Family, Dating and Marital Relationships in Recovery

In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

It always amazes me that both a person in recovery as well as that person’s significant other and family often get this strange idea that if the person does well in recovery all problems will vanish. As if recovery goes well all the problems of the past will disappear and the future will be one without any troubles or pain. This is not only a problem, but a set up for disaster.

If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy. But all problems will not be solved at once. Seed has started to sprout in a new soil, but growth has only begun. In spite of your new-found happiness, there will be ups and downs. Many of the old problems will still be with you. This is as it should be.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

It always amazes me that both a person in recovery as well as that person’s significant other and family often get this strange idea that if the person does well in recovery all problems will vanish.  As if recovery goes well all the problems of the past will disappear and the future will be one without any troubles or pain.  This is not only a problem, but a set up for disaster.

The truth is that the pains of the past are yet to be fully resolved if resolved at all.  For example, if a person was cheated on and one or the other finishes a recovery program, there will still be pain.  One or both of the parties may be better prepared to start working through the pain involved, but there is still hurt and confusion.  As the passage on page 117 states:  “Many of the old problems will still be with you.”  This is the absolute truth.  There will still be some of the old problems and, “This is as it should be.  ”

Why is it that this “is as it should be”?  Because, the discomfort and pain one feels when these old problems come up are not evil, they are actually opportunities in disguise.  Here is the fact:  Pain and discomfort are not your enemy!!  Pain and discomfort are neutral. 

Think of a thermometer.  If you stick on in your mouth and it states that your temperature is 98.6˚ you are doing fine.  If however, you stick the thermometer and it reads 106˚, you have a problem.  It would be foolish to get mad at the thermometer and yell at it or do everything you can to avoid the thermometer or to avoid talking about what the thermometer says.  The thermometer reading 106˚ simply indicates that something is wrong and needs to be dealt with just like the coughing, sneezing, stomach ache etc. that probably brought that person to the thermometer also were indicators of a problem that had to be dealt with.

These uncomfortable feelings and emotional pains that will come up are the same.  They are not evils to be yelled at or avoided, they are indicators of something that is wrong and needs to be properly dealt with.  Just like yelling at or avoiding the information on the thermometer, not only do such actions not help, the problem usually gets worse when not properly dealt with.  The discomfort and pain are not the problem.  That is what the authors of the Alcoholics Anonymous book mean when they say “This is as it should be.  ”

The faith and sincerity of both you and your husband will be put to the test. These work-outs should be regarded as part of your education, for thus you will be learning to live. You will make mistakes, but if you are in earnest they will not drag you down. Instead, you will capitalize them. A better way of life will emerge when they are overcome.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

These uncomfortable events that arise are called “work-outs” here.  Think of what working out is.  In the case of weight lifting, a person gets resistance in the direction a muscle moves which tears down the muscle tissue.   This tearing down of the tissue allows the muscle to be rebuilt larger and stronger.  These uncomfortable events may feel like they are tearing you down, but they are simply allowing everyone involved the opportunity to be rebuilt stronger if confronted.

But what about if not confronted or if confronted improperly? 

Some of the snags you will encounter are irritation, hurt feelings and resentments. Your husband will sometimes be unreasonable and you will want to criticize. Starting from a speck on the domestic horizon, great thunderclouds of dispute may gather. These family dissensions are very dangerous, especially to your husband. Often you must carry the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control. Never forget that resentment is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. We do not mean that you have to agree with your husband whenever there is an honest difference of opinion. Just be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 117)

What may seem like a little thing can be blown way out of proportion in a hurry and the result will be far more tearing down than building up for everyone involved.  As far as the resentment or improperly handled issues every person in the situation, including the person in recovery carries “the burden of avoiding them or keeping them under control.”  That does not mean not confronting things, that simply means; “be careful not to disagree in a resentful or critical spirit.”

Notice in the beginning of this passage I quoted:  “If you and your husband find a solution for the pressing problem of drink you are, of course, going to be very happy.”  That is because every person has growing that he or she should be doing.  If you have been around an addict or an alcoholic, it is often the case that you have problems that either helped in making this person worse or that are a result of this person’s problems.  Blame, anger, resentment and so on will not do you or that person any good and may erupt into terrible harm.  The absolute truth is:  YOU CANNOT FIX ANOTHER HUMAN BEING, BUT YOU CAN WORK ON FIXING YOURSELF!!!  Along with that is the fact that you cannot fix another person, you can however do great harm to another person. 

The bottom line is that the discomfort, pain, disagreement and such are probably not bad; they are most likely just opportunities in disguise.  Confronting things in a “resentful or critical spirit” is the evil that will keep all involved from the “very happy” described here.

 Wade H.

Can I Go To Family and Work Gatherings Where There is Drinking

From – Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Every year I get rush of questions about going places where people are drinking (like family gatherings, company parties etc.).  I hope the following thoughts may be of help.  If you have some sort of mentor, counselor, sponsor or someone otherwise working with you in your recovery, please consult with them before going to any gathering that may be a danger to your recovery.

Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. People have said we must not go where liquor is served; we must not have it in our homes; we must shun friends who drink; we must avoid moving pictures which show drinking scenes; we must not go into bars; our friends must hide their bottles if we go to their houses; we mustn’t think or be reminded about alcohol at all.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 100-101)

Going into the holiday season, we need to have a good idea how far along each one of us is in our recoveries.  This also means ensuring the proper safeguards are in place if you are somehow obligated to be in a situation dangerous to your sobriety.

  • Will you never again be able to go to a Christmas party or a Thanksgiving dinner because there is alcohol there?
  • If there are one or two members of your family who still use heavily does that mean you can never again attend a family function?
  • Can other members of your family have a glass of wine with a holiday dinner at your home?

There is no perfect answer to these questions.  One of the main points to make here is that the answers to these questions depend completely upon where you are in your sobriety.

I am not totally convinced that each of us is capable of making a full assessment of our ability to be around these things, but there are some who are better able.  Some examples include:

  • A good sponsor who knows you real well
  • Any person that has been given a mentoring role in your life such as a pastor, priest, adviser, and so on.
  • A Professional counselor if you have one that you have been seeing for a while.

If you find that you have nobody in this sort of mentoring role in your life you have a gaping hole in your recovery and need to deal with that first.

The next thing to ask is why do I want to be in this place?

  • So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 101)
  • You will note that we made and important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 101-102)

The question to ask yourself is why am I going to this function when I know it may be dangerous for me?

Are you only thinking about yourself in attending.

  • Selfishness – Self-centeredness! That we think is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)
  •  Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic instead! (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)

Can you be there focusing on helping someone else and not just to have fun?  In other words, just because there is darkness does not mean that you have to be dark also; why not be a light in the darkness?

  •  Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful. You should not hesitate to visit the most sordid spot on earth on such an errand. Keep on the firing line of life with these motives and God will keep you unharmed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)

Can you be open about why you will not use to everybody?

  •  Let your friends know they are not to change their habits on your account. At a proper time and place explain to all your friends why alcohol disagrees with you. If you do this thoroughly, few people will ask you to drink.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)

If you tell everyone why you are not using and that you need their help you should either get a positive response at least from most of those in attendance or the people you are going to be around may not be the safest people for you.  If they cannot respect your desire to be a better person they do not truly care about you.

Is your spiritual condition solid?

  •  But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)
  • Keep on the firing line of life with these motives and God will keep you unharmed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)

Do you have a spiritual advisor or mentor who can help you assess your spiritual condition

 These are just some ideas from the Big Book.  I am quite sure there are other things to look at and to think about.  I am hopeful that these tidbits will help you and anyone you may be working with in decided what is appropriate and not appropriate.

These types of gatherings can be an important part of life and of your recovery when you are ready.  The very same gatherings can be destructive and hurtful if you are not.  May God keep you.


Keep on the firing line of life with these motives and God will keep you unharmed.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 102)

Relationships in Early Recovery

I remarried in Alcoholics Anonymous, to a man who believes in A.A. the way I do.  (I knew we were off to a good start when he didn’t get angry that I stood him up to go on a Twelfth Step call.) We agreed to never be higher than third on each others list, with God always first and Alcoholics Anonymous second. He is my partner and best friend. We both sponsor several people, and our house is filled with love and laughter. Our telephone never stops ringing. We share the joy of a common solution.
(Alcoholics Anonymous 4th Edition pg 521)

I regularly get questions and encounter people in recovery who are struggling with dating or marriage relationships. There are many in the recovery field that feel that a person should be a year, three years, five years, or more in recovery before starting a relationship. The problem is that many of us going into recovery are married or have children with the person we have been with and so on and this may not be practical. Truthfully many of us also will simply ignore some parts of the recovery program we are in to do what we want anyway, so what do those of us who have relationships do to make them work?

I cannot tell you how to magically make these relationships work, but the “Big Book” does mention some of the key issues that will help.

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

The same root problem that is described in the Big Book as the root of our
addictions is also poison to our relationships. Some people take from the
other person and don’t give back. Some people give to the other person as a way to force that person to respond in some way you wish him or her to (such as appreciation, compliments, etc.). That is also a sort of selfishness it is just disguised as giving. It is manipulating another person to get your own needs met. Some people want someone to make the tough decisions, and help direct them in some way. In other words some of us like to be told what to do. The selfish behavior here is in finding a person you can use by allowing them to be in charge so you yourself feel comfortable.

First God, then your own work on recovery and sanity, then the relationship
(each other and yourself), that is the order outlined above. Steps 10, 11, and
12 must be practiced in all our affairs including these relationships. Such
concepts as forgiveness as in Steps 4 and 5 or making amends as in Steps 8 and 9 are key. Being completely willing to have God fix all of your own shortcomings and then asking Him is a must. Focus on the word “your” and no mention of the other person’s shortcomings in the previous statement and in the steps. Of course you cannot ignore Steps 1,2, and 3 in your relationship. You are powerless over your own foolishness in a relationship, but God can and will work in your relationship if He is sought.


