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Follow Your Bliss

By: Ashley Dane

Follow Your Bliss is the blog of Ashley Webb Dane, a mother of two teenagers who has been in recovery for five years. She is committed to carrying the message of the spiritual aspect of recovery and the empowerment of women in recovery. She is a certified hypnotherapist, and is currently Director of Communications at ONE80CENTER, a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Beverly Hills.

Can You Date In (early) Sobriety without Losing Yourself?

Jul 05, 2012

In my first year of sobriety, it was suggested to me by my sponsor that I write out a list of the qualities that I looked for in a man. Ugh!  I did it, of course, and it was a little surprising — surprising because it’s always such a shock to realize you aren’t as evolved as you think you are. My list went a little something like this: tall, dangerous, smart, tattooed, funny, scars from bullet or stab wounds, good looking, brooding, protective — the kind of man all the men respect and all the women want, with a dark gleam in his eye.

Yep. That was my list. No mention of kindness or generosity, ability to commit, emotionally available, good work ethic, nonjudgmental, not a womanizer … this list really only spoke of stuff on the surface. At the time, I hardly noticed how shallow my list really was. When I called my sponsor back, she said not to bother reading her the list but to consider that everything that I like in a man reflects who I am, either what I want to be or what I am available for. Yikes. Was it true that I was really projecting all these shallow things and wasn’t invoking principles, or at the very least available to them? don’t know the answer to that, as my thinking was, and is, deluded — only now I hope less so, but to claim perfect clarity would mean I had attained sainthood, and as we know, we are not saints. But this was, at that time, the kind of man I was attracting. We truly do get what we broadcast for. And wouldn’t you just know it, these men were not good for my level of serenity.

In a great book by Clarissa Pinkola Estes called Women Who Run With Wolves, she talks about how we manifest our inner predator in the outside world and go about setting the bait to attract said predator. Not always, but when we are a state of compromised selfhood, you betcha.  We basically create this archetype of a man who will do damage, and then invite him right in. She calls this a Bluebeard. It doesn’t mean the man himself is bad, it just means that in the scenario he is going to have with us, we don’t give him room to be anything but a predator. We have already set the whole thing up to sabotage ourselves by manifesting, basically, our disease on legs.

In relationships with these men, all our abandonment issues will be ignited, our sense of self will diminish, and our Higher Power becomes a secondary consideration. I’d even go so far to say that the man becomes our Higher Power. The really funny thing here is that while the man may seem like the emotionally unavailable one, it is really us who are untouchable at that deep and vulnerable level where real love is born from and lives. If we were available, we’d be open to available men.

That being said, it isn’t true that men suck, which is something you hear a lot from women in recovery, especially in the first five years.  It’s our ability to allow ourselves to experience relationships in a healthy way that really sucks. We don’t know how to do it. We are still distorted in our perceptions, and when asked to make lists of what we want in a man, we come up with absurd things like “tall” or “scars from knife wounds.”

It would be wise for women to stop blaming men for being how they are. We need to understand we give them little choice. We need to understand we could choose different, and we get what we broadcast for.

When we are healthy, we want health. We don’t want anything to diminish us and the balance we have found. Our criterion becomes more about finding someone who will bring something valuable to the table, because we know we are going to do the same. When we are still sick, we seek our own level, and that is probably why it is suggested that we not date in sobriety in the first year. It’s not a bad idea, really, but no one listens. When we give up the substances the first thing we want to do is lose ourselves in something, and the opposite sex (or the same sex, depending) is readily available, and meetings are full of newcomers all looking to lose themselves in someone else. The operative word here is LOSE. We LOSE ourselves. Here we are, trying to find our way, and yet losing ourselves at the same time.

Since I’ve established that I am no saint, I don’t mind telling you that I did it. I sought comfort in the opposite sex, and now that you’ve seen my list you know that meetings are a great place to meet my type. Having been there and done that, I can really see why it’s not a good idea. It would have been so easy to drink or use over any number of scenarios I got myself into. They brought up my deepest insecurities, which I had not yet learned to handle. It hurt! I went through the agony of waiting for the text or phone call, the sleuthing with girlfriends on Facebook, trying to discern significance out of ‘his’ most recent status update, and all of this in my late 30s and early 40s, no less.

