Breakups and moving on from a relationship, even if the relationship was toxic, is never easy. Speaking from painful experience, relationships can be complicated, messy, triggering, and overwhelming – especially in recovery. Whether the decision to break up was yours or the other person’s choice, separating from someone you care about is painful, especially for those of us in recovery. Addiction comes in many forms. I’ll be the first to admit that one of my first addictions came in the form of codependency. It’s safe to say that I have never been the best at maintaining healthy relationships. In fact, a huge part of my story is working through the ups and downs of my first relationship in recovery. Keeping up with total transparency, I am still working through the details of this breakup, but I have grown more through this process than I have my entire sobriety.
It’s no surprise that I waited about ten months and a few days before I got into a relationship in sobriety. The ever-so-popular “Stay out of a relationship during your first year” suggestion was one that I rebelled against from the very start. I dove headfirst into a relationship before I had any idea of who I actually was, experienced a relapse, had a beautiful daughter, and acted out in ways I never thought I would. Looking back, I understand why it is suggested that we establish a firm foundation in our sobriety before we decide to embark on the journey of falling in love. I don’t think it’s very surprising to hear that this relationship was certainly not the healthiest. Sparing the painful details, I made a lot of mistakes, I caused harm, and I also experienced a ton of emotional pain. Eventually, this recipe for disaster came to a crossroads: I was either going to stay in this unhealthy relationship and risk the chance of drinking again or, it was time to decide to go our separate ways. Thankfully, we chose the latter.
Breaking up with an addicted partner, in recovery, comes with its unique challenges. Not only is any breakup difficult, but addicts in recovery are prone to isolation, resentment, avoidance, and a ton of unhealthy coping skills. I’d be lying if I said my knee-jerk reaction to experiencing this breakup wasn’t to isolate from the world. However, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a group of strong women that didn’t let me walk through this alone. Here are a few of the ways I was able to walk through a breakup with an addict in recovery – without resorting back to drugs and alcohol.
Avoiding the blame game
As I mentioned before, addicts are professionals at blaming others and wallowing in resentment – I am no exception. Blaming the other person for the demise of the relationship is easy, which is why most of us default to this emotional response in the aftermath of a tough breakup. Initially, I was so full of resentment; I blamed him for everything. I held on to every single mistake made in 5 years and capitalized on the opportunity to play the judge, juror, and executioner. Let me tell you how well that worked out – it didn’t. We were at war with one another and ultimately creating resentment to protect ourselves from dealing with the inevitable pain of grief. It didn’t take long for the blame to evolve. One accusatory argument after the next, I started to blame myself. Next came more resentment, then guilt, and shame. The truth is, you can’t control another person, place, or thing; but, you can control yourself. Avoid blaming the other person and be open to the idea that you both made mistakes and it’s not necessary to position one person as the reason for the breakup.
Reflect and allow yourself to feel all of the painful emotions.
Reflection is the more cool-headed cousin to blame. I am the queen of avoidance and also reacting before taking the time to reflect. This suggestion is going to take some patience. Addicts and alcoholics are prone to reacting before reflecting – it’s kind of in our DNA. However, I utilized the tools I learned in recovery to apply to my breakup. Rather than looking at the relationship from a perspective of anger and sadness, I took the time to sit back and truly assess all of the emotions I was feeling. I changed my emotional response to a response of: What can I learn from this experience? How could I have been a better girlfriend? How can I grow from this? What am I grateful for after experiencing this relationship? There is always room for growth after a breakup. If you’re anything like me, you spent way too much time focusing on someone else and it is time to focus on yourself and see where you can grow as a person. Relationships, especially in recovery, can sometimes make trust, love, and happiness hard to come by. Allow yourself to feel all of the emotions you’re feeling; I promise you won’t regret it.
Let go and forgive
The circumstances of my breakup left me with not a ton of closure. In all honesty, we are still navigating through co-parenting together and that has been a difficult journey. While many of us look from closure from the other person, closure can also come from within. Forgiveness was a significant part of my finding closure. Once I began to let go of my resentments, reflect on the relationship, and practice forgiveness – things didn’t seem so bad. I learned that I made a lot of compromises in that relationship and I also learned more about what I want and need out of a relationship. These painful realizations helped me grow from that painful relationship and added purpose to the breakup I experienced. This process also helped me to let go of the hurt I felt and to forgive all parties – including myself.
Breakups aren’t easy, and they are a lot harder when you’re walking through the experience with another addict in recovery. Naturally, there are all of the messy stages of grief associated with a breakup. It is important to remember to be kind to yourself. Practice self-care, stay close to your sober support and allow yourself the time and space to go through the emotions of experiencing a breakup in recovery.