There’s something really important that every great love story leaves out. By great love stories, I of course mean movies with the likes of Meg Ryan, Katherine Heigl and Kate Hudson. The ones where two attractive people overcome odds and even their own stubborn personalities to eventually fall head-over-heels in love with one another. But in my mind, what’s missing from the great love stories is a crushing two-decade dance with drugs and alcohol, followed by a gnarly year long period of getting sober. After all, had I not gone through those things I would have never fallen in love with the person I’m married to today.
I guess I should say right away that a great relationship isn’t necessarily part of the gift basket that we receive when we get sober. In fact, if there is a gift basket, I never got one. (I will gladly accept one now. I like those little strawberry-shaped candies and lots of cheese.) This was kind of shocking to me too; I assumed that after a few months sober I’d meet someone awesome—preferably an older Aries who lived in Echo Park. He would be a part of the reward that came with the whole stop-killing-myself-with-drugs-and- alcohol thing. I deserved that, didn’t I?
Well, it was quickly revealed to me that I was such a disaster that nobody was waiting in line to get what I had. See, not only was I getting sober from drugs and alcohol, but I was also getting sober from a highly toxic and codependent relationship. Slipping right back into “a boyfriend could save me” behavior was not all that different from doing drugs or drinking. Even though the 20-year chemical fog around my brain had yet to lift, I somehow recognized that dating was probably a hideous idea. So, I decided to work on Sean before I put Sean back on the market.
My first year of recovery confirmed what our dear Whitney sang: learning to love myself was, in fact, the greatest love of all. However, I did not find that it was as “easy to achieve” as she promised. It took months and months to find out who I was and what I liked. I started using drugs and drinking when I was 14, so getting to know and love myself sober did not happen overnight.
Around 15 months sober, I tried internet dating (which for gay men means basically having sex with strangers you meet online, and then seeing if you want to have brunch with them sometime). This was, as expected, disastrous. So, I decided to delete the profiles and continue working on myself. I felt good for the first time in my life and it had nothing to do with a man. I took a trip that summer back home to Colorado to visit my sister to “help” with her kitchen remodel. (As I am by no means that crafty type of HGTV gay, my version of helping was basically hanging out with her kids, cracking jokes and ordering the pizzas.) One day at her house, I stepped out of the shower and an epiphany came to me: maybe I was finally ready to have real boyfriend. Maybe my fear of falling into old, codependent patterns or being doomed to a life of crappy internet hookups was finally dissolving! The idea felt sort of inspired and made my whole body tingle, but I didn’t put a lot of stock behind it.
A few days later, after a long day of scraping popcorn off her ceiling, we decided to go to a gay club to dance. My sister, who is also sober, is well-known for both her wit and ability to shake her booty, and we set out on a sober sibling dance adventure. The club was pumping out delicious 1990s hip-hop, R&B and non-stop Diet Cokes, so we were certainly in our element. Somewhere between Baby I Got Your Money and Let Me Blow Your Mind, he started smiling at me. This guy with a great smile and dance moves was making me laugh that night. He would continue to do so for the next 10 days while I was in town. We spent the next four, torturous months on the phone with each other, travelling back and forth from Los Angeles. Eventually we figured out that we liked each other so much we had to decide which one of us was going to move. Since I wasn’t tied to a lease and was living an early sobriety freelance-writer, gypsy lifestyle, I offered to move back home—the place I left in 1995. This man who was younger than me, not an Aries and who lived in Denver—not in Echo Park—was worth moving for.
Our first Valentine’s Day together was spent—like most couples deeply in love—at a shady Moroccan restaurant that might have been run by the mafia, watching belly-dancers and eating a meat-filled pastry covered in powdered sugar. We laughed pretty much the entire meal at our weird, quirky unconventional Valentine’s Day and decided we wouldn’t have it any other way. Seven years later, I can unequivocally say that moving was the right thing to do, despite that typical addict fast-moving thinking.
Today, we’re a married couple and I’m still a sober person trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing. Each day in a relationship as a sober person brings about exciting, new opportunities to say, “Sorry for being a jackass.” Plus, I now get to practice running thoughts through a filter BEFORE they exit my mouth to help avoid apologies altogether. My husband is an independent person with his own ideas and distinct opinions. This is fantastic for my recovering codependent self who desperately tries to change people and craves non-stop worship. We don’t fight, but we disagree often, and it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s amazing. People having their own ideas and occasionally disagreeing, but still having one another’s backs 100% is something I didn’t know could exist!
There were a lot of months in early sobriety where I thought I was a complete mess that no one ever could possibly love me. I felt lonely and unlovable for what seemed like an eternity. My past felt too awful and dramatic, and I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to invite someone into my world. Yet the people around me who had been sober for a while were genuinely happy, so I just did what they did and hoped for the best. I kept going to meetings, I didn’t drink or use drugs and I tried my best not to be a selfish jerk.
Gradually, I changed and even felt better. Plus, I got something Meg and the girls never got in 90 minutes: an incredible relationship with myself.