In A.A., they say to wait at least a year before entering into a relationship, the idea being before you can love somebody else you must first learn how to love yourself. But what if loving yourself just isn’t possible? What if in order to love yourself you must first know that you can be loved?
The following is an example of how an addictive relationship can end up being a saving grace for two hopeless addicts. And how to overcome codependency in relationships. Your messages, comments and opinions about relationships in the first year of sobriety are welcomed at the end.
Love and euphoric feeling
In her poignant first book Is it Love or is it Addiction?, author and psychologist, Brenda Schaffer, explains that love, like drugs and alcohol, can produce a state of euphoria in the brain characterized by the release of “feel good” neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin. The result is an alteration in brain chemistry whereby we can become physically dependent on the object of our love.
Starting relationships in A.A.: wait a year or not?
This explains why my sponsor in A.A. kept telling me to wait at least a year before getting involved in a codependent relationship with an addict. As he explained it, by giving myself enough time to heal in recovery, I’d be less likely to use a relationship as a substitute for drugs and alcohol. Of course, being the smart kid I thought I was, I didn’t really think this rule applied to me. You see, I was different. I was special. I never had a real girlfriend when I was in high school or college. I never went out on dates. I never went out to parties. And while everyone else was out drinking, having a good time, hooking up with one another, I was sitting by myself in a dark, lonely apartment, downing bottle after bottle of bourbon and scotch whiskey. I figured this exempted me from the “no relationship for a year” suggestion. I took it even a step further and deluded myself into believing that a relationship was the only thing that could actually keep me sober. I mean, if isolation was my biggest trigger, then what better way to avoid being alone than by going out and finding a girlfriend?
My mission = find a woman
So, I made it my personal mission to go out and find a woman. And I didn’t have go very far either. My A.A. home group in Houston was chalk full of ‘em; skinny ones, fat ones, short ones, tall ones, black ones, brown ones, white ones, red ones…girls with black hair, girls with brown hair, girls with red hair, even girls with blue hair! They were everywhere. And the best part was…they were just as desperate and hopeless as I was. But, being the shy, socially awkward chemical engineer I was, I had a real difficult time initiating the required coquettish conversation. In fact, anytime I tried approaching a good-looking female my hands and knees started shaking so bad it looked I was still going through alcohol withdrawal. It gave me so much anxiety that I started fantasizing about glasses of wine as possible calming mechanisms. Of course, that would defeat the whole purpose. So, I hung it up for a while, and instead of trying to talk to girls and making myself nervous, I sat in the back of the meeting and just listened.
But then something magical happened. One day, while I was at home staring at the checkerboard pattern of wine stains tattooed in my apartment carpet, I got a call from a girl (let’s call her Vicky) whom I had met only two weeks earlier while detoxing at a hospital in downtown Houston. It turns out, I had given her my cell number and told her to call me, but I guess I was so drugged up that I had completely forgotten. Anyway, she said she was going to a twelve-step meeting at the detox hospital (they had alumni meetings there on the weekends) and wanted to know if I was interested in joining. “Hell yeah,” I said. “I’d love to join you.”
I brushed my teeth, threw on a nice sweater, laced up my shoes, and hopped in my Toyota Corolla. She lived all the way out in the boonies with her mom in a small farm town called Alvin, TX (the same town Nolan Ryan grew up in, consequently.) It took me nearly an hour to find it, and another hour on top of that to drive back to Houston for the alumni meeting. We had a good time though, talking, laughing, and sharing our addiction “war stories.” After two years of drinking in isolation, it felt great to be able to connect like that to someone.
Once the meeting was over, I took her out to dinner at Pappadeux’s. Then, we went back to my apartment and watched a movie about heroine addiction called, “Things We Lost in the Fire.” Now, I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong…nothing happened. Being the shy Southern gentleman I am, I offered her my bed while I slept on the sofa. There was absolutely no funny business; no getting up in the middle of the night and slipping under the covers, no team showers, not even so much as a bare nipple.
The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, and drove out to Bellaire for an early morning meeting that Vicky had heard about from her sponsor. After it was over, we had lunch and I drove Vicky back to her mom’s house out in the country.
