I had been sober and ‘kiss free’ for 13 months before I felt I was ready to plunge back into the world of internet dating.
I downloaded the dating app ‘Bumble’ and started swiping. Almost immediately, I saw a friend from childhood who I hadn’t spoken to since I was 8 years old. I swiped right and it was a match, so I sent my first message “How the hell have you been for the last 20 years?” and waited patiently for his reply.
The conversation was easy. As sobriety can be a deal breaker, my profile openly stated that I was sober. He mentioned my sobriety in weird idolisation, saying it wasn’t something he could do but that he wished he could as he’d heard great things.
A few days later, he told me he had taken cocaine at the weekend. I told myself I was cool with this as he said it didn’t happen often, that he didn’t seek it out and that he just had a hard time saying no. My better judgement was screaming out but because I really wanted him, I ignored it.
Our first date was a perfect evening of staring into each others eyes and laughing and soon it was time for my first sober kiss. It was the type of kiss you see at the end of a movie when the girl gets the guy, with fireworks and incredible passion!
Things continued to progress with the same fire. He had soulful depth and had examined his inner psyche. This was something which really turned me on in sobriety. He knew what it was like to dig through the darkest places of the mind. Once, he sat with me in silence for 20 minutes as I worked up the nerve to be vulnerable to a man without liquid courage. It was all new to me. His patience turned to understanding and appreciation of my vulnerability.
In the beginning I was 100% myself and I thought he got me on a level that I’d never experienced before. He didn’t drink alcohol for our first couple dates and after that, asked me respectfully if it was ok for him to have a drink.
We would see each other 2-3 times a week until I took a trip to Denver and then things changed.
The night before I came home, he told me how happy he was with me, that he was all in and we could talk about what that meant when I got back. I felt it was finally happening for me; a healthy happy relationship would be another gift of my sobriety.
However, when I got home, he was different. Once again, my gut was telling me things weren’t right but I ignored it. A few days later he told me that he needed space and asked if we could slow things down. He told me that he sometimes got distant and it was hard for everyone in his life. Panic ensued in my body. I felt anxious. I was feeling rejection for the first time in 13 months and it hurt.
Although we continued to see each other, things were never the same again.
Desperate for his affection, I grasped at any crumb he would throw my way, however any positive moment would be quickly overshadowed by the overwhelming unhappiness he had in his life. I sympathized with him but could feel my own depression grow from his sadness. I tried to break things off with him but he told me that wasn’t what he wanted so I took that as a sign he was coming round.
From the day I started to retreat back to myself, I made a promise that I would no longer question if he liked me. I would work on me instead and get back to a self that I liked. After that, I only saw him one more time and knew it was over.
After a while, I started to wake up with a new perspective on life. I realised I’d been spending too much energy on people that did not reciprocate. I reached out one last time and he said something that really stuck “Your need for reassurances really wore me down. I think you have some issues you need to work through”.
Instead of dismissing his criticism, I chose to listen. As painful as it was to hear, he was right and I was thankful for his honesty. I had never been in a healthy relationship; all of my relationships ended up like this. Why did I think I would magically be in a healthy relationship just because I was sober now?
With his words ringing in my ears, I got on the internet for a different reason. I started reading about attachment styles. Oh hello anxious/fearful attachment! and emailed my therapist to set up an appointment. My research and digging continued and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
People pleasing, fear of rejection, low self worth, validation by others opinions of me, not trusting oneself and all was rooted in addiction. It was me; all of the above.
I realised that I had no clue what a real loving relationship was supposed to look like mainly because I’d never had a proper example. There was also a possibility that I didn’t even know what love was.
These revelations were more heartbreaking to me than the heartwrenching catalyst that had forced me to look at myself. As numbing these thoughts with drugs and alcohol wasn’t an option for me, I sought help from my therapist and did some serious reading and research.
Slowly, I began to heal. It was painful. I cried and I sobbed every day for a month but in the end, I found bravery, self confidence, and a fearlessness I had never known before. The codependent weight has finally been lifted off my shoulders and I was able to release baggage and trauma by acknowledging and forgiving myself and the men of my past.
Recently I hopped back into the dating world with my new life lens and had two dates in two weeks. Honesty, openness, and authenticity afloat, I still didn’t see either man after the first date. This time however, I moved on easily from the rejection.
I now understand that there is value in these learning experiences and will continue the inner guidance and self knowledge whilst sometime wistfully daydreaming about the man I left 5 years ago.
Written by Kate, edited by Sober Fish
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