If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times: Newly clean and sober addicts and alcoholics turn to relationships as a way to fulfill the internal void that alcohol and drugs once did.

I get it.

I even did it myself, my first time through rehab: got myself a little treatment girlfriend, and we both left the Palmetto Center in Florence, South Carolina, thinking we would rely on one another to walk the straight and narrow. I think we lasted two months.

She went to jail first, and I just dropped off the map and got lost down another rabbit hole of needles and the damage done.

Our initial days in sobriety are particularly vulnerable ones, especially as we start to realize that we have no idea what “love” really means.

After all, when we were destroying our lives with alcohol and drugs, we certainly didn’t love ourselves, and if we can’t love ourselves, how can we truly expect to know how to love others?

So we start out in recovery as emotional toddlers, taking our first tentative steps into a world that often feels too big and too bright.

Our previous experiences with love and relationships have distorted our perceptions and our expectations of how to function in such relationships, and we’re uncertain of how to move forward.

Every emotion seems sharper, more distinct, than ever before, and we’re often overwhelmed by crushing tsunami waves of feelings that we have to process through newly sober eyes and with a tender sober heart.

In these early days, we must be particularly wary of matters of the heart.

Before we begin the internal healing process that recovers us, we can sometimes turn to other people as a substitute for our drugs and alcohol, and before we know it, we’re involved in emotional and romantic relationships at the expense of our recovery.

I’ve seen it time and time again: individuals relapse who substituted love and lust for a program.

I get it, because in my newly sober state the first time around, I imprinted on the first girl who happened to smile at me.

It turned into an intense crush pretty quickly, and before I knew it, I was caught up in the heady rush of new “love” … or so I thought.

What I really felt was infatuation, and that’s a toxic drug every bit as dangerous as the chemicals I used to put into my body.

That giddy rapture should instead serve as a warning sign that we’re neglecting the things that are most important.

We may feel stronger and more alive with a new romantic partner by our side, but in that infatuation, we often neglect to think about the consequences of a breakup or a divorce.

How will such things affect us emotionally, and are we capable of withstanding such heartbreak in early recovery?

In that manner, we’re subconsciously tying our own sobriety to someone else, when we know that to do so is to tempt fate.

We have to stay clean and sober for ourselves, no matter what other people do or fail to do, and if we can avoid putting ourselves into a situation where the actions and behaviors of others could cause us emotional damage, we should certainly do so.

That’s not to say we should become monks or nuns, taking on vows of celibacy; if anything, recovery helps us to become better spouses, partners and friends through a rigorous program of honesty.

Through recovery, we begin to change.

We begin to know ourselves better than ever before, and we get to know and believe in our own value.

We come to understand that we’re worthy of love, and we become more discriminating with whom we allow into our lives.

In early recovery, we like to say, our “picker” is broken.

If we’re still sick, how can we attract someone on a healthy emotional footing?

Chances are we won’t; sick attracts sick, as they say, and two sick people don’t make a healthy relationship.

Of course, it’s all too easy to consider ourselves the exception to these unspoken and unwritten rules.

Infatuation has a way of clouding our judgment, of making us feel invincible.

We may feel absolutely certain that a new relationship is the “right” decision, or that ending an old one is the “right” choice.

In both situations, you could be right … but our experience tells us that chances are just as good that you’re making a mistake.

If we’re taking suggestions from others in recovery, we learn to concentrate on our personal journey before anything else and to steer clear of any risky emotional entanglements.

We may hope for the best, but why risk the worst?

At the very least, we can spend the time improving ourselves, so that when the time comes and we feel we’re ready for romance, we’re able to make mature decisions about what’s best for our lives and our sobriety.

Steve Wildsmith was an editor and writer for The Daily Times for nearly 17 years; a recovering addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at wild

smithsteve@gmail.com.

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