I started getting addicted to the relationship
It went on like this for several months. After on work on Friday, I’d pick her up from her mom’s house and take her to the alumni meeting, after which we’d have dinner then crash at my apartment. We spent the whole weekend together, going to meetings, watching movies, and basically just keeping each other sober. We even went skydiving one weekend and wakeboarding another. It didn’t take long for me to develop some strong feelings for Vicky. Not only was she a sexy little Hispanic coke addict (what else could you ask for in a woman?), but she was also the only person in my life at that time who still wanted to be around me. Everyone else was gone, because I’d turned my back on them; my parents, my friends, my sister, my brother…I pushed them all away, because I was too ashamed of all the horrible things I’d said and done to them. But Vicky was different, because she didn’t really know me. She didn’t know that I hit my mom in the face and sent her to the hospital. She didn’t know that my dad called the cops and had me locked up in prison. She didn’t know any of this, because I never told her, and, in exchange, Vicky never told me anything about herself, at least, not anything too personal.
Starting over and keeping each other sober
But, could you love someone you didn’t know? No, probably not. But so what? That’s the way we liked it. It gave us a chance to start over and be different people. We didn’t have to face our shame and all those poison memories—we could just put them on a shelf somewhere and try to move forward. So, what if it wasn’t real love? So, what if we were just codependent? We kept each other sober and that’s all that mattered, right?
Then, it came to an end
Well, after about four months of seeing each other, Vicky suddenly stopped coming over. A dozen or so unanswered voicemails later she finally called me back and told me we couldn’t see each other anymore. She said she was getting back together with her ex-husband, who, it seems, had divorced her while she was in rehab, kicked her out of the house, and confiscated her vehicle. This explained why she was living all the way out in Alvin with her mother and always needed a ride to meetings. But, now, since she had proved she could stay sober for more than a few hours, her ex-husband was willing to take her back and “re-marry” her. She no longer needed me to pick her up and take her to meetings, because she got her car back, not to mention her house and her husband, whom she was still in love with.
Needless to say, I was completely shattered. I felt betrayed and used and fell into a deep, dark depression. I quit going to meetings. I quit calling my sponsor. (I never really liked him in the first place. The only reason I had him was because he was married to Vicky’s sponsor). After about a week of sulking, I started contemplating drinking, which at that point in my career was the same thing as contemplating suicide. You see, I had built my entire recovery around Vicky, and without her, I had nothing. I was lost. I was right back where I started.
Picking up the pieces
Now, I’d like to say I relapsed and fell out of the program and ended up on the street eating from a trash can. That would make this article all the better by driving home the “dangers of love addiction”. Unfortunately or fortunately, my story isn’t as neat and clear-cut as others on this topic. In fact, it’s downright confusing. I still haven’t completely figured it out. But, let me try…
The four months I spent with Vicky was the longest stretch I ever had staying sober, and somehow, it was just enough to “free” me from not just the physical, but also the psychological dependence I had on alcohol. By keeping me sober for those first ninety days out of detox, Vicky became a sort of crutch for my recovery…meaning she helped me to “walk” while I was still wounded, until I was healthy enough to “walk” on my own.
Is codependency all that bad?
Without really knowing it, we were using each other for similar reasons. I was using her love and friendship as a reason to stay sober, while she was using my car and apartment to get her life back together. And even though I was hurt that she left me for her ex-husband, I will always “love” her for being my friend when I most needed it. If it wasn’t for her, I would’ve never gotten sober and reconnected my family, and I certainly wouldn’t have had the chance to write about it in my first novel, Some Are Sicker Than Others. This makes me question the whole codependency issue and makes me wonder if an addictive relationship is really as horrible as all the experts make it out to be.
Relapse is always a possibility
I guess, if we would’ve kept going like that, things may have ended up in ruin. We may have relapsed and ended up falling out of the program, getting high, getting drunk, and spiraling down that wormhole. She could’ve gotten pregnant and ended up having an abortion or losing the baby due to drug complications, prompting her ex-husband to come back, rescue her, and shoot me in the process.
A happy ending
Either way, I think it worked out for the better, because, today, I’m happy to say I’m in a nice, healthy relationship with a girl, who I not only love, but who actually loves me in return. Sure, we encounter obstacles like in any other relationship, but never to the point where I’ve felt like my sobriety was in jeopardy.
A.A. and relationships: what about your story?
At that, I’d like to hear some of you’re stories about addictive relationships and the effect they had on you, either positive or negative. If you feel so compelled, please post a little ditty about how codependence either ruined you or, as in my case, ended up being recovery “training wheels.”
Photo credit: tanakawho