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St Valentine’s Day in Recovery

The origins of the 14th of February celebration go back almost 2,000 years when the Roman Emperor Claudius ordered St Valentine’s execution because he was performing illegal weddings (Claudius had banned marriage as he thought unmarried men made better soldiers).

A 5th century Pope promoted St Valentine’s Day, Chaucer wrote about it and statistics from present day USA are dizzying: 6 million couples are likely to get engaged on this day; an estimated $20 billion will be spent; over 220 million roses will be specially grown for the occasion and over 1 billion cards sent. In terms of commerce it is the biggest event of the year after Christmas.

But what is St Valentine’s Day like for those in early recovery?

If you’re feeling low or you’ve been dumped, not getting a Valentine card can make you feel worse. My wife left me on the 13th of February nineteen years ago and so that date has a special meaning for me.

When you leave alcohol or drug rehab treatment you are emotionally very raw. You’ve not been very lovable while in the grip of active addiction but now you’re seeking company. You can also be very needy and you’re still learning to be comfortable in your own skin — a process that can feel uneasy and unnatural.

I was “13 stepped” (that’s when a newcomer is picked up during an NA/AA meeting by someone with more sobriety whose intentions are not honourable!). But my ego was flattered and my low self worth was boosted. Also my libido, which had been numbed by drugs and alcohol for years, had just been awoken.

I had a brief physical relationship with a woman in recovery and I was flying high. But then, surprise surprise, she rejected me! A friend had told me I can do what I want regarding relationships but was I prepared to pay the price? The price was really awful — rejection and low self esteem. Fortunately I was ready to admit complete defeat (powerlessness — I had done Step 1) and was able to ride that terrible wave. It was very painful and I still remember it.

You’re so fragile in early recovery. You need to visualise a child’s first bike, which has stabilisers on the back wheels. When a child goes into a swimming pool for the first time they have water wings. That is how vulnerable one is.

The addicted person has had chemical armour wrapped around him or her for years, possibly decades. Treatment strips you bare, physically and emotionally. When you leave the Mother Ship in beautiful Peeblesshire you do not have your chemical armour, so intense love and sex can be the only source of mood alteration available to you. Being in love can be a mood altering state, so take it easy!

One of the first relationships that needs to be repaired is the relationship with self. I will quote that corny, but true, old line: “How can you love anyone else if you don’t love yourself?”

I spent last New Year’s Eve with three couples whose partners were all in recovery. These couples had been together for a long time and had survived the slings and arrows of being with an addicted partner. They had survived because the non-addicted partner was prepared to get into Alanon, the family support network, and were willing to actively get involved in family therapy.

Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked | February 11, 2015