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When Two (Recovering) Addicts Fall in Love

Alex and I met the day I got to rehab. I will always remember the exact sweater he was wearing. He asked me where I was from, I said Atlanta. I asked him where he was from, he said Chicago. We discussed rappers and drugs. Very quickly both of our therapists told us to steer clear from each other, and other than a few worthwhile rebellions here and there, we did. We made friends, we discovered ourselves, we cried — sometimes in the same room. I got back into school, he got a job.

Six months later, after we had both successfully “graduated” from the program, we kissed. We were in Seattle, visiting our friend, and it just happened. I remember wondering if it would ever happen again, and the next day we didn’t discuss it. Our friendship continued to grow. We went on hikes, we went to concerts and learned to dance (sober), we did “lame sober things” like bowling and puzzles (actually very fun!) and eventually, we kissed again.

When I told my therapist, the same one who had months ago told me to steer clear of him, she wasn’t mad, but she wasn’t happy. She again told me to be careful, and I understood why. So often there have been couples that meet in rehab, fall desperately and tragically in love, and decide to leave together. They typically end up using or drinking together within a matter of weeks. Sometimes it ends with an unplanned pregnancy, sometimes it’s a messy breakup, and sometimes it ends in death. As we know, misery loves company, so it’s not hard to see how two addicts in early recovery can be a recipe for disaster. But underneath all of the warnings, she smiled and said, “Or it could work out great.”

A few weeks later, we got a call saying our friend in Seattle had died of an overdose. It was heartbreaking, and infuriating and scary and sad and we both sat on Alex’s couch in disbelief. We had just seen him less than two months ago. After my initial thoughts about my late friend, I wondered about us — about Alex and I. How was I to know this wouldn’t happen to him? How am I supposed to know when he’s lying or sneaking around, something addicts are infamously great at? What assurance do I have that I won’t find him dead one day? The truth is, I have none, and neither does he.

This experience made us both cautious, and suddenly the warnings of my therapist were ringing in my head. I was scared. Not only of the possibility of him relapsing — but of myself relapsing. Early recovery is about learning how to love yourself, and part of that is protecting yourself from things that may trigger you to use. That means not going around people that are bad influences, that means not taking on too many hours at work or school, and most importantly, not subjecting yourself to unnecessarily negative emotions — which is exactly what a relationship has the potential to do. I imagined us breaking up, and I winced at the thought.

We decided to have a discussion about “us” — scary adult stuff! I told him I was worried, that if you think about it, every relationship ends badly, and even the one that “works out” might not actually “work out” (divorce rates are at 50 percent these days). So basically, I said all relationships are doomed and so are we. I was overthinking and I was stressing myself out. We agreed to take things slowly, but first he told me he had to tell me something. Oh god, I thought.

He told me that before we first kissed, he got drunk one night with a friend, but he has been sober ever since. It was one night. There are no good or bad relapses, but assuming he was telling the truth, I said OK. I told him we could move forward and he started his “sobriety date” over to the day he came clean to me. I told him I wouldn’t be so forgiving a second time, and he told me there wouldn’t be one.

Trust is not an easy thing to give nor earn, but we did both. We had faith in our ourselves and our relationship, and it worked out. Since then, we have both been sober — me for almost two years, him for over one. More importantly, we have both been happy and healthy. The first year of sobriety was extremely difficult — with friends dying and overdosing and relapsing all around us — and I consider myself lucky to have a best friend by my side who I can count on. Sometimes I think this makes it easier for me than other people in recovery, because I have someone to keep me accountable every day, someone to share my most harrowing fears with, someone who gets it. We were in rehab together, so I know everything about him and he knows everything about me. We know each other’s’ exes and family trees and criminal records. All the little buttons that are most dangerous to push, and all the bruises that require extra love. Maybe this is why we work so well.

But ultimately, we love the same life. The good life — full of mountains and memes and calling our moms. We got a puppy and we both got serious about our education. When we moved into a house together, we named our wifi after the therapists who once told us not to talk to each other. Nothing has been perfect, and life continues to be difficult and trying, but we always get through.

Together, we have seen seasons pass and grandparents die. We have our late friend’s belongings in our house like a shrine, and we light a candle for him sometimes when a certain song by The Cure comes on. Sometimes, we share stories about “the dark days” before we got sober, and mostly they are funny, but sometimes they break my heart. I look at the man who I see every day — the one who doesn’t let me quit a hike even when my legs are burning, the one who is obsessed with having a clean kitchen and impeccable dental hygiene, the one who, for a living, helps other people get sober — and I am so grateful I met him when I did. I am so grateful I’ve never seen him drunk or high. I’m so glad he never saw me glossy-eyed and lying. Mostly, I am grateful for my faith in the fact that if we continue down the path we’re on, we will never see that side of one another. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA‘s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Photo via contributor.