One of the major challenges for me in sobriety was learning how to have healthy relationships. I had no idea how to be around other people and what my role was as a daughter, a sister, a friend, or even a co-worker. I had pretty much alienated everyone and the idea of rebuilding these relationships was quite overwhelming. I desperately wanted to have real connections with people but I also found relationships confusing and hard to manage.
My romantic relationships as well, had always been dysfunctional. I believed that love should be like the kind that is often portrayed in the movies – intense, with over the top romance and deep connections. I believed that if I had that kind of relationship and with the perfect man, then all would be well in my life. However, those relationships were increasingly fast and furious, and heavily intertwined with lots of booze and parting. I was always quickly and madly falling in love, there was always lots crazy partying, then moving in and playing house, followed by a quick and devastating ending. All while the booze was just free flowing!
With the help of therapy and counseling at the outpatient rehab, I was able to see that my relationships were mostly based in codependency, which means that I based my self-worth completely on others, instead of on myself. I was always focused on people pleasing, and going out of my way to make others happy. I was not capable of setting healthy boundaries, and I always had trouble saying “no.” For these reasons, I often stayed in a relationship with men who were distant, unavailable, or abusive. In addition, because I was so dependent on others for my emotional security, I was deathly afraid of being alone.
When I got sober, I truly believed that sobriety would automatically make my relationships way better and of course in many ways it did! With the absence of alcohol as my social buffer, I was able to, slowly, become the real person that had been hiding for years under mounds of booze. I was also able to maneuver through some difficult relationships and finally end them. In addition, I was able to nurture my self-esteem and become less dependent on approval from others.
Yet, I longed for people in my life. After all, I worked really hard to stay sober and my life was finally falling into place. Who would not want to be my friend? So, I patiently waited for some friends and… friends did not show up. One day after whining about not having any friends, a wise person said to me, “You have to be a friend to have friends.”
That phrase really struck me. I did not realize that I needed to put some work into marking friends too. I needed to learn how to reach out to others because I had isolated for so long that I had no idea how to connect with people. I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and start approaching people at meetings, just by saying hello and asking how they were doing.
Also, letting go of expectations is quite important, because we certainly do not live in a romantic comedy! Expecting too much from him and our relationship puts lots of unhealthy pressure on both of us. Unconsciously expecting to receive love in certain ways is not fair and only leads to disappointments. Being realistic about what we are both capable of giving, lets the love come in naturally, instead of the forcing expectations of what we think it needs to look like.
Another great lesson I gained was acceptance of our differences. We are all different people and we all have baggage. Some things are easier to get over than others are, but the reality is that sometimes, I cannot fix things for him nor he can for me. Some things we just have to accept, get over, and move on.
Lastly, having friends and outside interests for each of us is very important because not only it strengthens our social life, but brings new insights and stimulation to our relationship. I may think that things such as romance and constant togetherness is the best for a healthy relationship, but in fact spending sometime nurturing ourselves actually strengthen our relationship and the bond that we have created.
The bottom line in all this, is that sobriety alone will not better our relationships, we have to cultivate them. At the same time, sobriety is the foundation to it all, and as long as we are willing to learn, adapt and grow we have a great chance of making true and lasting connections with other people.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please click the Find Support link for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful resources in the sidebar, and always feel free to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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