Relationships in the First Year of Recovery

The two reasons most people relapse are romance and finances.  These are tough issues to tackle, but very much necessary to ensure that recovery is based upon a solid foundation.   So this week we will take a look at relationships in early recovery and over time as our recovery matures.


The Twelve Steps

Twelve-step literature contains no specific discussion of avoiding relationships in the first year. However, it is almost universally recommended that people in their first year avoid them.   When people would give me this advice back in the day, I would ask why?  More often than not, a deer in the headlights look would come over their face.  Usually they would then say: “That’s what my sponsor told me.”  For me, that was not enough:  I wanted to know why so many people give this advice.

But Why?

A great explanation of the underlying rational for this very sensible advice can  be found at   Here’s what they have to say:

“The problem is not the relationship or the intimacy. It’s the sex. Sex tends to increase one’s level of emotional involvement and intensity of feelings, especially for women. Men tend to cope by splitting off from their feelings; that is, are more likely to engage in sexual relationships while remaining emotionally divorced or superficial. Sex is a trigger for emotional over-involvement or under-involvement relative to the stage of relationship. Either way, each one’s inability to manage his/her own emotional needs and provide self-nourishment will eventually jeopardize the developing relationship.          

What often happens is that sex, exciting enough as it is, often leads to an infusion of romantic feelings, which can further heighten the excitement, which then awakens the “sleeping giant” — the backlog of unmet emotional needs from previous relationships. The “giant” awakens (emotionally) ravenous and is not aware of the extent his/her hunger drives the relationship. Our unmet emotional needs reside in our unconscious and are sealed off from our awareness.

It’s during the first year of recovery that the addict is to learn how to break the cycle of addiction. A year of sobriety and “relationship abstinence” is meant to allow a sufficient amount of time to deal with one’s own emotions without having to resort to his/her addiction, to build self-awareness and to become responsible for one’s own emotional care. Rather than relying on an external source for relief or emotional gain, which is what s/he is accustomed to do, s/he begins to look internally, to rely on oneself as a source of emotional nourishment.

“The most important relationship is with oneself” poses a complete paradigm shift to the recovering addict. If the necessary amount of time to grow the relationship with oneself hasn’t lapsed, chances are the recovering addict will do what they’ve been accustomed to doing all of their lives; that is to look outside of oneself for relief or to make up for what is missing emotionally.”


What About After the First Year?      

The issue of relationships is something that is as relevant in years two, three, four and thereafter.    The reason is simple: we have absolutely no control over another person and when we open ourselves up emotionally, we risk getting hurt.  I often lose site of the potential for being hurt when I am interested in someone.  I tend to focus on the positives and not give enough thought to “what if it does not work out.”  The majority of the suffering in my life has been self-inflicted and relates to this topic.   Another major issue for me and others is that often times, the needs of a potential partner may be completely inconsistent with our own.  They may be in a completely different phase of their life in comparison to our own and as much as we love them (or think we do), it’s just not the right fit.

Another major question is, does the other person respect your sobriety and are they in, or out, of recovery.  I often hear about people who meet in recovery and then one of them goes out, back to their old lifestyle.  Unfortunately, when one person in a relationship gets clean and the other does not that makes for big trouble.  In my opinion, it’s a matter of time before you pick up these bad behaviors again whether this means drinking heavily and/or drinking.  I base this opinion upon years of hearing from recovering addicts at meetings and from friends about people getting dragged down.   Some have even died from returning to their addictive habits.

This is serious stuff so what can we do?


Soulful Power

Given my interest in this issue, I recently attended a one-day Soulful Power Soulful Relationships retreat facilitated by Christian De La Huerta in Lambertville, Pennsylvania.  Christian is a nationally renowned breath expert, author of Coming Out Spiritually and the upcoming book Soulful Power.  At the retreat Christian went into detail about removing the obstacles that we place in our own way to finding love.   His premise is if we look inside of ourselves and recognize the obstacles that keep us from being able to connect spiritually with another human being, we can then remove them.  Once those obstacles are out of the way, we won’t have to look for a meaningful and fulfilling relationship:  It will come to us.


Examine the Ego

So how do we do this?  Christian’s advice is to examine our ego (applying the Eastern meaning to the word) and how it blocks us from connecting spiritually.  Christian went into detail about how our ego wants to “win, be right, look good and survive” at the expense of our happiness and honesty in dealing with others.   Christian pointed out these truths:

“Ego reaches out to the world and grabs and holds onto things.”

“Ego wants to keep everything as it is and doesn’t want anything to change.”

“The ego’s job is to maintain the status quo, no matter what.”


Emotionally Unavailable, Clinging and Projection

Ego forces us to avoid accepting simple truths.  For example, is the person we seek to be in a relationship with “emotionally unavailable” and are we failing to recognize this?  Are we seeking to change or otherwise “rescue” a partner?  Are we projecting onto this person what we want or need for ourselves?  Are we clinging based upon real love or attachment or some other form of codependence?

Really interesting questions to ponder.  When I returned from the retreat I turned these questions into a tenth step inventory and used that inventory to look very closely at myself.


