Dealing with a relationship break up in recovery
Dealing with the break-up of an intimate relationship is hard, perhaps even more so for those of us in addiction recovery.
Inherently, the difficulties arise with the manageability of our emotions, especially if this is a new experience in sobriety.
The end of an intimate relationship can bring up all kinds of powerful emotions, emotions that we will have previously repressed with drugs or alcohol. Living life on life terms means facing and processing everything that is thrown our way.
Sometimes, things do not work out for a reason. Believing in this can bring some comfort during troubling times.
When a relationship ends with someone we have become deeply attached to, arguably it is one of the most painful things a human being can experience. However, it is possible to get through it without relapsing and without resorting to destructive or harmful behaviours.
When a relationship naturally comes to an end
Many relationships break up because the two parties want different things or they have simply outgrown each other. Relationship break ups like these are probably more common in addiction recovery.
When a person comes into recovery from addiction the dynamics of all their personal relationships change.
Before, to a lesser of greater extent, there will have been dysfunction and co-dependency. Their relationships will need to be restructured to be healthier, more honest and open, and with better communication. This way a break-up can be avoided.
Not everyone can adapt to drastic change.
Some people become comfortable living with a loved one in active addiction. They become accustomed to the chaos, the adrenaline and the feeling of being needed. A person who is following a recovery programme, may well outgrow their partner in this respect and find that they need to break up from the relationship in order to preserve their own sanity and sobriety.
Most people who break up a relationship give the matter a great deal of consideration beforehand. They will start to feel that something is missing in the relationship, that it has become stagnant, toxic, or is holding them back from what they really want. No one is to blame in situations such as this. Nevertheless, it can still be extremely painful, even if the decision is yours.
Where a relationship breakup is brought about by codependency, it is best to have no contact with each other, and for each party to focus on their own wellbeing. Contact can only draw a person back into a codependent relationship. This ‘dance’ can go on and on.
10 tips to help you stay sober during a relationship break up
Everyone deals with emotional challenges differently and the end of an intimate relationship is no exception. Whilst some may find relief in dating others straight away, sooner or later, avoided emotions and unhealed wounds have a habit of catching up.
In addiction recovery, this is something to pay particular attention to. Whilst avoiding we are not processing and healing from the past.
1. Give yourself some space
When an intimate relationship breaks up, it is rarely wise to keep in contact initially. This habit can only prolong the pain and stop each of you from moving forwards. It is important to have your own space to process your emotions and give yourself the opportunity to heal. If you have children, it’s ok for them to see you sad and for you to express healthy emotions. Remember they too may be sad, so keep the lines of communication open. Just because you need some space from your break up, try to keep everything as stable as you can so it has less of an impact on others.
2. Let the emotions out
Cry, scream, vent, talk - do whatever you need to do to let the emotion out so it can dissipate. Do this is a safe space or with someone you trust. Be mindful as to how much you expose of your emotions in front of children, though. If you are upset, explain it to them so that they do not assume the worst. Reassure them that they had no part in the break up and that you will provide them with a safe space to be heard.
3. Deal with any resentments or guilt you have regarding the relationship
Resentment, guilt, regret and shame will only darken your spirit and prevent you from moving forwards. You can process these emotions with a sponsor, spiritual advisor, trusted friend or a counsellor. These emotions can leave you vulnerable to relapse if not worked through in a healthy way.
4. Learn from the relationship and from the break up
Each encounter we have with another human being has the ability to teach us something about ourselves (if we are open-minded). Rather than place blame, it may be helpful to look at what you would do differently in the future. Instead of focusing on your or their mistakes, try to focus on what you would like in the future from a healthy relationship, and what you would like both parties to bring to it.
5. Lean on others and support networks
Most of us in addiction recovery have the added benefit of contact with like-minded people who are further down the road of recovery than ourselves. These people can be a great source of support and hope. They can help to keep us grounded in times of uncertainty. If they know us well, they can remind us of the reasons why the break up happened, so that our minds do not change the narrative.
6. Use your recovery toolkit
Coming into recovery, we have the opportunity to learn new coping strategies. Whatever is in your recovery toolkit, whether it be a recovery programme, spiritual principles, exercise, being social, journalling, inventory, attending meetings or therapy, use them all. Focusing on your recovery will keep you grounded and allow you to grow through the experience of a relationship break up. It will also vastly reduce your chances of relapse.
7. Make plans
With the end of a relationship break up, you will undoubtedly find yourself with a lot of free time on your hands. Time that previously you would have spent with your partner. Make use of this time in a constructive way. Make plans to attend extra recovery meetings and hang our with friends and family. Also make time for yourself to do the things you enjoy. You may even wish to enrol in a class in the evenings or weekends so that you are occupied and engaged in something that you want to learn. If you have children, set aside time for them, to enjoy them and engage in age-appropriate activities. Getting in touch with your inner child and nurturing it can be extremely healing and rewarding.
8. Focus on self-care
We aren't talking about being selfish here, we are talking about investing in your own wellbeing. Of course, it is helpful to help others in times of emotional pain, but this shouldn't be used as a distraction. Taking care of yourself will increase your self-worth, which is something that can take a real bashing during a relationship break up. Eating well and sleeping well are both important foundations. Add to this, spending time doing things you enjoy. Whether it’s going to the movies, binging on a boxset, reading, fishing, meditation etc, learning to enjoy your own company can prove to be a very positive thing.
9. Keep a set routine
Routine is everything when it comes to having additional time on our hands. As much as you may feel like withdrawing from people and meetings, now more than ever it is important to keep these things in place. This will require setting aside your ego and being your true authentic self. So what if you start crying? What is the worst that can happen? If anything, you are giving others the opportunity to reach out to you and to become emotionally vulnerable themselves.
10. Be patient with yourself
There is no set time limit on grief, provided you have been proactive in processing it. Give time, time, as they say. Don't compare yourself with others, everyone deals with relationship breaks ups differently and every relationship is different in many respects. Instead, take the opportunity to undergo some intensive healing, perhaps looking at things you never had the chance to do whilst in a relationship. Take it a day at a time. A relationship break-up is rarely a negative thing in the long run. Yes, it can be hard to navigate the emotions and everything else that comes with it, but knowing in your heart it was not meant to be will keep you moving forwards.
A relationship break-up is not the end - It is the beginning
Whilst, undoubtedly extremely painful, and at the time you may feel like it’s the end of the world, a relationship break up can be a fresh start. It can give you the opportunity to become your true authentic self without the pressure of trying to please a partner.
When you are truly happy and content with your life and yourself, romantic relationships become less of an important focus. They bring added value to your life, instead of filling something that was missing in the first place.
You will also have more of an idea of what it is you want to give and receive from a romantic relationship, and if you don't deviate from this too much. Your relationships will be much more fulfilling and healthier in future when a break up is used as a learning curve.
If you are struggling with a breakup, reach out to our community of likeminded others who can support you in on your road of recovery
Understanding addiction and connection in recovery
- Addicted to love: What is love addiction and when should it be treated? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5378292/
- Managing a relationship breakdown: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Managing-a-relationship-breakdown
- Codependency: a disorder separate from chemical dependency: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1556208/