My Relationship in Early Sobriety & What I Learned From It

My Relationship in Early Sobriety & What I Learned From It

Your sponsor is right- your boyfriend from rehab most likely will not become your husband.


I met Pete* (real named changed for privacy reasons) my second month down in South Florida in treatment. We attended the same IOP and became friends relatively quickly, seeing as he was around my age (~3 years older) and we shared a similar background. After spending two or three weeks getting to know each other, he began to pursue me romantically. I can't say I was on-board with the idea of being romantically involved with this person at first; but his persistence eventually won. After our first date, I found myself more and more drawn to him. We began spending whatever free time we had together, and we quickly fell for one another. We said "I love you" after only three weeks of dating.

It's important to note that this was my first time getting sober. I had just finished rehab in Ohio two months prior, and was still coming to terms with the fact that I was a serious alcoholic at the age of 21. Recovery and the culture surrounding it was very new to me. I naively believed that Pete and I were more compatible than the average couple because we were both young, recovering addicts- and specifically, in recovery from alcohol.

When you are a raging alcoholic like myself, you tend to feel an immediate bond with another alcoholic. Having a savage obsession with booze that dictated your life for a substantial amount of time separates you from the normal person. So when I found Pete and learned our addictions manifested similarly, I felt connected to him immediately. What made me feel even closer to him was our shared willingness to get and stay sober. The chaos and pain our addictions had brought into our lives made it so we were going to give everything we had to this simple program. Or so I believed.

I lived in that fantasy for about two months. We both were doing what we needed to do, and in that time span, we truly made a series of wonderful memories. I was confident in our relationship and in the direction both of our lives were headed.

Then, unexpectedly, came his first of many relapses. The night before I caught him drunk, I sensed something was off in his text messages. They were longer than usual and in one of the final messages before we said goodnight to each other he said something along the lines of "I'm not perfect and I can't have you expect me to be. I will let you down, but know I am trying." I had a sinking feeling in my stomach but I fell asleep in hopes that I was suspecting something out of nothing. The next day he agreed to pick me up and take me to work. I immediately noticed something was off the moment I plopped in the passenger seat- in his face, in his eyes, and in his behavior. I waited until we parked outside my work to ask him if he was drunk. He denied it at least a dozen times before he broke down and admitted he was. He had been drinking since the night before. He sobbed, apologized, and threw up outside his parked car door. It was disgusting and devastating to see him like that. Little did I know this version of Pete was one I would see over and over again.

There's no point in describing each of the relapses, but they continued for the remaining eight months of our relationship and occurred in higher frequency as time went on. There were numerous hospital visits on account of his seizures due to benzo withdrawal, and trips to detox facilities. By the end, I was completely drained- emotionally, mentally and physically. It had gotten to the point where I had purchased my own breathalyzer and snuck UAs from work to bring home and use on him. My anxiety was through the roof, and I was looking in his eyes constantly to check if they were red, or if his pupils were contracted. There were countless arguments spurred on by my accusations that usually were spot on. He couldn't stand that I didn't trust him, and I couldn't stand it either.

It made me terribly sad to lay in bed next to him feeling completely detached and unsafe, as he dozed off in a Xanax coma. I felt alone and scared knowing that the person I had committed to was lying straight to my face and heading in a bad direction. Yet, I couldn't walk away. I cared deeply about this person, and their success, not only in recovery but in life. I saw the potential that they had and wanted to nurture them as they worked to reach it. I didn't want to give up on them like so many others had already done. I wanted to show Pete that despite his slip-ups, I had faith he would eventually get it. Sometimes you need someone else to believe in you before you can yourself.

This was my detriment. I wanted him to succeed so badly that I invested more energy in him than I did myself. In reality, he wasn't fighting as hard for himself as I was for him. So in the end, my support and loyalty didn't make a difference. He continued to self-sabotage while I desperately tried to pick up the pieces. It was useless cause.

