From the SCAnner, January 1995
BREAKING UP AND STAYING SOBER by Jerome M. (NY)
I’m a dater. Yeah. (Maybe even a closet relationship addict.
I’m working through that anyway.) When I got sober I was really
eager to start dating. I had thirty days of sobriety. I
remember an old-timer encouraging me not date until I had ninety
days. I think that’s what he said (but heck I wasn’t
listening). I remember remarking how his tone was so
patronizing and that his communication came across as telling me
what to do. That approach doesn’t work very well for me. I
prefer being gently guided and learning the lessons on my own,
so that they’ll really stick. Consequently, like a good little
addict I took matters into my own hands. I thought, “Fuck, I
haven’t dated healthily in a long time — maybe never; let’s
give it a try.”
What prompted me to come into this program was the status of my
intimate relationships. I had friends, but they became
continually distant as a result of my shrinking intimacy
threshold. Perhaps you’ve been there too. I used to socialize
with friends and then felt, “Ick! This is getting too close.
better go out and have some sex.” At this point my longest
“boyfriend/lover” relationships (there were two) were over and I
felt spent. “Nothing works in my life; I’m not doing what I
want in my career; I’m not on good terms at all with my parents;
I don’t like the way I look; I’m tired of the intimacy that has
hurt me. No more.” At that point I believed that getting along
meant working to pay the rent, seeing friends occasionally, and
continuing to have sex with strangers in place of relationships.
That was the only answer. I was defective and this was my only
alternative . . . Thank God, Higher Power, the goddesses, the
Universe, whatever, for enlightenment. I was not defective and
this was not my only alternative. (SCA, I love you.)
Thus started my recovery program and dating. At thirty days of
sobriety I became intimate with a man in program. And then I
dated a few people in the program. I next grew intimate with
another gentleman in the program for six months and I was sober
(on my plan) the whole time. The list goes on of people I’ve
dated in SCA. My last long-term relationship with a fellow
SCA-er lasted about a year and nine months.
I’ve found there to be many gifts to long-term relationships.
When two people get to know each other over an extended period
of time there can be a certain comfortableness that develops, a
certain awareness and sharing of styles: Knowing what the other
likes to eat, to wear; sharing jokes and developing a common
sense of humor; exploring comfortable sleeping positions and
knowing the kind of hug or touch the other finds supporting
(just “holding hands” is one I like). In addition,
participating as a couple in activities such as sports, games
vacations, outings with other friends and couples can be
rewarding when intimacy is allowed to grow and blossom.
Ahhhh . . . sounds simple. Right? But we all know better.
It’s difficult. As addicts (as humans), many challenges arise.
How do you have sex with someone when you know them? How do you
express your anger to a partner and at the same time maintain
your boundaries in spite of how she or he may react to your
feelings? (SCA-Anon, you’ve enlightened me with this one; I
love you, too.) And safe sex. What the hell is that?
Negotiating over that topic can be a real experience. And HIV
and AIDS. Oh . . . I take a deep sigh at the mention of this devastating
disease. Need I go on? The list can be endless. When the mood
hits, I could probably go on for hours about all of the
challenges that relationships have offered me. That’s what
we’re on this earth for: To work through blocks – to learn to
grow, to love. And sometimes that path leads to breaking up an
intimate relationship, or perhaps, more gently put, changing its
form. It did in my case.
Once I remember someone in a meeting saying that they were in a
relationship, and that if they thought closeness with others in
the “rooms” was challenging, being in a relationship must be the
next level of intimacy. Everyone laughed in understanding. I
followed that share and said I agreed and now believe that
breaking up with someone is the next level after that. I got a
laugh too. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Laughter,
recognition. It was difficult.
Breaking up was hard. It was building up over a period of time
for me, for us I believe. And then one day, we were in a park.
I remember it well. I do remember what I felt at least. It was
painful. Oh, the fear of making a change. Listening to Higher
Power–this isn’t working anymore, too many challenges, not
enough willingness. Yes sure, willingness to work through some
issues but not on others. Our needs became different. Our path
split. I was going one way, he was going another. It was
building up for some time . . . It happened so quick. The park,
the leaves, the trees, business people on their lunch break
fading into the background as my body became weak. I felt like
I wanted to faint. Here is someone I really love . . . but I
can’t be with anymore. (The tears continue as I write.) And
then another talk on the phone. No, we weren’t taking care of
each other’s fears anymore, including my fear of abandonment.
