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Valentine’s Day in Recovery: What Will Yours Be Like?

In the 1990s there was a very popular movie starring Whitney Houston called Waiting to Exhale, based on a novel of the same name. The basic story was about the friendship among four women – all supporting each other as they searched for their elusive “true love.”

In this film, the women focus primarily on finding that one Mr. Right who will take away all their problems and insecurities and make their lives fantastic. (Can we say “love addiction”?) And each time any of them think they’ve found this, they feel like they can exhale because their dream has finally come true. No longer do they need to seek and search and hope and pray that this one will turn out to be THE one. No longer do they have to feel like losers as single women, as “spinsters” grappling with that devastating feeling that something must be so very wrong with them, causing them to remain single. Life is now worth living and they don’t have to hold their breath anymore…

That is, until something inevitably goes wrong in their relationships and they have to inhale again, sometimes virtually holding their breath until the next Mr. Right comes along and they believe they can exhale again. These four women support each other emotionally each time this happens, often feeling that combination of envy, happiness, gratitude, and grief as they cycle through their ever-important relationships with the stream of men in their lives, never knowing what the next moment might hold for them. Basically, they continue to look for love in all the wrong places, drinking lots of wine as they do so.

Can anyone else relate? There was certainly a time in my life when I could!

Misguided Beliefs

The major problem with this scenario, of course, is that it is based on a very false premise. The faulty belief here is that the only way we can “breathe” or be at peace in our lives is when we are part of a couple – that we are not okay on our own. Our culture tells us this in so many ways: in books and movies like this one, in all of our “razor-blade” music that essentially tells us we’re nobody till somebody loves us, and of course in films like the wildly popular Jerry McGuire. Indeed, when Jerry tells Dorothy “You complete me,” the entire theatre audience – usually comprised primarily of women – collectively exhales because Dorothy no longer has to be alone. And, of course, neither does Jerry.

This kind of misguided thinking doesn’t only happen to women – men are not immune to this falsehood either, even though they may not be quite so open about how vulnerable they feel if they haven’t yet met Ms. Right. But don’t be fooled – most men wait to exhale too.

Because we all know that being in any relationship is better than being alone – especially on Valentine’s Day, am I right? And if we find that we are, should we go desperately searching for that drug, drink, poker table, shopping mall, chocolate cake – or maybe another stranger who is also alone – just to be able to forget how awful and shameful we feel, even if only for a little while? Thankfully, I no longer buy into this myth.

Loving Yourself is Essential

I’m very happy to say that I no longer believe I’m nobody until somebody loves me. Today I cherish and take good care of myself, and that’s most important to me – in fact, it’s the best possible scenario because that’s where all my other relationships stem from. How I feel about myself is truly the underpinning of everything else in my life. I remember a friend telling me many years ago that if I could just love myself, I’d have the best friend I could ever have, 24-7. At that time, I had no idea what she was talking about. Love myself? How? Why? Why couldn’t she understand that all I needed to do was find HIM and then I’d be able to exhale!

My last codependent relationship brought me to my knees. Although I was practicing a solid program of recovery, I became a hot mess when he left me. I literally wasn’t sure I could live without him – and I wasn’t even being melodramatic – that’s exactly how it felt at the time. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t really in love with him; rather, I was in love with the idea of being in love and feeling like my life would finally be okay. The devastation I felt when things didn’t happen that way was almost more than I could bear.

I was about three years into my recovery from drugs and alcohol at that time – and I very consciously made the decision not to get loaded, even though the temptation was often very strong. Instead, as I slowly picked myself back up off my knees and began to breathe both in and out again, I gradually became aware of my strong intention to never be in that kind of miserably painful relationship again. And I never have been.

But I intuitively knew that in order to accomplish this, I would have to put myself first and do some serious inner work—and that’s exactly what I did. I’m proud of myself for having made that choice. Even though it was incredibly painful sometimes, I’d already been living in a kind of never-ending pain – a pain I desperately wanted to find a way to stop, even though I wasn’t sure that was even possible.

So I did the work that I needed to do on myself—and I continue to do that on a daily basis. I’ve been clean and sober for nearly 30 years now – and I’ve become very aware of the codependency that I now believe underlies most, if not all, addictive behaviors. I no longer people-please, but instead I have healthy boundaries and am quite able to say “no” when necessary, or just when I feel like it. That journey was not always pleasant – it was often difficult, in fact. But it has been so worth it, and today I like myself.

I wish that for everyone!

A Happy, Healthy Valentine’s Day

This year, I hope you can have a wonderful Valentine’s Day – whatever that day means to you and however it turns out for you. If you’re not in a romantic relationship, I hope you won’t feel shame about that and that you’ll instead do something lovely for yourself. If you’re in a relationship that is problematic or abusive in any way, I hope that you will seriously consider coming out of it and instead learn how to be that best friend to yourself. If you’re in a healthy relationship with another person, I wish you a lovely day together.

Let’s all be proud of ourselves for who we are and do the inner work we need to do in order to feel that way. We are somebody – whether anyone else loves us or not!

Images Courtesy of iStock

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