The one thing that many people (especially young people) hear in the world of recovery is the suggestion that one wait a year into sobriety before developing a new romantic relationship. I use the word ‘hear’ rather than remember, for good reason. Although it may not hold true for everyone, it’s an extremely sound piece of advice as a general rule of thumb. When in recovery, especially in the early stages, most of us are emotionally raw, not to mention highly vulnerable. For these to aspects alone, building a relationship during treatment is going to be done on shaky ground; hence the recommendation.
Sondra V. is a 26-year old recovering addict who entered treatment for the first time two years ago. During her first three months, she developed a very hasty relationship with another resident, which soon evolved into a romantic entanglement, despite advice to the contrary from her counselor. “Looking back on it now,” she sighs “I think it was out of boredom. I convinced myself that I was restless and a relationship would be the best thing for me, and would allow me to ‘grow’. What I realize now is that I was just trying to find something to distract me from my recovery.” The romance, set in the backdrop of rehab, was fraught with drama, recrimination and very public displays of anger and accusations ( just the kind of thing one needs in a developing relationship… ) It also ended very badly, with both residents bailing out of treatment to do the ole ‘co-dependent relapse shuffle’. Luckily, Sondra made it back to treatment after six months. Her former paramour wasn’t so lucky, and has other accommodations via the county of Los Angeles.
All this isn’t to say that one cannot develop a significant relationship treatment; it can happen, but it is far more uncommon than thought. The obstacles are great for everyone, no matter what age. One of the most paramount is that when one is in treatment, we are there to work on ourselves, first and foremost. A relationship can be a colossal distraction for anyone. Aside from this, during treatment – especially in the early stages – our judgment is reasonably skewed, and emotions are usually raw. Many other, more clinical factors rear their ugly heads in these situations. For instance, for many opiate addicts, by nature of the drug itself, the libido has been fairly dormant for most of the active addiction. Upon detox…how can we say? Everything and anything looks possible; not exactly solid ground for building a genuine relationship.
Another factor is pre-existing emotional and physical abuse. A large ratio of women (and sometimes men) in recovery have some form of emotional and/or sexual abuse in their past; part of the reason they are in recovery and/or therapy is to work on these issues, whether they know it upon arriving in treatment or not. The intensity of their vulnerability is exceptionally high, and all of this goes hand in hand with poor or deprived judgment.
After all of this, many may still ask, “But why wait a year?” It really boils down to the fact that the mind, body and spirit need time to rebuild themselves. Neurologically, your brain is actually learning how to work again during treatment, and this relates to the ability to make sound judgments of others and our own motivations, and the early stages of treatment are probably not the best place for this. The more time you take to truly and completely heal, the more you will reclaim your life and soul, and the stronger you’ll be for that significant other…who will be there in good time.