How A Recovering Addict Handles Cohabitation

By Patrick O'Neil, June 24, 2016.

How a recovering addict handles cohabitation

Everyone’s program of recovery is different, but that’s the beauty of the 12 steps. We don’t all achieve the same goals at the same time. Foremost for me was staying off heroin. All that other stuff that people at meetings were talking about, like “achieving freedom from the wreckage of my past” and becoming an “acceptable, responsible, and productive” member of society had to wait until I was ready and willing.

Admittedly the first few years of recovery were pretty damn boring. I went to meetings, worked with my sponsor, hung out with new friends from the fellowship and stayed away from all those sketchy places where I used to feel at home. To be honest, I was scared as hell that I’d relapse, so mostly I just isolated alone in my tiny studio apartment. Gradually my life began getting better and before I realized it the yearly anniversaries started piling up. Somehow with just doing the right thing the world had become less of a scary place, and my issues weren’t so much about wanting to use drugs, but more about living life and not knowing how to cope.

Sadly no one ever taught me how normal life really worked. My parents were so self involved (read: raised by wolves, or at least by total narcissists) that they weren't the best role models. Consequently I never quite grasped the “growing up” part of emotional maturity, or how to have healthy relationships. I was incredibly self-centered, believing that the entire universe revolved around me, and that none of the rules applied. Working the steps with my sponsor all of these defects of character were exposed and I was forced to take a critical look at how I reacted to uncomfortable situations, dealt with adversity and behaved in all my relationships. To say it was all a bit overwhelming would be an understatement. Yet that’s when I realized that implementing the principals of recovery into my daily life was the first step to finding an understanding of how to deal with it all. I was powerless over almost everything, but if I did the right thing, was rigorously honest, and asked for help when I was overwhelmed, then I could get through almost anything I encountered.

And then I met a girl.

Not that I hadn’t met a lot of women at meetings and even dated here and there. But with all the drama and upheaval that my life in early recovery was, I put all of that relationship stuff on hold. Sure there’d been a few quick interludes of awkward drug free (yet somewhat passionate) gratuitous sex. But the prospect of actually hooking up with someone without the aid of “mind altering substances” to distance my feelings frightened the hell out of me and I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I’d be single for the rest of my life. Apparently the universe had other plans. Nature took its course and hormonal urges won out. The woman I met was also in recovery, our lives were similar and before I knew it we were in a relationship. Segue to four years later and we’re talking about that scary “M” word. You know, move in together. Which yes, I know is technically three words, but you get the point. I hadn’t lived with someone since I shared a room in a residential rehab 16 years before this, so I was a little leery of making a commitment. Yet I was in love and living together was something I really wanted. I just wasn’t ready for the unconstrained and overly invasive scrutiny that landlords and realtors would bestow upon us.

Two folks in recovery have a bit of bad credit, less then stellar rental histories, huge gaps in their employment and even an eviction or two. Not to mention that every overzealous landlord willing to shell out a nominal monthly fee could run an online background check for criminal convictions and credit reports. Then throw in that the city of Los Angeles had just been labeled “one of the most expensive and unaffordable markets for rental properties in America,” and we were getting shot down at almost every apartment that we applied. Day after day we’d scan the rental websites and realtor email listings. Then we’d drive all over the city checking out apartments that in reality looked nothing like their ads. Handing over our hastily filled in rental applications we’d kiss the $25 filing fee away and then move on to the next one. Sadly we were not alone, due to the aforementioned bad rental market at every open house and showing there’d be a horde of other potential tenants, all with seemingly good credit and larger bank accounts.

It was almost bad enough to make both of us want to use drugs or get drunk. Almost.

After one horrifically long day of viewing more lackluster apartments and getting rejected, even from places we didn’t really want, I was driving back to my decrepit little apartment. My girlfriend was crying her eyes out with frustration. Emotionally I didn’t know what to do. Here I was finally able to be compassionate and care about another person, but I was powerless to change the situation. I wanted to lash out at all those damn rental folks and crack a few heads. But that, as they say, was old behavior. Instead, I was left once again to implement the principals of recovery into my daily life. Checking my phone I found us a nearby meeting. When we got there we shared about our struggles to the point of being obnoxious. Later we called our sponsors and friends in the fellowship. With each positive action our fears slowly subsided, and we were back on track.

Eventually, we found an apartment. We opted for a huge work/live space in a not-so-nice neighborhood where the landlord wasn’t as discerning. On move-in day, we hired movers to bring our belongings and furniture from our former abodes. For the next week, we arranged it all and co-mingled our stuff into a workable organization. Then we went out and bought mundane things like cleaning supplies and groceries. We filled our refrigerator. We stacked our folded sheets and towels into closets and before we knew it we were officially living together.

Now it’s been more than seven months and it's just like before, in early recovery, when I suddenly realized my life had gotten better. I’m realizing that all of my fears around relationships and cohabitation in recovery were totally unfounded. Much like every other aspect of my life, I had to be ready and willing to put in the needed internal work to maintain it all. As corny as it sounds, we’ve even talked about the other “M” word. We haven’t set a date, but we will. Not bad for two addicts in recovery.