Having run primary stage addiction treatment centres for 10 years and spending nearly 10 years in community drug services before that I can attest to the fact that one of the main ‘distractions’ that derails early recovery for men (and women) is ‘falling in love’. But whilst this is a problem that afflicts both men and women I’m going to write about how it goes down for men in recovery.
TRUST YOUR FEELINGS?
Apart from it’s not. It’s essentially a neurochemical trick. After years of substance abuse we are massively REWARD DEFICIENT. When we become abstinent it becomes apparent very quickly what addiction is really all about. It’s not about the drugs. It’s about HOW YOU FEEL WHEN YOU’RE NOT DOING DRUGS.
DOPAMINE BOOSTING ACTIVITIES
More or less any form of dopamine activation (‘falling in love’, smoking cigarettes, caffeine consumption, eating calorie laden foods) will make these symptoms slightly more bearable. Because they are also strongly dopamine boosting activities. The problem is – improving mid-brain dopamine tone – which is what needs to happen in the brain when we recover – is best achieved by means of true intimacy, and developing potent feelings of meaning and purpose. And this is not going to happen in the context of sexually charged, exclusive, and highly secretive relationship, which is almost certainly not one you would have chosen given time and space to choose correctly.
Oftentimes in early recovery many of us make the mistake of grabbing hold of the first person who validates us, and the likelihood of this person being suitable for as a person to be intimate with – is VIRTUALLY ZERO. But it feels so real!
A week later, Ms. B gets into a heated discussion with her actual boyfriend on the weekend phone call. She tells him exactly what her feelings for Mr. A are. The boyfriend is furious. After the phone call, Ms. B discharges herself immediately against medical advice. She proceeds to a hotel where she gets extremely drunk in her room. Mr. A follows her that evening. He has also discharged himself against medical advice after several furious phone calls where his father attempted to talk him down. But there’s no stopping Mr. A now.
When he gets to the hotel he doesn’t even get high or have a drink. He tells Ms. B he is ‘still focused on his recovery’. Then they have sex.
Immediately afterwards Mr. A feels empty inside. He doesn’t really know what he is doing here. “Shit … this is bad. What am I going to do now?” he asks himself.
After a few hours of lying next to his drunken sweetheart, who is now completely comatose, he gets out of bed and dresses and heads out of the door. He knows exactly where he is going. And it’s not back to rehab!
Of course, not every romantic liaison in early recovery is like this. Oftentimes it’s not this bad – people pull back from the brink and come to their senses. But sometimes it’s even worse than this. Bottom line – the safest course of action in early recovery is to keep yourself single or work through the relationship you are already in, to either move it forward, or to bring it to it’s inevitable conclusion.