What is my role in my boyfriend's recovery?

Should I drink and get high in front of him? And why won't he talk about the meetings he attends?

By Cary Tennis
March 22, 2006 4:34PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I am in a three-month relationship with a wonderful man. Among the many amazing qualities he possesses are intelligence, thoughtfulness and sincerity. We share similar interests, make each other happy, and are madly in love. We are even thinking about moving in together.


My question and concern is about the role I should play in his recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. After a few failed attempts at quitting, he has now been sober for three and a half years. He regularly attends AA meetings, where he has made many friends.

Admittedly, when we first started dating I was concerned that his not drinking or doing drugs would be strange for me. Alcohol and pot have played a significant role in my life -- from getting high by myself to having cocktails with friends and being buzzed or stoned while having sex with men. Though I would not call myself an alcoholic or addict, I often recognize the detrimental effects drinking and drugging have on my life.

Since we began dating, I have lessened my alcohol and weed intake considerably -- which I believe is a good thing. I always wanted to do so, and being with him has given me the inspiration and discipline. However, when we go out to dinner, I occasionally have a glass of wine. There have been times when I've also gotten high in front of him. Although he never makes me feel bad for being the only one drunk or stoned, I can't help feeling that what I'm doing is wrong, especially because he is excluded from it. And the last thing I would want to do is create any unnecessary temptations for him. He has, however, assured me that the last thing he would want me to do is curb my behavior on his account.


Sometimes I wonder if I should cut alcohol and weed from my life completely. Such a decision would be partly informed by the negative effects on my health and a desire to live sober, but mostly to show my support for him and make the effort so he doesn't feel like he's missing out from connecting with me on that level.

I once asked him how he felt about me asking him about his meetings. He said he would prefer if I didn't ask him what went on. I understood it as being akin to sharing details of one's therapy sessions. But his response also made me feel isolated from his experience in AA. Should I just stand back and accept that I will never understand what he's going through because I am not an alcoholic? Or can I offer help and relate-ability in some way because I too struggle with alcohol and drugs?

I guess what it comes down to is that I don't know how to be a good girlfriend to a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. I can really use some advice.


What Role to Play in His Recovery

Dear What Role to Play,

You ask a good question. I think in general the best thing you can do is become better informed about AA. There are various ways to do that. Some AA meetings are only for people who have a desire to stop drinking. They are known as closed meetings. Others are open -- wives and husbands, friends, relatives and interested people from all walks of life are welcome to attend. So one way to become better informed would be to attend an open meeting of AA and see what goes on there. Ask your boyfriend to point you to one. He might want to go with you or you might want to go by yourself; either way is OK.


Another way to find out more would be to read some of the literature AA puts out -- particularly the literature aimed at people in your situation, who have a relationship with someone in the program. Why don't you tell your boyfriend you want to learn more about the program, and about your role in his recovery, and ask him to suggest something you might read.

That would be better than asking him to discuss what goes on in individual meetings. The reason he seems reluctant to discuss the meetings he goes to is probably because he understands the importance of anonymity to the AA program.

As to your other questions -- if it doesn't feel right to drink and use around him, then I would ask, Why do it? I don't think there is anything wrong, per se, with drinking or smoking in his presence. But you might ask yourself why you are still doing something that feels uncomfortable. Perhaps his sobriety is attractive to you, and when you get high in front of him you realize that you actually wish you were sober. Or perhaps, on the other hand, you resent his being sober and wish that he would get high with you. Perhaps it's a little of both. It's worth thinking about. Regardless, if you are high and he isn't, there is a bit of a gulf between you, and it's going to be hard to be really intimate.


You don't have to be an addict to decide to quit alcohol and drugs. There are many reasons why one might choose to do that. In my opinion, though, it's best to quit for yourself, not for somebody else. If it's something you enjoy, enjoy it. If not, quit.

It might happen that bit by bit, without really thinking about it, you would smoke and drink less and less until you find one day that it doesn't play a part in your life. That might happen. Or you might attend some meetings and find that while you're not an addict, you have certain behavioral similarities with addicts and that the program might offer you some benefits. There's no way I can know.

But that is one reason why I find the subject of substance abuse fascinating. What we are really talking about is consciousness, our mode of being. In fact, I think the desire to alter that consciousness is holy; the desire to strive for a higher consciousness, to order the waves of thought so that they come in brighter patterns, clearer, more colorful, and the desire to loosen up a crowd so that we can be, for a few moments, the people we dream of being -- these are lofty and sacred desires. When those desires go awry, it's trouble. But that doesn't mean that the impulse to get high is bad.


Anyway, I suggest that to resolve your conflicts you learn as much as you can about AA, and try to decide whether you want to continue drinking and using or not. It's up to you. There are a lot of boyfriends and girlfriends who've been in your shoes. You can make it work. Good luck with negotiating this terrain.

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