by Brenda R. (Munro)
Five months ago I wrote a piece for TGIF about recovering as an Adult Child of Alcoholics. The relationship ‘thing’ weaved its way through the piece, ending with a heartfelt pronouncement that I would try to accept myself as lovingly as my partner seemed to accept me. There is bitter irony here.
Loving acceptance of myself and genuine loving respect for her meant that it was time for me to face up to a tough decision. I wasn’t happy enough, and she wanted a commitment. The yo-yo string done broke. My sense of responsibility and inability to continue ‘people pleasing’ won out. It was the End.
Single again in recovery! This time it feels incredibly different. Thoughts of “Spinster Feeds 40 Cats” looms less large – there are only 20 cats now!
Actually, I am relieved and happy. I don’t want to be in just any relationship; I need to be in one that works. I would like to have fun with my partner and be compatible. Duh! Where have I been?
My first relationship in recovery was about mutually affectionate companionship and not being alone. I should mention the lying: I am a lesbian and he wasn’t. He was okay with that … hmm. I found the courage to leave.
I heard a suitable acronym for denial once. Didn’t even know I ‘as lyin’! First, you realize that you are lying. Then comes the increasingly problematic phase in which you know that you know you are lying! Ooh … that call to action!
The single phase that followed was filled with developing new hobbies and interests, some sober career shifts and tons of recovery work, predominately in Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics. I hated drunks, don’t you know – you were the cause of my misery! A few relapses later, I embraced AA with a more sober attitude, so to speak.
As for relationships – no way. I needed time to process my personal history, particularly family of origin and codependency issues. It took years to trust in the possibility of true intimacy.
When I got involved this last time, I ran into some huge anxiety several months into the relationship. Awaiting the opening of a meeting one night, a woman asked me how I was doing. I told her about the anxiety. Her immediate question: “How much sobriety do you have?” “Six months…” “Well, there’s your answer,” she firmly spoke.
Case closed! What a foolish rule-breaking woman I was! I deserved every bit of misery I got! Imagine being human and needing to end intense loneliness … the wrong way!! Clearly these problems reflected an insufficiently developed relationship with my “self” and my Higher Power. (Okay, enough sarcasm…)
I do know first-hand that the advice to not get involved while newly sober is excellent. However, I allowed this woman to cast judgment without knowing anything about me and my history. Rack it up to learning about boundaries.
It’s so easy to judge. My nephew ended up in a psych ward last year and got involved with another patient his age. I got into my judgment big time: “He should be working on his recovery! Do they allow this sort of thing? Blah, blah, blah…” Yes. They are adults. Who is to judge to what extent a loving bond heals or wounds?
Sharing my story with another and listening to theirs in the context of a mutually affectionate bond has been healing in my life. It won’t replace the necessity of learning to be alone. It can’t. That said, I am eternally grateful to past partners.
I have learned just as much about myself and my relationship with a Higher Power in relationship as I have in the single parts of my journey. I can spit out the codependency clichés as well as the next warrior but I am done with bullets. I have softened and can choose the journey that feels right – single or involved. The point is to learn to find serenity within and without relationship.
In relationship, I’ve learned all about the uglier, less comfortable feelings, like jealousy and approval-seeking. Ultimately, this has led to deeper self-acceptance and opportunities to confront my most debilitating character defects.
This time around as a single person in recovery, I am deepening some friendships and taking up new recovery tools, such as regular meditation. I reflect on the good stuff of single life – eating and sleeping at my own whim and, of course, total TV control. I recognize that I will not take for granted the beautiful parts of relationship. Holding and being held in the wee hours of the morning, bonding in ways that go beyond mere words.
I am learning a lot about what I don’t want. I can feel the difference between liking and loving my fellows. I can love you in that fellowship way but choose not to relinquish my very being to you. My business is truly becoming my business.
I realize (will make real) the value of going slowly and authentically in friendship. No more of the interro-date!! I am worthy of getting to know and I constitute more than a checklist. I can’t reasonably tell you who I am in 20 questions – bigger than a breadbox, definitely. I will listen and share but don’t want to bond through wounds.
Life is a gift. I know that every day – single or involved. I am grateful for so much.
Each day, I hope to become increasingly comfortable in my own skin, and less and less willing to compromise that. And maybe that’s one of the greatest journeys of all.