In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be fun to write a piece on relationships.
Maybe you read that and groaned. How stereotypical of me, right? And really? Valentine’s Day? It’s commercial nonsense. It makes single people feel resentful and lonely. Shouldn’t we show our love to one another every day of the year?
Bearing all that in mind, those of you who know me in “real life” may also be thinking: “Uhm…Autumn? You’re kind of terrible at relationships”.
And you are absolutely right. If it is Dumb, Dangerous, Dysfunctional, Destructive, or Dependent…I’ve done it. Probably more than once. Possibly one hundred times. That’s a lot of “D’s” on my romance report card. Believe it or not, this track record is exactly what qualifies me to write about relationships.
If you are new to sobriety and/or recovery, I do not suggest getting into a relationship. I can only speak for myself, but it took three years of continuous sobriety just for my head to pop out of my ass. And remember those Titanic seats? It’s so easy to make another person your drug. I still have to work very hard not to do just that. Very, very hard.
I did not love myself when I started my journey in recovery. How can you love someone else if you do not love yourself?
For the first time in my whole life, I am in a healthy relationship. I do not hear that I am “stupid”, “not good enough”, a “bitch”, or a “whore”. I am not being assaulted or abused. I am not being stalked or taking part in stalking. I am not being used or taking part in using. There are no lies or mixed messages. Healthy doesn’t equal perfect – it equals safe.
In order to have a healthy relationship, I had to care about myself. I had to stop allowing toxic and unsafe people to be a part of my life. I also had to decide that I was going to be the kind of person who is safe to be around. I had to be accountable.
It is so easy to blame other people.
Water rises to its own level. The darkness in me naturally gravitates to the same darkness in others. I had to change myself in order to change what I attract. I had to learn to be self aware.
I am still learning what it means to love someone. Ideally, I am looking for the “guardian of my solitude”. Sometimes I am not good at being that guardian in return. It can be more comfortable to return to old habits of control, manipulation, and suffocation. “More,” my disease whispers. “All”. I now know that isn’t love. It is fear.
Maybe some of you out there don’t feel like you’ve ever truly experienced safety or love. If you can love yourself first, I promise it will be more beautiful than you can possibly imagine.
My girlfriend loves me in a way that frequently makes me cry tears of joy, healing, and relief. I can feel it filling the broken places I created or allowed others to create. It overwhelms me and spills out my eyes. Before she loved me, however, I had to fill these same broken places with my own love. And there are some voids that even her strongest love cannot fill and can only be satiated by recovery. It’s important for me to never forget.
Perhaps writing this helps me more than anyone else. The things I love about my girlfriend – the way she holds my hand, the comforting sound of her breath, the profile of her face while she sleeps, the pure joy in her laugh – can easily slip away if I am not diligent about nurturing my own separate being.
In earlier years of recovery, I transformed Valentine’s Day into “Self Kindness Day”. I cooked myself fancy pasta. I bought nice lingerie or made plans to take myself to the symphony. It felt fantastic. This year, a “Self Kindness Day” is my wish for all of you. Be yours. You deserve it.