Newly sober and looking for companionship, love, and romance? While tempting to seek another person to share your sober life, you must question if relationships in the first year of sobriety are a good idea.
The First Year of Sobriety
The first year of sobriety comprises 3 stages; treatment initiation, early abstinence, and maintaining abstinence. These stages are the hardest to manage and you must stay focused to prevent relapse.
- Treatment Initiation: The first three months of recovery is the initiation period. This stage starts with withdrawal from the substance of abuse, learn how to deal with cravings, and find what triggers you to want to use. Relapse is easiest as you are still learning the people, places, and things that make you want to abuse substances. It is critical to be focused only on your recovery during this period so many people choose rehab instead of home or outpatient detox.
- Early Abstinence: After treatment begins and detox is over, the next four months are spent in continuing treatment, often from your home environment. During this time, you work on improving your physical condition. This includes finding employment, a safe place to live, and building your support network. Being mindful of your emotional and psychological state of mind is necessary to keep your commitment to sobriety. Attending AA or other recovery meeting is a good way to stay in touch with your emotions while building your support system.
- Maintaining Abstinence: Month nine begins the stage of maintaining abstinence. You may widen your circle of friends and rebuild relationships with family members. Often people make amends for the things they did to others while using substances at this point in recovery. This can challenge as not everyone will accept your apology or amends. Attending meetings and sharing your experiences will help to fight any triggers that come up during this time.
After the First Year
Once you have completed your first year of sobriety, you have entered the advanced recovery stage. Triggers and cravings still occur during the advanced recovery stage, but you are better equipped to handle them. By this time, you have established a recovery support team, including a sponsor you can call in the rough moments. You may even sponsor other newly sober people.
Most recovery teams encourage you to wait until this time to begin an intimate relationship as you are better equipped to handle the emotional ups and downs that intimacy brings. While your team may tell you that relationships in the first year of sobriety is not a good idea, they will not tell you to end a relationship if you are already involved with someone else.
While ending intimate relationships in the first year of sobriety is not demanded, a few situations call for consideration.
Reasons to Avoid or End Intimate Relationships in The First Year of Sobriety
Intimate relationships can reward and strengthen your resolve to stay sober. Sometimes those relationships put your sobriety at risk.
- If you are in an intimate relationship that is abusive, your sponsor or recovery team may suggest ending that relationship. Abuse is not only dangerous to your physical well-being, but it undermines your emotional resolve to stay sober. Emotional abuse is just as dangerous as physical.
- If you are in an intimate relationship with someone who is still abusing substances, your recovery team may recommend you end the relationship until the other person is also in recovery. It may take years for your partner to hit bottom and want recovery. In the meantime, your sobriety is at stake every time you see your partner abusing substances. Easily available drugs and alcohol left over from your partner is also dangerous to your sobriety.
- Another reason you might avoid intimate relationships in your first year of sobriety is because you may substitute dependency on chemicals with dependency on a person. Relationships suffer when you use a person as your daily fix. Instead of growing as an independent and sober person, you may be tempted to base your sobriety on your partner. Rather than fall into that trap, consider abstinence from relationships in the first year of sobriety.
If abuse is not an issue and you are already in a committed relationship, consider asking for more support from your partner.
How Your Partner Can Help You Through and Beyond the First Year
If you are in a committed relationship, ask your partner for help to keep sober. Tell your partner you need certain things to help you stay in recovery. Offer a list of your needs and ask your partner to do the same.
Some of your needs during the first year of recovery may include:
- Time away from the relationship to attend recovery meetings. Be specific as to the number of meetings you need to attend weekly.
- Time away from the relationship to focus on yourself and balancing your emotional life.
- Removal of drugs and alcohol from the home. If you live separately, you can also ask your partner to put any drugs or alcohol away, preferable locked up or completely out of the home.
- Change of social circles. Even if you and your partner are clean, you may need to avoid people and places that are a trigger for substance abuse.
- Ask your partner to attend Al-Anon or CoDA. While not mandatory for the relationship to thrive, these meetings will help your partner understand your past choices and need for meetings now. Your partner may also learn how to handle situations with compassion and tough love should you relapse.
You may have more needs than those listed. Write them down and then talk about them with your partner. It may be a good idea to review both lists with a relationship counselor to help negotiate any difficult needs. If you both understand the difficulties of addiction recovery and want to work on the relationship, you can grow in recovery together.
What to Do When Struggling with Intimate Relationships in The First Year of Sobriety
If you are struggling to keep your sobriety during the first year of recovery because of a difficult relationship, talk to your partner. If he or she is not willing to discuss the problem, then you need to talk to your recovery support team.