Starting New Relationships While In Treatment
Coming into a treatment center means you’ve identified that you want help, which is great. It may be the bravest thing you’ll ever do. Generally, when someone comes into treatment, they are coming because there are pieces of their lives that may be missing, maybe they can’t deal with life on life’s terms and are struggling with day-to-day existence. People come into treatment normally as vulnerable adults & with that comes emotions that may not have been expressed for some time. Feelings that perhaps someone doesn’t even know how to express. It can be a very emotional and confusing time.
While in the confusion of ‘what is my life going to be like, what am I going to do?’ all the thoughts, reasonings, fears that you’d go through while in treatment, normally what we would do with that, is we would use drugs. We would do something to suppress those feelings because that is our coping mechanism, that’s what we do to cope with life, that’s what you do to cope with feeling out of control. So it’s very common for men and women to start looking for other things, external of themselves, to fix that feeling. In treatment you generally don’t have access to drugs and alcohol so therefore it’s very common for you to start fixing on people.
Romantic relationships blossom in treatment quite regularly simply because people generally don’t have access to habitual ways of suppressing feelings. Yet conversely, romantic relationships also stir up both new & old feelings and this is highly dangerous for the individual in treatment who is not yet adequately equipped to handle their own emotions. Treatment, early recovery is a chance for you as an individual, to grow, to learn, to process and to get out any of that stuff that you’ve been carrying around, probably for many years and which has helped fuel addiction. This is an opportunity for you to learn and grow. Perhaps this time should be used most wisely.
Relationships can actually light up the same parts of the brain as when you are using drugs or alcohol, some of the same receptors, it’s the same reward centers in the brain. In effect, you are fixing your feelings so therefore you are still using in a sense, but through people instead of substances. The chances of relapse can be much higher once getting into a relationship while in treatment or early recovery simply because of the chemical reward. You may not be focusing as much on treatment, not on the real reasons you have come to treatment. One may actually start to focus on another person because they are fixing those feelings, so they become the new drug.
Staying out of relationships in early recovery, while a seemingly trivial guideline, is really important. Say the other person was to relapse, or this other person was to abscond from treatment, how would you feel then? How would you be left, in even more pain (?) which you’d want to suppress even more…but now you have nothing else to suppress those feelings with. With emotions now heightened, you may also abscond from rehab to join your new partner. One’s ability to make good, sound choices is compromised once in a romantic relationship because the focus is lost.
Recovery is about self-discovery, an amazing new journey if you can keep the focus on yourself. This is why it’s been recommended in some recovery circles not to get into a relationship for the first year. There may be a good reason for that, you’re going to learn skills, you’re going to learn tools, you’re going to learn how to self-regulate emotions and feelings. You’ll be going to meetings, making new connections, you’re going to start to develop new social skills. If you don’t know how to practice all that already and you’re not giving yourself a chance in the beginning of your recovery, then what chance will you have later on? The relationship is only a deterrent from what the problem actually is and that lies within.
Relationships in treatment or early recovery can also be an avoidance of self. Some people like to take care of other people in order to avoid what’s actually going on with them. It’s like, ‘if I just look after this person over here then I don’t have to actually look at what I’m feeling and acknowledge how scary it is to feel feelings.’ It is important to feel & acknowledge how scary it is to express feelings, all the fears that surround feeling and emotions. However, its highly important one learns to do that early on in order to have a successful recovery and therefore not avoid things. You come first in your recovery. Take care not to use other people’s vulnerabilities to fix your feelings and don’t allow somebody else to fix off your vulnerability either. Remember you are in treatment for you. You have to put yourself first, probably for the first time in a long time.