Breakups are one of the most traumatic parts of most people’s lives. But, if you’re going through recovery at the same time, they can be exponentially worse. Whether you’re ending a new relationship, or someone you though would be there for you as you recover has chosen to end things, breakups are difficult. And, especially now, they put you at risk of a relapse.
Managing your emotions without the fallback of getting drunk, hanging out with friends, and refusing to think about it can be difficult. Breaking up in sobriety means facing your emotions and coping with them. That’s incredibly difficult, but eventually, significantly healthier for you. Alcohol is also a depressant. No matter how much you’re craving it, it will only make you feel worse.
Navigating a heartbreak is always difficult. It’s important to give yourself time to grieve. It’s also important to be strict with yourself and to set guidelines and boundaries. If you aren’t, you may find yourself in the middle of a relapse and in need of more treatment. These 8 tips should help you to get started.
Most of us go into rehab because of and for our partners and spouses. That can make it doubly heartbreaking to lose them when we leave rehab. The thing is, staying with us is not always the best decision for our loved ones. In fact, it can be incredibly bad for them.
For example, if you had a substance use disorder while in a relationship with someone, you caused that person trauma. No questions. You caused them trauma. That might relate to the fact that substance abuse causes people to withdraw from the people they love. It might relate to blackouts or overdoses. It might relate to manipulative behavior, lying, or breaching trust. And, it might relate to actual emotional or physical abuse. Substance abuse changes your reactions, and you are often no longer in control. But, you still did those things. It is likely very fair that your partner needs space from that. No matter how painful it is, they might need this for their mental health. Accepting that and accepting that this is the best choice for them will hurt. But it also gives you the perspective to see it from the point of building a new life and letting them build theirs.
You also have to consider that you are no longer the person they started dating. Addiction changes you. Rehab changes you further. The version of you they fell in love with you is different. They might have taken till now to realize it, but it’s good that they did. It’s important for you and for them to be in an honest relationship – and that means being honest with yourself as well. Chances are, your partner has been holding on to ideas like, “When they quit, things will go back to how they were before”. Things are never going back to how they were before. Most importantly, you don’t want them to. Because, how things were before was in a place where you ended up with a substance use disorder. So, no matter how good the relationship was, your life and your habits had problems. You don’t want to go back, not even for your relationship.
These two points are important because they show that you are better off moving forward and they likely need to move forward. Cutting ties hurts, but it might allow someone you care about to rebuild their life in a healthy way, without the trauma of a past addiction.
Many of us respond to being hurt by withdrawing, isolating, and telling everyone to leave us alone. That’s especially true for men, who normally aren’t given as much leeway to show emotional pain. But withdrawing and dealing with everything yourself is the absolute last thing you should do. Reach out, talk to your friends and family, cry in front of people. Take steps to ask your network for support and for help. You need that.
If you’re experiencing cravings, you also likely want to take that to your self-help group or to your therapist. Don’t keep it bottled up. It’s normal and natural that you’d respond to trauma and stress by thinking about drugs or alcohol. After all, that was likely a coping mechanism for a very long time.
It can be tempting to allow emotions to get the better of you and to be angry and upset at your partner. But breaking up in a measured way allows you to maintain closure, to avoid causing further harm, and allows you to deal with things in a way that help you to cope with it rather than the opposite. That means exercising emotional control, responding in polite and apologetic ways, and acknowledging that you have hurt and upset that person.
Chances are, by the time you’re reading this article, you’ve already gone through the initial breakup. You’ve already handled initial reactions, and however that went, it is too late to change now. But, you can take steps to handle every other interaction for the rest of your contact with as much poise and emotional control as you can. That means apologizing for where you are at fault, acknowledging that your partner is free and maybe even right to leave, and being respectful of them. You don’t have to help them move their things and paint their new apartment (if they are moving out) but you should be respectful, take time to add closure, and otherwise treat them in a way that you’d want to be treated.
If you’ve been to rehab, you know that physical health affects your mood, energy, and cravings. You know that a few weeks spent on the couch being upset can be disastrous for your ability to resist cravings. So, you know that no matter how bad you feel, you have to continue to maintain your physical health. Most of us have the freedom to wallow in self-pity for a few weeks and then pick up the pieces. You can wallow, and you should, but you also need to do so while eating well, taking time to exercise, and getting a reasonable amount of sleep for your recovery.
You need time to grieve at the end of a relationship. You need time to acknowledge that you are emotionally hurt. And, you have to take time to recognize that your emotions are valid. Chances are, you’ve spent a lot of time in the past doing exactly the opposite. But, it’s important to grieve. How long that grief will last doesn’t matter. But it will last, it will come and go, and it won’t be easy.
It’s always a good idea to set aside a few days or at least a week and go “I don’t have to be productive in this time, I don’t have to stick to my schedule 100%, I am sad and I need time”. As a recovering addict, you cannot afford to let things slip too far, but give yourself space to recover. Facing your emotions and acknowledging them will also go a long way towards helping you to recover your mental stability and self-esteem, even though it might not seem that way now.
Give yourself a week or two to do nothing and then commit to engaging in social and physical activities. Good distractions include social outings, learning new hobbies, improving your home, spending time with family, or playing games. You likely want to avoid activities where you’re alone and mostly engaging with a screen – because those might eventually cause you to feel more alone. Instead, look for social activities, especially outdoors, that will trigger the reward circuit and help you to feel better.
Your coping mechanisms, like your sleep and wake schedules, your eating habits, your exercise regime, your therapy, etc., are all important to your recovery. It’s crucial that you do not let these slip. Try to maintain your existing habits – even if you need to ask for help to do so. That can be difficult, especially when you’re experiencing extreme grief, but maintaining yourself and maintaining your habits are a coping mechanism in and of themselves.
Losing someone is difficult. It’s more so if you are facing other trauma and also dealing with cravings. Seek out professional help. That may mean contacting your therapist from rehab. It may mean contacting a new therapist to help you with interpersonal relationships. It does matter that you continue to get help. If you start to see yourself slipping, reach out. If you are struggling with dealing with emotions, get help. That help is there, and it does work.
Breakups are hard. Now, as you are moving through sobriety, they are likely to be even harder. Hopefully, you can navigate this breakup, find closure, and both of you can build a better life.
If you or a loved one need help with drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient substance abuse programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained addiction treatment team of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 565-4067.