Recovery Crush

I had a crush in recovery. That’s kind of a problem, because I’m married and I really love my husband and family, so what’s a gal in sobriety to do?

I was in my third year of recovery from alcoholism, and a fellow 12-stepper called me for a ride to a meeting. Let’s call her Helen. Honestly, it was a pain. She lives out of the way, and I like to ride alone with my own thoughts and agenda, but it was the right thing to do so I left early to get her. In exchange for a ride she offered me a coffee from Starbucks. That made the deal a little sweeter.

The Starbucks was busy, and I awkwardly placed my order with hers. I’m terrible at ordering fancy coffees. I love them, I’m just completely overwhelmed by the choices. As Helen gave her name and paid, I saw him at the other end of the counter where a small crowd was waiting for their orders. Let’s call him Bruce. I recognized him of course. He was new to the local recovery scene, a good looking guy just a few years older than me. I enjoyed what he shared in meetings and admired his growth in recovery. And here he was was looking at me in the bustling Starbucks. He smiled (he has a great smile too) and lifted a hand to wave. Then, he winked. He winked at me! I melted at this old timey charm. As if he cast a spell with that wink, suddenly I had a crush.

By now Helen had joined the waving and hellos down the length of the crowded Starbucks counter. The barista called his name, he took his cup and himself out the nearest door. I knew which meeting he was headed to, and it was not the one we were going to that night. My heart sank a little.

In the weeks that followed, every meeting I went to, I hoped to see him. We started interacting on social media together. I tried sometimes desperately to draw and absorb his attention. My head was swirling with romantic fantasies. Eventually I realized that this crush is a problem. I’m married, and I want to stay that way. The crush was distracting me, and it was not all fun. I was craving his affection like I used to crave drinks.

It’s so natural for people in recovery to have crushes. We are putting down our number one coping mechanism and the cloud nine effects of romance tuft themselves into the cracks of our perceived brokenness. It’s not a long term solution though. Rehab romances are forever the butt of jokes. Anyone in recovery can tell you tales of two lonely souls meeting in the rooms, their sickeningly passionate head over heels love, and disastrous dramatic break ups that lead to divvying up meetings, and in the worst case, relapse. There’s a reason old timers shake their fist and shout advice “No moving, divorce or marriage in the first year of recovery!”

I happened to be in therapy when this particular crush occurred. I had completed the 12 steps and at the advice of my then sponsor, I went into therapy to work out some ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) and abandonment issues.

With this objective expert on hand, I asked her what to do about my crush. She helped me see the truth of the situation, that Bruce was a lot like my husband and I was making up details in my head about him to be like some kind of super husband. I was relieved to see that I actually still loved my spouse. They even resemble each other. Not really knowing Bruce well, I placed imaginary characteristics on my crush as someone diligently working on recovery alongside of me, someone more fit, smarter, more groomed (I mean who isn’t better looking when they go out?!), more interested in ME, etc. My therapist and I talked about how my abandonment trauma can cause me to create back door relationships and escape plans because of my defensive tendency to expect my loved ones to leave me. I think my case is pretty typical, it didn’t take my therapist long to guide me back to contentment with the crush issue.

The crush faded almost as quickly as it came. With clear seeing, he was not the super husband I imagined him to be. Luckily, I was already hitched to the real super husband, the guy who was patient with my alcoholism, the man who works so hard at his job to provide for our family, who loves and plays with our children, the one who really is interested in me every day, all day, for the rest of his life. Bruce ended up moving away so it made any uncomfortableness even easier. I wish him all he best and I see on social media that he’s still clean and sober, I’m so very happy for him.

I’ve observed dozens of recovery romances, pairs that started as crushes, and they’ve evolved in all sorts of outcomes from marriage to divorce. My advice: proceed with crushes mindfully, and be aware that your addict/alcoholic brain will trick you, especially in early recovery. Falling for people feels good, almost like those mind altering substances we used to do. Share your thoughts about your crush with a trusted friend, mentor, or in my case a therapist. Keep in mind the bigger picture of your recovery, attachment issues or trauma. We all need intimate connection, to be accepted and loved, and all the fun physical stuff that goes with it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for goodness sake, don’t be a fool and fall for a wink.