There’s nothing like active alcoholism to ruin a romantic relationship (and everything else in your life). When I was drinking, I was incredibly selfish. I disregarded my partner’s feelings, my own safety, and other people’s relationships. I was a hot mess, to say the least. I’m not going to lie to you and say that my love and sex life is perfect now that I’m more than three years sober, but it’s a hell of a lot healthier. Here are 11 ways that being in recovery has healed my relationships:
I have a solid support network. I used to turn to booze for everything. It was my comfort, my lover, and best friend. Alcohol whispered sweet nothings to me and pulled me into oblivion when the world became too much to bear. This pattern stopped working, though, and ultimately booze hurt more than it helped. Instead of turning to alcohol for support, I now reach out to solid friends, mentors, and peers who show me unwavering love and care. Their support doesn’t come at the cost of a throbbing hangover (emotionally or physically). Instead, I wake up feeling good about who and what is in my life.
I’m better able to be honest — with myself and others. I used to say that I was one of the most honest people ever and I meant it. I always said how I felt and did my best to tell the truth. The problem with being an active alcoholic, though, is that we’re the absolute best at lying to ourselves and not knowing it. Constant delusion prevented me from growing and deepening my relationships. Now that I’m clear-headed, my own bullsh*t meter reads much better. I can be honest with myself, making it easier to be honest with others.
I’m far less impulsive. Add liquid courage to the libido of a 13-year-old boy (that was what my sex drive felt like) and I had one impulsive sexual decision after another. I was attracted to someone, I chased after them, and then I got what I wanted… all within the course of a few hours or days. There was no thought or consideration of consequences. Now, sobriety has given me a pause. As Viktor E. Frankl said, “Between the stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Today, I have more space to make a less impulsive choice.
I’m learning to respect loyalty in relationships. It wasn’t that I was a bad person, I was sick with the disease of alcoholism. I made endless excuses for my behavior and I believed my most intricate lies. One of them was that it wasn’t my problem that someone’s boyfriend wanted to sleep with me. Or, I’d think that it wasn’t a big deal that I cheated as long as I told my partner. I thought he’d get over it. Now, I’m learning that being unloyal really hurts. It causes pain for me, the other person, and any partners involved. Cheating creates a toxic ripple. I’m learning to respect loyalty in my own relationships and in those around me.
Without having booze to blame, I now have to take ownership of my mistakes. Just because I’m sober doesn’t mean that I’m magically cured of human imperfections. I still can and do make a muck of things without alcohol. Just last year I found myself in an emotional entanglement with a married man. It was totally inappropriate and it really broke my heart that I was still playing out old patterns even in recovery. Not having booze to blame, though, meant that I had to get honest. I joined Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous to deal with my pattern of chasing unavailable people and to own my part in the situation.
I hate myself so much less. I’d even dare to say I love myself. In active alcoholism, you’d better believe that I thought that I was the biggest piece of crap. I wouldn’t have told you that, though — I’d probably tell you that I thought I was the best. Still, I had a terrible relationship with myself. Today I’d dare to say that I love myself most days. Even on those days I’m beating myself up, I know that I am so lovable and worthy.
Safety is a priority. It’s heartbreaking how many women in alcoholic recovery have experienced rape and sexual assault. Being a survivor myself, it felt like the norm. Now I know that I don’t have to live in that world anymore. Regularly blacking out and putting myself in situations with people I didn’t know or trust left me at higher risk. Rape is never anyone’s fault but the rapist’s, but I didn’t help the matter with the quantities I drank and where I drank them. Now I take my safety very seriously. Just eliminating alcohol and toxic people from my life has done wonders.
I’m learning to make peace with being alone. Nobody could make me get sober. No matter how many arrests I had or days of work I missed, I had to hit my own emotional bottom to become willing to let go of booze. Just like how no one else could cure my alcoholism, no one else can fix any other part of my life that feels broken or incomplete. I say that I’m still learning to make peace with being alone because it is a continuous struggle. But, I’m learning in my heart that the only way I can experience true happiness in partnership with another human being is by being totally content with myself.
People actually ask me for dating advice. I’m still absolutely shocked by this; it sort of feels like a cosmic joke after being a hot mess for so long. But, one benefit of coming up from rock bottom is that I’m uniquely useful to others who struggle with similar issues. I may still be slightly crazy in my love and sex life, but I now have perspective and experience to offer other people (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). Need a somewhat-sane, but also still insane buddy to bounce your situation off of? I’ve got you.
I’ve developed a sense of self. One benefit to breaking up with alcohol is that I had a gaping hole in my life afterward. Though it didn’t feel like a good thing at first, I slowly filled that hole with activities, people, and creative pursuits that make me feel whole. Rather than being defined by alcohol or whoever I was dating at the time, I’m now defined by the lovely activities in my life like spending a ton of time at my Buddhist center, freelance writing, working at a startup, playing hockey, being a queer activist, and sponsoring other alcoholic women. Having a sense of self makes life worth living.
The quality of the people in my life has dramatically improved. I used to have friends who would literally leave me blacked-out with strangers in strange places. My friends were lackluster at best. As the Alcoholics Anonymous textbook says, “I made a host of fair-weather friends.” Now, I can’t even express the love I have in my life. I have literally dozens of people who show up for me through thick and thin. They’re there for me when my mental health is crap, when I’m making a mess again, and when I’m on-the-beam, throwing sober parties. I now surround myself with the best of the best, in dating and in friendships.
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