Booze, the ultimate social analgesic, has lubricated the dating arena since malt, hops and grapes were first used in fermentation.
These magical elixirs afford many the dubious luxury of lowered inhibition and casual romantic encounters. Occasionally, these encounters blossom into something greater, perhaps a real relationship or even a marriage.
But what about people who cannot or decide not to partake in social drinking? We are faced with the hurdles of awkward silences, stilted conversations, sober sex and a limited dating pool. Furthermore, most of us that enter this arena simply aren’t ready for it.
Picture a man with a gapping flesh wound on his thigh—a wound that would eventually prove fatal. He regularly injects the area surrounding the lesion with a local anesthetic. The numbing agent suppresses his pain and makes life tolerable, yet the injury festers and his health deteriorates. When he finally stops the insanity and ceases to inject the anesthetic, he is still suffering from a mortal wound. For the alcoholic, the anesthetic is our booze and drugs. The wound is our condition: our alcoholism.
This is why general wisdom often suggests delaying romantic pursuits during early sobriety. The wound still festers, and a girl/guy could become our new anesthetic—our pain-numbing, ego-bolstering, mind-altering substitute for substances.
Take myself, for example, and any one of my dismal failures at romance:
There was the girl who ended up pushing me around in a shopping cart after I hurt my feet from repeatedly injecting cocaine into their veins. There was the woman I ran out of a lock-down psych ward with; bounty hunters ended up picking me up at a hotel and taking me to jail. There was the older woman who became my sugar momma and shielded me from the harshest realities of my addiction; I put up with her depression and she put up with my drug abuse.
Needless to say, I wasn’t big on heeding the wisdom of my sober elders at that point in my life. Recovery work wasn’t a priority because I sought other ways of feeling better: relationships. There’s no greater validation than a wink or furtive glance from a potential mate in early recovery. Attention from another has the power to, at least temporarily, eradicate the low self-esteem addicts, and many others, experience. But it is a Band-Aid for the gaping flesh wound on our thigh. Superficial affirmation will do little more than the local anesthetic we tried injecting.
My “healthy” relationships have been much fewer in number. These women were healthy and capable of honestly communicating what they wanted in life. I, on the other hand, was not. And when it came time to dig deep and discuss the future, I preferred to do so through smoke signals and Morse code. I’ve learned most women don’t know those methods of communicating, which was nice because I really didn’t have much to say.
But they eventually learned, and the end result was trampled hearts on both sides. While I was sober for these relationships (or at least for the majority of them), I was completely lost. My internal compass swung about like I was in the heart of the Bermuda Triangle. But I would assure my partner: “North! Onward!” This isn’t to say I didn’t love these women; I was just incapable of meeting them on the plane they deserved.
How could I say where we were headed when I didn’t know where I was headed?
Recovery has taught me how to communicate honestly with other people. Any successful relationship depends upon total honesty. When I have been honest, it has strengthened my relationship, even if it ended it.
I also learned that if you have difficulty spending time in a room by yourself, eventually you won’t enjoy spending time with the other person, and they certainly won’t like spending time with you. Most successful relationships I’ve witnessed in recovery have been with two people who are comfortable being alone. In some bizarre, ironic twist of fate, the people who stopped the search were those who found.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius observes: “This above all: to thine own self be true, / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man [or woman, for my purposes].”
The greatest lesson I have learned from my failures is that honesty is an impossible feat if one remains uncertain or delusional about his or her own desires. The best of intentions cannot make up for this lack of understanding. Polonius’ point is that one needs to take care of self before he or she can take care of others.
The process of recovery and living sober is essentially an exercise in self-care. It provides a blueprint for living that fosters a very personal inward relationship. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. And I have found that the length of time dedicated to self-discovery correlates directly with the quality of a romantic relationship.
So wait if you’ve just put down the bottle or are considering abandoning drunk dating. Take a peek inside and see what drives you, what makes you tick, what you like and dislike, what you truly want in life. Then you’ll have something to share with another.