As newcomers to recovery we want to feel safe, and perhaps a bit cared for. Some of us may have been longing for those feelings for most of our lives. There is a tendency for some of us to forget what the rooms of recovery are actually about — a group of flawed people who are gathered together for mutual support. It’s important to remember that none of us are there because we are healthy, well-balanced people. Even old-timers have their issues (at least this one does), some of which may have been addressed and some that may yet need to be.
Inevitably, we discover that rooms full of fallible, flawed human beings may contain a few who do not have our best interest at heart, just like out in the “real” world. Yes, it’s true. Whether or not we like to talk about it, there are predators in the rooms of recovery. There aren’t too many, but in a cross-section of human beings with our kind of problems, how could we expect that there wouldn’t be? Some of them may exhibit traits that are familiar to us, and we may find ourselves especially attracted to them.
A few spoiled apples shouldn’t be a reason for us to discard the entire barrel. The vast majority of people in recovery groups wish us only the best. However, especially if we are inclined to get involved in bad relationships outside the rooms, we need to be careful. If we know or suspect that we are attracted to abusers, users, or other folks who aren’t good for us we may find that we are particularly vulnerable to “Thirteenth Steppers” who may not be the best companions on our journey. These aren’t necessarily bad people. They may be highly codependent people who want to help, vulnerable to our particular vibes, or with too little recovery to know what is best for them (let alone for us). Nonetheless, even though they might have good intentions, they can’t help us with our recovery because they fit in too well with our own pathology.
This is why we suggest no relationships for the first year, until we are better equipped to handle ourselves and our emotions. I would go so far as to say that newcomers should have finished the steps with a sponsor before entering a relationship, regardless of how long they have been attending meetings. We are folks who don’t know how to have good relationships with ourselves, and until we get the hang of it we have no business confusing the issue. Nothing — absolutely nothing — can distract us from recovery as rapidly or as well as romance or its possibility.
Sobriety — if we do it right — is for the rest of our lives. It involves learning who we are, what is best for us, what things led us in the directions we took, and why that happened. Finally it is developing self-esteem and self-love based on the conviction that we are whole beings. Then we are able to look for other whole beings as partners. Two halves do not make a whole when it comes to partnerships. A good partnership is made up of two whole people who choose each other for the right reasons, not because they are looking for the part of them that they think is missing.
Wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from making mistakes. We need to keep that in mind, listening to suggestions from the folks who have been there. After all…if we know so much about what’s good for us, how did we end up here?