Early recovery is hard work. You’re learning to navigate the world with a whole new mindset, and you’re still learning to cope with stress and cravings, survive high-risk situations and stay mindful of your emotional states.
During this time of growth, your most important relationship should be the one you have with yourself. Experts recommend that people new to recovery wait at least one year before getting romantically involved. So, if you find yourself single on Valentine’s Day, that’s a good thing for your continued successful recovery.
Why Romance Isn’t Ideal for Early Recovery
It’s not the intimacy of a romantic relationship that causes problems in the early weeks and months of recovery. It’s sex.
According to Daniel Linder, a marriage and family therapist with 30 years of experience in the field, sex increases your emotional involvement in a relationship and leads to intense feelings and emotions, particularly for women.1 Men are more likely to remain emotionally distant during the beginning of a sexual relationship, and this can lead to emotional over-involvement on one party’s part and under-involvement on the other’s part. Sex can also lead to romantic feelings, and although these are exciting, they can open a floodgate of unmet emotional needs from previous relationships.
During early recovery, you’re learning to deal with your emotions, increase your self-awareness and engage in a high level of emotional self-care. Rather than relying on outside sources like drugs or romance for emotional fulfillment, you learn to rely on yourself for emotional nourishment. It takes time to achieve this, and a romantic relationship can quickly derail the progress you’re making in that department.
If you haven’t had sufficient time to develop the emotional stability and self-awareness that long-term sobriety requires, the chances are pretty high that you’ll start looking to the romance to fulfill your emotional needs. But when a romantic relationship becomes the focus of fulfillment for these unmet needs, the relationship can become addictive and dysfunctional. Then it’s only a matter of time before it ends—usually badly.
Dysfunctional and failed relationships are major factors for relapse. Once the “sleeping giant” of unmet emotional needs is awakened by the relationship, it can be very difficult to manage the resulting flood of intense thoughts, feelings and emotions that can get the best of you, especially if one party is over-involved in the relationship and the other is under-involved.
A Single’s Survival Guide
Here are some tips for surviving single-hood until you’re emotionally ready to take the plunge into romance.
Surround yourself with good friends. Spend quality time with your good friends and supportive family members. A healthy social life can make being single a lot less lonely, and a healthy social life is one of the four pillars of successful recovery.2
Focus on the hard work of recovery. Keep your focus on honing your emotional skills and using the strategies you learned in treatment to develop a healthy lifestyle. Stay mindful of your emotional states, and learn to navigate negative thoughts and emotions in healthy ways.
Find fulfillment through hobbies. Do something enjoyable every day that makes you feel good. Engage in hobbies and activities that give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Dust off your paint easel or your guitar, join a baseball or bowling league, or take some interesting classes at your local college. This will help to ward off feelings of isolation and boredom while helping you learn to rely on yourself for fulfillment.
Romance Will Come
There’s plenty of time for romance later on, when your emotional states are more stable and you’re able to meet your own emotional needs. In the meantime, it’s important to focus on developing and nurturing your platonic relationships and learning to be honest with yourself and others in these relationships. Then, when romance finds you down the road, your emotional needs will already be met, and you’ll be equipped to handle the inevitable emotional roller coaster of an intimate relationship.