All of us want and need to feel safe and secure. For many of us, fear of abandonment comes from a real trauma – for someone like myself, having been relinquished, I’ve grown up with that wound. Recovering and finding yourself again is one way to feel safer in the world; making connections with others and accepting and feeling love deepens the feelings of safety and helps us thrive.
Unfortunately, no matter how well we “do” recovery, there is no guarantee that we won’t experience another trauma of abandonment. In 12-step rooms this happens sometimes when a sponsor-sponsee relationship breaks down. For you non -2-steppers, a sponsor is sort of a guide in sobriety, someone who has some clean time and who hopefully knows the program of recovery well enough to help another person, a newcomer (a potential sponsee). Those relationships can become really close and important, as the sponsor becomes a lifeline to many newcomers with his/ her understanding of recovery and experience of having been through the process of becoming sober. The sponsor doesn’t replace a parent, but it can become a parental-like relationship, and many people are comfortable with that. When balanced and healthy, this relationship is crucial to many newly sober people’s lives.
But sometimes that relationship ends. There can be many reasons and there’s absolutely no way for me to give you an example of a “typical” reason because that’s not how it works. I suppose the easiest way to explain it would be to say that the sponsor and sponsee are not compatible enough, but that’s also not always the truth; sometimes the relationship ends because the sponsor (or sponsee) relapses, moves, gets sick… who can really tell? Both parties will feel some emotional stress and hurt, the sponsee might feel extra vulnerable if left by the sponsor—I’ve heard people in the rooms compare those breakups to romantic-relationship breakups and being just as hurtful. All the stages of loss can be present: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
There are other relationships that can end in recovery and that will feel especially bad because a newly sober person is often quite raw and just re-familiarizing herself with her feelings. An early sobriety is a very sensitive time when it comes to relationships—we are slow to trust but we are also so open and vulnerable without our drugs to keep us numb. This is why sometimes it is advised for people not to begin new romances or proceed slowly with reconciliations when getting sober. Add to it all the wound of abandonment so many of us carry and a breakup might be a catalyst for real danger.
The good news is, if you are going through a breakup, you’ll get through it. Think about it: you’ve had the enormous courage to get sober and stay sober. That takes a huge deal of strength and confidence and you might be much more powerful than you know. Don’t give into the feelings of discouragement and hurt—acknowledge them and talk about them with people you trust but don’t self-sabotage because of a disappointment. Acknowledge the abandonment and talk about it with a counselor if you have one, or someone in recovery who’s had some experience and some time. In the moment the feelings might be really overwhelming, and might be pushing you to want to just run and get some relief in your addiction, but the relief will be short-lived and the feelings will come back. It is better to deal with them sober than avoid them and use again. Be kind and gentle with yourself and take time to rest as you go through this trauma but don’t run into traffic; we need you here and time indeed heals many wounds. It just might heal this one.
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