RELATIONSHIPS IN RECOVERY
My journey in recovery has reshaped almost every area of my life, but I cannot think of anything that has been effected more than my ability to sustain and nourish meaningful relationships. In the past, I treated relationships as an avenue to fulfill my own selfish needs. I was often dishonest, manipulative, and deceitful. I would do or say anything to get what I wanted. I was seldom interested in, or aware of, anyone else’s needs. I would take, but refused to give. It’s no surprise that my friendships dwindled, my romantic relationships ended tragically, and my family lost their trust in me. I treated others as tools to fill the empty space inside of me that seemed to grow larger every day. I was emotionally and spiritually incomplete. It wasn’t until getting clean and sober that I was able to reestablish what a relationship means to me. Author Neale Donald Walsch puts it beautifully when he states “The purpose of a relationship is not to have another who might complete you, but to have another with whom you might share your completeness.”
My name is Michael Smeltzer, and I am a recovered drug addict. I was born in Austin, Texas and raised by a kind and loving family. My Mom, Dad, and Brother consistently went out of their way to make sure that I always had what I needed. At a very young age I learned how to manipulate them for my own selfish ends, and would often do so subconsciously. My selfish behaviors continued throughout my young adult life, and in the depths of my addiction, I resorted to stealing. Most of the time I would steal from the people closest to me, and my family took the hardest hit. When confronted, I would lie. I can’t even imagine the thoughts that would race through my parents’ heads during the many sleepless nights they spent wondering what was becoming of their home, and their son. I never intended on hurting the ones I loved, but like so many addicts, the tools I was using to approach life were insufficient. I was broken. What I needed was a total shift in my make-up, a new way of life. I was introduced to spiritual program of action that resulted in me having an entire psychic change, enabling me to embark upon a journey that would forever change the way I view the world, and the people in it. I may never be able to completely make up for the pain, heartache, and destruction that I created during those years, but sobriety has gifted me the opportunity to begin to clean up the wreckage of my past. Now, when I see my family, I focus on what I can contribute. I no longer focus on what I need, but rather on the ways that I can be helpful to the ones that so patiently and lovingly stood by me through my countless rough spots. It took some time and hard work, but I have slowly regained their trust. The time we spend together now is authentic, productive, and full of love. Best of all, the newest addition to the family, my 11 month old niece, has never met the old version of me.
I’m not sure if anything in life creates as many challenges, or opportunities for growth, as romantic relationships. Jealousy, insecurities, passive aggressive behavior, and dishonest motives were prevalent in my past relationships. I would often place enormous amounts of pressure on my girlfriends to show up a certain way, and when they fell short I would blame them for all our problems. I was unable to see that I was usually the one that set the ball rolling. As an addict, I would often lead a double life. I would constantly sneak around, omit certain facts from conversations, and spend all my money on drugs. I would rarely take time or spend energy making sure that my partner was receiving the love and attention she deserved. It’s not surprising that we would always eventually drift apart. My codependent nature would make these break-ups incredibly painful, and my entire life would come to a screeching halt. I always thought I was just unlucky with women, but the truth is I would place my reliance on women to be okay with myself. My off-based reliance mixed with my selfish motives was a recipe for relationship disaster. In recovery, I’ve learned to approach romantic relationships with a completely different perspective. One of the most powerful exercises that was introduced to me was the idea of creating a “Sane and Sound Sex Ideal.” I was instructed to make a list of characteristics that I would like to see in my ideal partner, but instead of searching out those characteristics in a woman, I was told to show up that way myself. For example, if honesty is a characteristic that I value in a woman(which it is), I need to practice honesty. What I learned from practicing this concept is that we tend to attract toward us, what we ourselves put out into the universe. I began to visit my list often, constantly tweaking and reshaping my behaviors and attitudes, and sure enough I ended up dating a woman who has all the characteristics that I value. For the first time in my life I am experiencing a healthy romantic relationship between two whole individuals. I’m still not perfect, and I make mistakes(she is usually kind enough to point them out), but now I have the tools to move through those low spots without causing additional harm. As a result, we grow closer every day. I consider our relationship a blessing, and it is truly one of the bright spots in my life.
Overall, my new approach to relationships can be characterized by two major shifts in my attitude. The first, I am no longer only looking for what I can get out of a relationship, but am also focusing on what I can provide and contribute. And second, I no longer place my reliance on others to be okay with myself. I do my best to stay emotionally and spiritually centered, and use my interactions with others as an opportunity to spread love, and to redefine myself as a recovered gentleman.
Recovery Services Coordinator