It was evident that it was over.
Staying sober through this breakup has been my greatest
challenge to date. As addicts, we are prone to use anything as
an excuse to act out, let alone separating from someone. For
me, separation brings up anxiety. And even though I knew that
this breakup was (and still is) healthy for me, the anxiety
still crept in. And of course the resulting feelings were
painful and it seemed as though it would be so much easier to
avoid them. And I can tell you I tried.
I remember dabbling in a gray area. When I say “gray area,” I
mean that it is a type of sexual behavior that isn’t on my plan,
yet is something I really don’t want to be doing–because
ultimately it’s compulsive and not very empowering. However,
I’ve been able to stay sober a day at a time, because I haven’t
put everything on my plan at once; so consequently, there are
some gray areas. I fell into one. And I didn’t feel great.
(It wasn’t a slip on my plan, yet I made a mental note to pay
attention to it, so that I’d have a choice to put it on my plan
in the future.) In addition to that, I masturbated frequently.
And besides the sexual side of my addictive nature, I ate sweets
more and drank more alcohol than I had in many years.
The end result was the reality that the longer I stayed in
program, and the longer I continued to be aware of my shit and
dedicated to my own self-efficacy, the more acting or dabbling
at the fringes of addiction didn’t work. Those feelings inside
of me longed to be expressed. The more I thought about not
really wanting to deal with the reality of my separation, the
more painful it got. Thanks to recovery it was ultimately
easier and more worthwhile to feel than to avoid my emotions by
One could say I admitted my powerlessness. In meetings, at this
juncture, I revealed my feelings of embarrassment that I had
failed. I felt incapable. I felt angry. I felt judgmental. I
felt sad. I felt as though I had lost my best friend in the
world. We shared so much together. I missed our physical
affection (still do). It was as though something died and it
was necessary to admit my powerlessness.
Powerlessness . . . It brings me to the notion of Letting go and
letting God. I remember Marianne Williamson once saying that we
create the ills of this world and sometimes we can get so stuck
into thinking that we can cure them. But in reality, we create
the ills of this world and God can cure them. Letting go for me
during this time proved extremely helpful. It came in the form
of accepting support from others. I was so rigidly controlling
myself. I wanted to feel better and get through it all on my
own. But that was so painful. I remember crying in therapy
when I realized I was trying to do it all alone. I wanted to
grieve alone. I was isolating. I had been getting in touch
with my higher power through meditation, however it wasn’t until
I accepted support from others that I could really feel a shift.
And to tell you the truth, I don’t really know what shift
actually occurred. Sometimes these breakthroughs occur beyond
the conscious mind, without the ego’s help. (Help? Sometimes I
don’t know if the ego is capable of helping.)
I can remember one thing that does stick in my mind. I learned
that when people offer me support, it is best that I just
receive it, just listen to it and become aware of the love and
concern that is coming through instead of what is actually being
said. It is very easy for me to get wrapped up in the content
of what someone is saying. And when that occurs, I can become
judgmental and say things inside of my head like, “What would
you know, you’ve never been in a long-term relationship,” or,
“You still have a boyfriend, so bug off.” I learned that when I
could tap into that loving higher-power-ish energy from others
and receive it, I was empowered. The burden of going through my
breakup actually lifted when I allowed myself the freedom to
receive. The feelings were still there, but there existed a
lightness and fluidity when I let go and let higher power come
to me, in whatever form. And for me it came in the form of
everyone who stepped into the rooms, and everyone who listened.
I am grateful. My friends in SCA are gifts in my life. Being
vulnerable about my feelings to my sponsees during this time was
intimate and so rewarding. And, of course, words can’t even
express the thanks I have for my sponsor. The patience and
unconditionality of his support is priceless. The love I feel
for the people in this fellowship, as well as that which I have
received, has kept me sober, and eventually led me to the other
side of darkness, to the light.
It’s been over six months since my ex and I broke up. Of
course, I still have feelings about him and the relationship. I
now know that a healthy breakup takes time and can’t be rushed.
I’ve dated other people since the breakup. I had more feelings
when I did that. And I’ve survived and stayed sober. I really
should say I’ve thrived. I give myself credit for my dedication
and willingness. Yet it’s only been through tapping into the
gifts of higher power, namely letting go, that my life continues
to grow and fulfill my heart, my spirit and my desire to connect
with others . . .