What also made made it difficult to leave was that as an alcoholic who suffered countless blackouts and spent the last three years in a relative haze, I was the most conscious and present I had been during this first year in sobriety than I had been in a long time. And unfortunately, 10 out of those 12 months were intimately shared with Pete as my partner. So not only were my emotions intensified in general as a result of finally having a clear mind, but so were my feelings towards Pete. He became a marker in my sobriety and it was a terrifying thought to let him go. I doubted my ability to stay sober without him in my life. I questioned my own security and stability, and partially believed that those two things were dependent on him.

Eventually, I was so broke down and aggravated by his repeated behavior that I said enough was enough. I broke things off and explained to him that I couldn't put myself through the pain any longer.

He overdosed two weeks later on narcotics that he hadn't tried up until that point, and landed in the ICU for two days. He got out and continued to use for two more weeks before agreeing to go to treatment in a different state. I was in 24/7 contact with his parents and sober supports. Just because I wasn't willing to be in a relationship with Pete anymore, and had cut off nearly all communication with him by this point, that did not mean I wasn't absolutely terrified for his life. I knew I wouldn't find peace until he was safe.

Once he was in treatment, I was able to take a sigh of relief- but even months later, I can't say I've truly come to peace with what happened over those ten months we were together. I am confident that I made the right choice to walk away when I did, and I have no temptation to ever rekindle a relationship with Pete- but the rollercoaster of emotions the journey took me on was one that I am still hurting from. It is so incredibly painful to love someone who isn't willing to help themselves. Beyond that, being in an intimate relationship with an active addict is a very lonely experience. Your partner isn't able to support you in any shape or form. Your closest companion uses every manipulative tactic that they have in their pocket to convince you to stay with them. You feel betrayed and somewhat like a fool for believing someone that failed to keep their word over and over again.

Worst of all, you sustain the majority of the damage from their usage because you have stayed sober and present during their demise, while they cunningly managed to numb themselves and remain seemingly oblivious to it all. You walk away in worse condition than when you first met them- and they certainly do not bear the same bruises as you.

By the time I was able to focus purely on myself, I was an absolute wreck. I was forced to resort to survival mode and strictly focus on what I needed to do to keep myself afloat. I refused, vehemently, to make the same mistakes as my partner, and made a commitment to myself that I would remain sober despite how broken I felt at the time. I continued to go to work, take care of my pets, pay my bills, and respond to just enough phone calls/texts to let people know I was safe and sober. I existed in that head space for a considerable amount of time. Eventually, that dark cloud dissipated as I continued to push forward, even though a big part of me just wanted to stop and regress. A new job opportunity came into my life, and I met new people. I thrusted myself back into the rooms and rekindled relationships with sober supports I had let fizzle out over the course of Pete and I's relationship. Now I can say I am much better than I was before, but I certainly am still licking some of my wounds.

I realize that I compromised my own progress in recovery by growing overly concerned with Pete's sobriety. I was under the impression that having Pete by my side would motivate me to work harder in sobriety, and while I may have expended a lot of energy, not even close to enough was devoted towards me. I was too consumed with stress and his problems that I continuously pushed off step work and meetings. I had excuses for every commitment I failed to make. Looking back, that was the greatest consequence I suffered throughout this entire ordeal.

While a part of me wants to say I regret the relationship with Pete, I don't. In truth, it was a massive learning lesson that left me wiser than before. There is also no point in regretting something in the past, because that time is already gone, and I'd rather have that experience strengthen me instead of weaken me. The greatest treasure I walked away with was learning what it is like to love a suffering addict. Before meeting Pete, I was the suffering the addict who drained everyone around me, particularly my family and close friends, of their emotional and mental energy. Pete helped me see what it was like for those around me before I got sober, and it opened my eyes to the extreme pain I put them through. Simultaneously, it filled me with immense gratitude for those who stuck with me throughout it all. So even if that was the only take away I got from those ten months with Pete, I can honestly say it was worth it.

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