We truly are like adolescents when we get sober, reliving things we avoided with drinking and using. I didn’t know these feelings, the pangs and highs and lows, could be so intense, as I was always able to medicate myself against it, until now. And I came to understand I didn’t like it, don’t like it. Those feelings I thought were love were nothing of the sort, they were romantic obsession and intrigue, which I used to stir up in the shit pot to distract me from my path, from my connection to my Higher Power. My ego/disease had outsmarted me, creating scenarios to lead me astray. It had helped me attract my internal predator externally, so I was sabotaging not only from the outside, but from the inside. We hardly stand a chance against our opponent! But we do stand a chance, we do.

My list for a mate now is very different. First of all, there really isn’t one, because I am whole and complete and happy and I am not looking for anything. But because I am whole, complete, happy, serene, enough just as I am, living by principles, I couldn’t really abide someone who didn’t bring those same qualities. My criterion is such that my inner gatekeeper is ever alert for good qualities in ALL people, not just men, but in all my relationships. I am looking for the acts of kindness, the lack of judgment, the spiritual element expressed in words and gestures, the principled actions. These are the kinds of people I want to keep close. And the more I look, the more I find it, because the world responds to our intention. I intend to find the best in people and I intend to find miracles every day, and I DO! I do, because what we perceive is our choice, and what we choose is what we get. It’s that simple.

They say that if you kill yourself before you get to your 5th sober birthday, you are killing the wrong person. Here at four years and eight months, I really get it. I am not the person I was when I got sober, not the person I was at one year sober, and not even like the person I was two years ago. If you are between one day and five years, stick with it. Really consider it when it is suggested not to date in sobriety in the first year. (You’re going to anyway; no one listens, but consider it). Be super aware of the choices you make, because if it isn’t a choice based in principles then it’s probably your Ego trying to take you down. That’s all it wants to do, and it’s relentless. Be relentless, too. This is not a secondary consideration, it is the primary purpose.

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Desperate  967 days ago

"They say that if you kill yourself before you get to your 5th sober birthday, you are killing the wrong person." I really needed to read this right now. I'm crying into my keyboard. Thank you.

Nathan  968 days ago

"They say that if you kill yourself before you get to your 5th sober birthday, you are killing the wrong person." I really needed to read this right now. I'm crying into my keyboard. Thank you.

Elle  2451 days ago

Thanks for your points on how our "list" reflects us...I've wondered if my sobriety date matters in relation to others (dating issues) and having over 14 years, while a guy I saw had 1.5 years, is there anything unhealthy about this? Yea, I'd like to hear to the blogger's and/or people's opinions, pros, cons,etc. Obviously, having a year yes, but is there to much of a growth "gap" with big differences like this?

nonamanous  2818 days ago

Glad to hear that a woman had good guidance in a program that doesn't always take on relationship and romance addiction head-on. The sex and love addiction programs seem to address this stuff directly. And experiential therapy, CSAT professionals and the folks at places like Onsite or ECHmemphis in TN seem to get to the real early stuff that's underneath all the intimacy issues. The medicating substances sit on top of medicating behaviours, and under those are the codependencies, and under that are the traumas and hurts. To really repair THAT stuff takes some people more than intellectual step work or lying on a couch and talking. Thank God for outside help. For some it takes more than a year to be ready for a relationship. I wouldn't put my one-year-old self into an adult situation like that, it would totally jeopardise my recovery, and life. I do see people relapse over relationships all the time, often when there's no older, wiser and healthy sponsor, or the appropriate outside help, to guide. Male or female, a cavalier attitude towards using romance, sex or relationships to medicate loneliness and anxiety-however natural-result in total chaos. I think it's unfortunate that the big book didn't spend a bit more time on romance addiction, but there was no way the primary author could have got to that level of emotional and relational sobriety in his day and age. By all accounts, a certain author's sex/romance addiction lasted til his end. Today we are more fortunate. It's just an issue of grace, luck, honesty and access to the right help. Without it many stay manipulative— victim, persecutor, or rescuer. It's simply an issue of accepting that real recovery goes deep... and the rooms may not always be enough. If things are wacky in your relational life, and noone around seems to have what you want, get to a CSAT therapist, and an SA, SRA, SLAA mtg or (if healthy in your community) SAA mtg. [SAA can have a culture of relapse in some cities, beware]

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