“Strangers in the night, exchanging glances…Wond’ring in the night, what were the chances?…We’d be sharing love, before the night was through…” – Frank Sinatra
It was 1988 on a cool fall evening, driving with the stereo up and windows down – eager to arrive at my new home group. Approaching, I slowed enough to crank up and sing, (as loud as I could), the tail end of Ozzy Osborne’s – Crazy Train. I pulled in the parking area, where I saw several of my new found friends catching a last minute smoke. Hurrying out of my car, while simultaneously reaching into my back pocket, I took out my now crumpled and warm pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes, tapping it against the side of my hand to get one out. Putting the cigarette in my mouth and lighting it up, I immediately had what I needed to make my approach, (as nicotine seemed to offer a degree of calm for social situations that had long proven to be my Achilles’ heel.) Moving towards the group I smiled, waved and said “Hey y’all!”
Finishing up our smoke, everyone headed in for the meeting. During the announcements a small crowd of late arrivals came in, most likely from one of the local treatment programs. I went forward to read, (something I’d been told I should volunteer for), as the late arrivals began to take their seats. Just as I finished and returned to mine, it happened…one last late arrival opened the door. It was as if time went into slow motion as I saw the side of his face, while he took the last draw off his cigarette, tossing it out the door and turned to walk in. The chairperson who was speaking took on the sound of that teacher’s voice in every televised episode of Charlie Brown, “Wah wah…wah wah wah wah…wah wah wahhh…”, as momentarily the rest of the room disappeared and I was in a tunnel with room for only myself and this gorgeous stranger! Feeling as if my heart was going to explode and my head spin off my shoulders, he began walking in my direction. SO MANY thoughts running through my mind, suddenly obsessed with wondering if there was ANY possibility that there could be a crumb from the cookie I’d grabbed off the table and shoved in my mouth earlier, still present on the corner of my mouth…yet sadly I was to love struck paralyzed to move OR to even look away! As he stood before me with a smile, he pulled the chair out and spun it around in this super cool way and sat staring RIGHT at me…smiling, he ran his fingers through his hair, leaning in, and said in a whisper, “Hey there”. My reply more resembled a choking “huuh”. It was at this very moment that White Snake’s love ballad – Is This Love – began playing in my head.
Though I tried desperately to embrace the words of several of the ladies; “Stay away from the guys! You are sick enough…a relationship will only be like TWO OF YOU!” But alas, it was to no avail! He leaned across several times in the meeting, asking my name, where I was from, how long I had been in that meeting and then the worst one of all…”You wanna go smoke a cigarette?” How could I say no? After all, this could be Mr. Right! So I said, “OK”. Getting up and leaving the meeting, I could physically FEEL the look of several of my friends…and let me clarify…they were not “good looks” either.
FAST FORWARD: We smoked…he told me he had been in recovery for many years and I, (in an effort to sound like I’d been around for a while), shared that I had been clean for 2 years, relapsed a few months and had come back a couple weeks earlier. As we talked I decided right then and there that I had AT LAST found the PERFECT “sponsor”! (YUP – you heard me right!) That lasted a couple of weeks, until we both realized: It was LOVE and he became my boyfriend! In fact, he even helped me get into a long term recovery program – which only made me CERTAIN that this was obviously…God’s will. Eventually he became my fiancé – that is, until I found out I wasn’t the only one…then it was just drama, drama, drama and FINALLY it was at long last…over! What was the time frame for ALL of this, you might ask…about 4 months.
It is not an unusual thing for someone in early recovery, (or for that matter ANY single person going through a tough time whether in recovery or not), to have a desire for “someone special”, as a new relationship can often produce enough dopamine to make even the worst of times seem: Not so bad. But the truth is, until we know ourselves, the likelihood of it not working out in the long run AND of it ending in some kind of drama – are astronomically high! Why? Because until we truly know ourselves, we cannot accept and grow to really love and value ourselves, and therefore we will never be able to truly love and value another person.
It is certainly true that the texts in recovery don’t tell us we can’t have relationships, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that until we’ve had time to grow in our recovery and build a foundation, that at best we are just: Strangers in denial.
©2014 Rebecca Balko