older couple smiling outsideIf you have gone to rehab or even just been in early recovery inside the rooms of AA or NA, you have always heard this advice, ‘Wait a year before you get into a new romantic relationship.’ Now keep in mind, that general time frame is a year provided that you are doing work on yourself and your recovery.

That’s the problem though, that one line is thrown around so much that it’s nearly a trope or a joke in rehabs. There isn’t a ton of vital information explained afterwards and that’s why I’m here today. I got sober in my mid 20’s and while never getting into an early recovery relationship myself, I have seen plenty occur among my peers. I’ve also worked in treatment for years, I’ve seen countless rehab romances and early AA’ers ‘fall in love at first sight’. I’m not exaggerating when I say this, I’ve never seen one succeed. Not one.

Why is that you ask? Let’s look at a few reasons.

Early Recovery Is About YOU

woman smiling while holding her hands in the shape of a heart

As we go through our active addiction lifestyle, we lose touch with just about every facet of our life and how to live it. We lose jobs, lose valuable relationships, goals and many other valuable things. You get it, we lose a lot!

That means that once we enter recovery, we are working on building a new life and restoring many damaged areas of life. We absolutely must focus on ourselves in order to accomplish getting a new clean life.

Meeting somebody else romantically early in that process completely takes the focus off of yourself. It can create a total halt in your growth. Why’s that? It’s because meeting someone new and being mutually interested is a massive distraction.

You are entering a period of profound self-discovery. Just starting to learn who you really are, and learning to love yourself. The last thing you want to do is add a new person into your life that will take the focus off yourself. Reteaching yourself how to live, clean and sober, takes a lot of time and effort.

A New Dependency

We all know, meeting someone new who we are interested in who is also interested in us feels great. I will go as far to even say it feels like a drug, some scientists claim it stimulates the same parts of the brain as cocaine.

I’m not saying you will get addicted to meeting new partners (I mean, you might?) but I am saying that experiencing something that feels so good could satiate the same needs that drugs did. That means, no more urgency to build a new life, no more self-reflection and changing, and no more building on other relationships so much because you have a new one at the center of your world.

What does it look like when you do become ‘addicted’ to a new love interest in your life, though?

Here are a few ways it can sabotage your early recovery.

  • Complete loss of focus on self
  • Major shift in priorities
  • False sense of security, happiness and fulfillment
  • Codependency
  • Lack of coping skills if something goes wrong

Just like any other addiction there can be consequences, serious ones. The biggest consequence being relapse. I personally have witnessed many early recovery relationships end by relapse, sometimes by only one person, other times both of them do. Relapsing is something you never think of when you first meet a new love interest in early recovery, but it can happen so fast and when you least expect it.

The Reality Of Things

sitting on a bench outsideOften when I sponsor men in early recovery and they talk about a girl they just met, I bring them to reality about things. I talk about the insecurity that crops up if the girl doesn’t respond to a text for a few hours. I ask how they will feel if they see this new girl sitting next to a guy other than them at a meeting. I’ll question what they have to offer to anyone else right now with only a few months sober.

You see, we are very raw and sensitive in early recovery. We are experiencing life without being numb for the first time in a long time. So if we meet someone who piques our interest in more than a friendly way and we find out the feeling is mutual, it is real easy to let that narcotic-like feeling make us completely delusional.

That delusion can completely destroy somebody’s recovery before it ever really took off. What starts off as a teenager-like crush, many times ends in overdose and death. I am not exaggerating this, I know plenty of men and women who have passed away because they got distracted from an early recovery relationship which ultimately led to relapse and an overdose.

I always tell single people in early recovery that if they can stay single for a while and learn to be completely content with it, that they will be untouchable. No single person can affect their day. There will be such an upheaval of growth, self-esteem and self-love if they stay single and work on themselves. After that is done for some time, they can assess what they want in a romantic partner and go look for it without having to attach themselves to the first person who shows interest.

It’s very common to feel alone in early recovery, especially if you are away from family. It’s also common to wonder how anyone could ever love you when your self-esteem is so low. Instead of seeking out someone who is just as sick as you to cover up those feelings, find support and work a program to address those emotions head on and give yourself the opportunity to actually do something about them.

Daniel Wittler

Daniel Wittler is a writer in recovery from New Jersey. He is also a recovery advocate for Carolina Center for Recovery and absolutely believes that anyone can get and stay sober provided they take action in their own recovery every single day. His writing has been published on The Mindful World, Best Self Magazine, Life as a Human and many ... Read Full Bio »

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