The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in a collision with something or somebody, even if our motives are good. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 60)

One more thing is to get help in the area of relationships in the same way you
get help in your using. Get the guidance and example of someone who is far more advanced in relationship issues just like you have to get a sponsor and have a strong group around you in recovery.

Annoyance and the Alcoholic, Addict, and Those Around Them

When dealing with an alcoholic, there may be a natural annoyance that a man could be so weak, stupid and irresponsible.  Even when you understand the malady better, you may feel this feeling rising.  Alcoholics Anonymous pg 139

This is the tendency for anyone who is around an alcoholic or addict for any period of time.  Even those who work in recovery find themselves periodically experiencing this felling of “annoyance.” 

Let’s look at this from two perspectives.

 First of all, from the perspective of a sober person who is around a person with addiction or abuse problems

The person we are discussing must in fact be responsible in some way or other for what you feel and I would never try to say that that person can just blame anything he or she has done on the fact of the “disease” or just to say it is the past. 

If that were the intention of 12 step programs there would be no reason for a person working step 4 to look for his or her own part in all of the resentments listed (Where were we to blame?  The inventory was ours, not the other man’s…We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight. – Alcoholics Anonymous pg 67)

There also would be no use for Steps 8 and 9 for if a person was not responsible for his or her actions when using or due to the “disease” there would be nothing to make amends for.

The thing to consider as any person dealing with or encountering someone in the process of recovery is:  “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”

If someone is actually working through the steps properly, conviction for wrongs done to others is a natural and necessary part of the process.  Attacking a person who is trying to go through this may take a deeply uncomfortable situation and turn it into too much to handle.

If you happen to be a person who is working with a person or persons in recovery, you have to understand that your goal is to do no harm.  If you have are going to hurt someone else’s recovery who is looking to you for help by some action, you must not take that action.

I am not saying not to confront these issues, but I am saying to find ways to confront these issues in a way that helps the person and does not hurt.  A good way to start is to talk to that person’s sponsor, counselor, etc. about the situation and plan for an appropriate point in the recovery process to have the confrontation.

For the bottom line look at what it says on pg 108 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book:

“He is just another very sick, unreasonable person.  Treat him, when you can, as though he had pneumonia.  When he angers you, remember that he is very ill.”

 Now from the second perspective which is the perspective of the person who is going through recovery and others are experiencing this annoyance and it’s directed at you.

First and foremost take a moment to look at what it says in the Alcoholics Anonymous book on page 103

After all, our problems were of our own making.  Bottles were only a symbol.  Besides, we have stopped fighting anybody or anything.  We have to!

This is the basic mindset.  We have hurt these people and have actually done (and may still be doing) things that to many who are not addicts or alcoholics can only be seen as stupid.  The fact that people that we encounter are angry and hurt should come as no surprise.  When it is someone we have been around for some period of time while using he, she or they may have been trying to tell us but we were never mentally in a place where we would listen.  Now that we are sober and at least somewhat coherent some of those people around us may try to seize the moment of clarity to let loose all of the pressure that has been building up in a volcanic eruption of complaints about things you may not even remember and a rush of angry frustration.  It is not okay to try to ignore this person’s (or these people’s) hurt feelings when in fact they are valid feelings from problems we probably caused by our own foolishness. 

You may feel that you said “I am sorry” for these issues and they should just get over it.  This is completely NOT what making amends is about.  “We must take the lead.  A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fit that bill at all.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 83)

If we hurt someone badly, it may be that the only way that person may begin the process of healing from what we have done is to yell and scream.  Within reason, this may do more to “make amends” than apologizing.  The tendency is to protect yourself from anything that is attacking and to put self first.  But the truth is that it is likely that selfishness and self-centeredness are the true root of most of your problems (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62) and that this would simply be doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Instead of completely focusing on self-preservation, consider “The Rule”:

“The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.” (alcoholics Anonymous pg 74)

If it is helpful to the other person this may be the best thing for that person and for you as it is a part of a good Step 9 amends.

I am not saying however to allow abusive people to just be abusive to you, it may also be that the person is just an abusive person and you will have to confront the issue in another way.  You must not however shy away from confronting the issue. 

“Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be.  We may lose our position or reputation or face jail, but we are willing.  We have to be.  We must not shrink at anything.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 79)

If you need to explain to a person that you would like to confront the issue he or she has with you when it can be discussed calmly, that may help with a person who is particularly abusive or in some cases it may not.  No matter what, however, each issue must be confronted and no matter how much you may think the person is just crazy there is at least some element of truth to what he or she is agitated about.

 To sum up all of this, no matter which of the above you are focus on “The Real Purpose”:

“Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 77)


Happy New Year and may your new year be the symbol of a new beginning.