Look Inside for Happiness Rather Than Externally

To help us focus really deep inside, Christian had all the retreat participants practice a specialized breath technique.   We were instructed on how to breath very deeply and then went about doing that for a half-hour.  The technique although exhausting, helped to reach what I would describe as a state of bliss.  Christian described this as the point at which the ego is no longer in control.   With the ego out of the way, I was able to think very deeply and ponder my relationships.

The two points that I seemed to focus on were why I am so attracted to “emotionally unavailable” people and my willingness to look the other way at lies and deceit.   I hate to admit it, but think that both are manifestations of my own tendency to be co-dependent.

It was a powerful experience for my first time participating.  Others who had more practice with the breathing technique went really deep.   It seems that the more times people practice their breathing, the deeper the experience.  One individual, who had fifteen prior retreats, had a powerful and profoundly moving experience that is hard to describe in writing.   The best way to describe it would be to say it was intense:  In a semi-trance like state screaming about how beautiful love is and how “it’s all about love, that’s what it’s all about.  Get rid of the bullshit and it’s all above LOVE”.


My Experience with Relationships in Recovery

            In my first year, I met someone who I liked very much at an AA meeting in Portland Maine.  We both had about two months at the time we met.  We started dating and everything was groovy.  We went to meetings together and did lots of fun stuff together.  Out of nowhere right after we both celebrated six months, this person stopped going to meetings and told me that they no longer had a drinking problem and did not like being referred to as an “alcoholic.”  Within a month, he was smoking pot and drinking wine around me.  He had been reliable and always returned my texts and calls but suddenly would not respond for days.  When I asked what was up, he wouldn’t answer.    It got to the point of him offering me pot and wine as we hung out.  I was very serious about sobriety and so this was not tempting.

I kept thinking about how hurt I was and how devastating the whole situation was for me   I really wanted to remain with this person but I was committed to my recovery and he was not.   I kept thinking about all the people who had warned me not to get into a relationship in the first year. I had ignored them and just did what I felt was best:  The exact same judgment that had failed me in the past was now putting me at jeopardy again.   I put faith in my higher power and ended the relationship.  It was incredibly hard and he was the first person that chose alcohol and drugs over me.  It gave me some insight into how my family and others felt when I chose alcohol and drugs over them.  It’s not fun.


The Fork in the Road

At the time, I did a tenth step inventory about the relationship.  I also drew a fork in the road and did a list of what my life would be like if I took the different directions of the fork.  One fork represented my life if the relationship continued, the other fork represented my life if I ended it and stayed sober.

By doing this, I was able to visualize that in six months or so, the relationship would end whether I liked it or not.   There was not going to be a happy ending with someone who was back using and disappearing for days at a time.  I recognized that by pursing this fork in the road, I would let down my family and the people that really mattered for someone who cared nothing about me and was not capable of caring due to their alcohol and drug use.   I had been down that road before and knew the outcome. It was powerful to sit there and do the inventory along with following the different paths to the consequences to actually recognize that the relationship was not in my long-term best interests.  Affirmatively making this choice to end the clinging and put my own interests over the other person’s was huge.

I ended the relationship, had no further contact with the person and committed to not having any more relationships until I got my own shit together.   I committed to at least one year of relationship abstinence and this wound up lasting for three.


Abstinence from Relationships Permits Internal Reflection


             Prior to being completely unattached to another for a long period of time, I had absolutely no clue how much mental energy and focus a relationship with another person truly is.  When I was in a relationship, or interested in being in one, the other person’s wants, feelings and needs took a major part of my limited mental energy.  We are all human and only have so much room and energy in our minds and hearts.    By intentionally eliminating another person for a period of time, I permitted myself to use my mental energy to reflect on my own wants, feelings and needs. What a concept!

This freed me up to focus on intensely working steps, attending recovery retreats, rebuilding my business, making my financial amends and ensuring my health was restored in a sustainable manner.  I credit abstaining from relationships or evening looking for one, for a couple of years, as an important pillar or foundation for the success of my recovery.   Now, I would like to be in a relationship, but only with someone who values the same lifestyle as me:  That does not mean just attending meetings.  It means someone who understands: the “outside issues” are critically relevant to sobriety from any substance, and who practices the steps in “all of their affairs.”   Even after 5 ½ years sober, I find the majority of my sadness or suffering is self-inflicted as I continue to be attracted to people who are “emotionally unavailable” or just not the right fit.   As they say in the rooms, it’s progress not perfection!

I think being selfish in this respect in early recovery is an incredibly powerful tool to liberate our body and minds from reliance on external factors, in this case, the approval of another person, for our own happiness.  We will never be happy if we look externally for approval or to enhance our self esteem.


Your Own Soul and the Power That Lies Within

The Soulful Power workshop I attended with Christian was an opportunity to reflect on this important topic and learn new tools, such as breath, so I can continue to grow and look deeper into my own soul for the power that lies within.

If you are interested in attending a workshop with Christian, visit his website at

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