether Keith was drunk or sober, I was always worried that each fight was the final straw. And that was often because everything was a fight. Our most common arguments were about the dishwasher and stopping at gas stations. Completely silly now, but they were very real arguments for us.
We don’t argue about that stuff anymore, though, we still have our fair share of problems. Many of them stem from me being the queen of worst case scenarios because while he was gone, I couldn’t stop the thought that Keith’s sobriety is going to make him realize he doesn’t want me. I talked to a lot of women in my position and read a lot of stories, both good and bad, but the bad outweighed the good and my mind went dark. Keith’s verbal reassurance did little good and it became our new topic for fighting. I really had to embrace the serenity prayer, because I realized I couldn’t stop him if it happened and I needed to stop worrying about the future. One day at a time.
We still fight. We are just like any other couple in that respect, but our problems are different now. We weren’t able to ignore our past arguments though, we had to discuss them, figure out a solution or compromise before we moved on.
With Keith beginning work on Step 4 now, I can imagine more problems from the past will be brought up, but it’s important for both of us to know that it’s normal and that we need to discuss to move on.
You Still Won’t Be Number 1
When Keith was in active addiction, alcohol was his number one, and still is as he is in early recovery. It can take an addict years to get rid of the obsession. It would have been his hospital emergency contact if that was possible. I fought for affection and attention, often leading to big fights just so I could feel like he noticed me. Like mentioned above, I worried that I was no longer going to be good enough for him when he was discharged. I thought that when he came home if he still loved me, he’d be able to focus on me and our relationship. He does pay more attention to me now, but not in the way I originally thought.
Keith’s sobriety is the most important thing in his life and it took awhile for me to adjust to that because instead of him being home 24/7, he was almost never home. I quickly became jealous of anyone and everyone who got to see him and spend time with him, the other patients in outpatient therapy and at meetings. With time and dedication to recovery of my own, I was able to take a step back and appreciate the time he was spending away from home because, in the end, the alternative is worse. I’m happy to take a backseat to his sobriety.
It’s hard to comprehend and accept the fact that you won’t be the number one priority in your significant other’s life because that’s not how it’s supposed to be, right? Your addict’s or alcoholic’s sobriety is their life. Without their sobriety, life goes back to the way it was, and it had to be pretty bad for them to seek recovery. So while they are taking time to care for themselves, take time to care for yourself.
Self Care is Important
Oddly, one of the hardest parts of adjusting to our new life was learning to love me. Anxiety and depression don’t generally hang around self-confidence and self-esteem. Going to the family program at Keith’s rehab facility, I was told over and over again that I needed to focus on myself. How could I do that when my boyfriend was in rehab and I was managing everything alone? That would be selfish of me to focus on myself at a time like this!
At least that’s what I thought. Looking back, taking care of myself was what gave Keith the peace of mind that I was doing okay. I went and got my hair done and my nails done. I spent time with friends and family I hadn’t seen in awhile.
But continuing the self-care when Keith came home is when it got hard. When Keith was away, I moped around because I was jealous of the time he was spending away. I’m still working on the self-care, but it’s important to know that you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.
You Can’t Fix Everything
Step One of Al-Anon says everything you need to know about your role in your addict’s addiction. You are not the cause, therefore you can not fix it.
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.”
I’m a fixer. I’m drawn to people and situations I can fix. But I can’t fix Keith. I can’t fix his alcoholism. It’s still taking me time to realize that. You have no control over what your addict or alcoholic does. If they relapse, that is on them, not you. That is not something you can fix. If you find yourself trying to fix things, detach. Detach with love.
Leave the Judgement at the Door
When you are part of a recovering addict’s or alcoholic’s life, you meet and likely spend time with recovering addicts and alcoholics. Every stereotype you’ve ever learned about who and what an addict and alcoholic is changed because you learn that addiction doesn’t play favorites: it takes hold of the lives of people from all walks of life.
You learn to not judge someone before you hear their story. Just because someone is an addict doesn’t mean they are a bad person. It can be hard to adjust your way of thinking. Because of the heroin/opioid epidemic, stories of overdose are seen in the news daily. The comments on these stories are harsh:
“It’s a choice people. They CHOSE to use the first time. It’s NOT a disease like CA, MS, etc….they may not have consciously chosen to die like this, but they DID choose to use, with no regard for family or friends. Especially those children they left behind. WTH is wrong with people?!?”
“I’m sorry but these parents were pathetic. There is absolutely NO excuse. I’ve been at the lowest of the low with what I’ve been through the last 5 years of my life and I would never do this to my children. Disgusting.”
Most of the time, these comments come from people who are uneducated on the disease concept. Addiction is classified as a disease by most medical associations including the American Medical Association. But how could addiction be a disease when they chose to do it? People with diabetes didn’t choose that! Just like diabetes, cancer, or any other disease, addiction is caused by a combination of environmental, behavioral, and biological factors. When you start to learn about addiction as a disease, you understand that it does not discriminate. The sooner you understand that the sooner you’ll open up to the amazing men and women you meet in sobriety.
I’m still learning the ropes of our new life, but each day I’m happier than the last. It’s not easy being in a relationship with someone who is essentially in a relationship with themselves and their sponsor, but those relationships will make your relationship stronger if you let them. Reach out to other people who have been in your position. Attend Al-Anon meetings. Find a sponsor. Dating a recovering addict or alcoholic is rewarding and complicated; fulfilling and emotional; and for me, it is worth it.
What are some of the things you learned dating a recovering addict or alcoholic?