Navigating Relationships in Early Recovery

Navigating Relationships in Early Recovery

If you have just begun the treatment process and are in early recovery, you are probably excited, motivated, and ready to get back to life. During your addiction, it is possible that you neglected important relationships with friends, family, and significant others, as many addicts do. During your addiction, substances were all you needed. Now that you’ve committed to recovery, you may be trying to rekindle relationships that you put on the back burner or ones that you spoiled. You might even notice friends and family coming out of the woodwork now that they know you are clean and sober to try to re-establish some sort of relationship with you once more.

While it is great to reconnect with those who used to be close to you before your addiction started, and it feels reinvigorating to get back out into society with your mind right, you should do so with caution. Navigating friendships and intimate relationships–new and old–can be tricky when you are in the early stages of recovery. Many professionals in the world of addiction treatment advise against developing brand new relationships, especially intimate ones, during early recovery. 

Why is this?

Individuals in early recovery are more likely to become codependent on other people, especially when in an intimate relationship. Melody Beattie, in her book Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, shares common characteristics of codependency (BettyFord)

  • Think and feel responsible for other people—for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being and ultimate destiny.
  • Feel compelled—almost forced—to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings.
  • Find themselves saying yes when they mean no, doing things they don’t really want to be doing, doing more than their fair share of the work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves.
  • Find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others, rather than injustices done to themselves.
  • Find themselves attracted to needy people.
  • Look to relationships to provide all their good feelings.
  • Leave bad relationships and form new ones that don’t work either.
  • Feel angry, victimized, unappreciated and used.
  • Come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families.
  • Blame themselves for everything.
  • Reject compliments or praise.
  • Think they’re not quite good enough.

Being in a codependent relationship can be quite dysfunctional and can lead to guilt and shame, which in turn can have consequences on recovery. If an addict is not stable and emotionally supported enough by healthy people, they may be more vulnerable to relapse while involved with this codependent friend or partner. 

Individuals in very early recovery are much more likely to be in an intense emotional state and are in the process of learning new coping techniques and emotion-regulation strategies to quiet and calm the mind and body. Getting involved in brand new relationships while an addict is starting treatment is not advised. It is advised, however, that those starting their treatment journey begin to focus on the following instead of dating or becoming intimate:

  • Focus on getting to know the new you.
  • Spend your time and energy on learning how to recover. 
  • Reconnect with your body, mind, and spirit. 
  • Participate in a 12-Step program with an accountability partner or mentor.
  • Attend all treatment sessions and dive into homework assignments.
  • Reconnect with positive and supportive family members and friends.
  • Practice healthy and holistic methods of curbing cravings. 
  • Work on trauma and healing old wounds.
  • Organize and prioritize things in your life.
  • Create long and short-term goals and specific steps to achieve them.

And much, much more!

Even with those concerns, it is possible to maintain relationships while in recovery. 

Here are three tips from the experts at Recovery.com for those who are in a relationship while in early recovery: 

  1. Be true to yourself as well as to the relationship. 
  2. Prioritize honesty and openness in communication and feedback.
  3. Practice kindness and compassion to both yourself and your partner. 

If you at any time realize that the person you are in a relationship with is negatively affecting your recovery, triggering you in any way, or trying to sabotage your success, do what you need to do for you. You only live one life. You’ve been given a second chance to change the path of your life; do not let anyone get in the way of that. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to discount or rid yourself of certain people forever. You just may need to be open and honest with them and tell them that you need to take a break and focus on you and your recovery. If they are not supportive of your decision…kick them to the curb! Your health and well-being are the most important factors here. 

During this time, it is wise to continue focusing on things like personal development, establishing and practicing new coping skills, generalizing your sobriety to new environments, and learn to rely on yourself and your treatment team instead of relying on others to fulfill your life. Early recovery is a journey; a journey to learn more about the sober self, to discover new hobbies and thrills, and to work through past trauma with your therapist. It is completely fine to involve supportive and positive friends and family in your treatment. People you know who will be there for you in times of need, positively influence you, and simply be a non-judgemental support system, are those you need in your life right now. 

Navigating relationships in early recovery can be exhausting and confusing at times. But you don’t need to go through this alone! Rely on your support team. Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado offers the best treatment specialists around and has various programs and treatment methods to choose from and to engage in. They will not leave you alone to navigate this journey–they will be there the entire way guiding you. Contact Continuum now if you are interested in addiction treatment options…don’t wait!