If we have managed to hold on to our relationship by the end of our drinking or using, we are very fortunate. We have partners who have put up with a great deal – this maybe because despite everything they still love us, maybe they have put up with us for our children or maybe our illness has served them in some way – they got something out of being needed and us always being on the back foot.
So once in recovery everything has changed and this does not necessarily mean that everything will suddenly come right. Our expectations may be that all will suddenly be fantastic, though.
The reasons for this are many. First of all, we will all have it drummed into us that our recovery must come first – before our relationships. This is because we will not have a (healthy) relationship if we go back to drinking or using. Our partner may find it very difficult to understand that, after having to put up with us not sober for so long, now we are sober they do not get first call on what we are doing. We need to get to recovery meetings and work our programme before anything else. They may have been expecting to be the focus of our time and attention, and for us to be making up to them for all the wrongs we have done. This will come but in the fullness of time.
They may also not like that we will have new clean and sober friends, that we will be taking more of an interest in our appearance and going off out to a new life. Some may be jealous of this and wonder if we are having a new relationship. Our behaviour can seem selfish – as it seemed we were selfish in the past because we put drinking or using first, now we put not drinking or using first. Our families may feel that we never have had nor will have time for them and understandably be pretty fed up about it. They may feel we have swapped one obsession (drinking or using) for another (recovery).
There has to be a compromise. You can still make recovery your first priority but it should be possible for you to give some interrupted time to your partner each week. Try and help your partner to understand what it is you need to go to meetings for and what happens in them and what you get out of them (without compromising anyone’s anonymity). Introduce your partner to some of your new recovery friends. Even better, suggest your partner goes to Al Anon to get a full understanding of recovery and to meet people in the same boat.
Finally, if you are concerned that your partner has a problem, encourage him or her to go to meetings with you. However, until he or she is ready, it may not be possible for them to give up drinking or using. If this is the case, you may need to seriously consider leaving for an alcohol and drug free environment. This may be best for your recovery – and may be the best thing you can do for your partner too. As those of us in recovery know, it has to get sufficiently painful before we finally are ready for a life in recovery.
If you or a loved one have a drink or drug related problem, please call 0330 333 8184 for confidential help and advice