When I first started going to recovery meetings, I didn’t trust anyone. Not even myself. And even though I didn’t understand why, I was especially intimidated by women. As a woman in recovery, I kept hearing that I should trust women, stick with the women, ask other women for help, but it just didn’t feel right to me. Women scared me, I thought they would manipulate me, judge me, compete with me because I felt like that was what they had always done. Of course I know now that a lot of my insecurity about trusting women was my own unhealthy defense mechanism.
During active addiction, I surrounded myself with the opposite sex, hoping to avoid judgement and seek validation. Seeking external validation from the opposite sex isn’t healthy, and my own unhealthy mind searched for ways to justify my unhealthy behaviors. Even though I had been physically and emotionally abused by men, and had received a lot of negative male attention throughout my life, for some reason I still trusted men more than I trusted women. Learning how to trust other women in my recovery program was one of the biggest challenges of my recovery, and n invaluable skill that has had tremendous benefits to my sobriety.
Learning how to take suggestions (from strangers!)
The people at the 12-step meeting I attended suggested sticking with your gender, especially during your first year. I didn’t feel good about this suggestion, but I did it anyway, because the people who suggested it seemed like they knew what they were talking about (they did). So I stuck with women (for the most part). So in the early days of going to meetings, I sat back and waited for people to approach me. I’m sure I looked like I desperately needed help. Women didn’t seem to have any hesitation approaching me. They were mostly older women, which helped because women my own age intimidated me more.
My first meeting was a women’s only meeting and i’ll never forget the woman who took a chance on me. She recommended I go to an early morning meeting – which at the time I thought was a ridiculous suggestion – but for some reason I went. I didn’t know how big of a step it was at the time, but by trusting someone else’s suggestion about how I should treat my addiction was a big deal. That morning meeting soon became my home group and the place I now attribute that meeting to being one of the pillars of my sobriety.
Finding your recovery support system
Soon after finding a home group, I became best friends with a woman from the meeting. We spent every day together. This was immensely important to my early recovery because she made me feel accountable and encouraged me to spend most of my free time doing healthy sober things. I felt blessed to talk to someone who knew what I was going through, and it felt good to share horror stories, fears, hopes, desires, and most importantly, to be understood. I am very grateful I had a friend like her to help me get sober.
Later, that same friend and I were at a meeting, and in her usual gregarious way, pointed out a woman across the room and said “Her! She’s going to be your sponsor.” The woman my friend had pointed out to me was probably the most intimidating woman I had ever seen, but I agreed to talk to this woman because so far my friend had been right about everything else.
The woman who would eventually become my sponsor, is a body builder, short (which has always scared me for some reason) and she had piercing green eyes. She was friendly though, and not at all the intimidating, scary woman I’d made her out to be in my mind. After many conversations I have learned that what made her so intimidating to me is also what makes her so worth looking up to. She is driven and she knows what she wants. I think after all this time she has passed some of those qualities onto me.
Learning to trust men and women
Men played significant roles in my recovery as well. One of the first people to look through my facade, a man I now call “grandpa,” (he jokingly calls me his granddaughter), taught me all about love. He taught me about a spiritual love and about love from other people. He promised that the people in the meeting would love me until I could love myself. It was true. He would often give me huge hugs and I remember at first being so put off by it. It kind of threw me for a loop, I didn’t know what to make of it. But slowly I understood he was simply trying to show me love so that I could understand what it felt like. He would often talk in meetings about how grumpy I was in the beginning, and how open I am now. He has shown me that I can trust people, even at first, as long as they show me that they care.
One of the biggest curveballs of my first year of sobriety was falling in love for the very first time. When I fell in love, it was unexpected, as it usually is. It went against everything the people in meetings had suggested to me, but it almost felt like there was nothing I could do about it. You can’t always control what is put into your life. After only 3 months of pure bliss, my partner and I experienced a terrible trauma together, which brought us closer together, and taught me a lot about loving and supporting a partner through hard times. He supported me through this worst experience of my life, and helped me slowly get over the fear and trauma I had experienced.
My boyfriend had much more time in recovery than me, and I believe it was no accident that he was in my life to help me through this. To this day, I believe that if it weren’t for him, I would have relapsed. Relating to someone who has ventured the same journey, and came out to the other side – recovery, has been an experience I hope other people can find in their lifetimes. There is nothing like the bond of tragedy and recovery. I am blessed with mine.
Learning to love and accept love in sobriety
Over the years I have come to know and accept love, support and nurturing from both men and other women. I have learned that not all men are abusive, and not all men are saviors, and vice versa. I have grown to know the people in my recovery fellowship as my best friends and biggest supporters. I have also learned to judge people less, and be less intimidated by people, realizing that this whole time, I might have been one of the most intimidating people of all.
I now feel like I understand the purpose of seeking advice from women. I understand why it is so important to put your words and life in the hands of the same gender. It is for no other reason than the fact that they understand, from your perspective, a little more clearly. It is an understanding that is not mucked up or fogged out by the romantic feelings that can develop when someone from the opposite sex shows you true love. I feel that the relationships I have with women are equally important to those I have with men. Most importantly I have learned that I can trust, it just takes some getting used to.
— Emily Ash for Avenues New York, 2018
Author’s note: This post is written from my own heteronormative perspective, but I do not disregard different sexual preferences and gender identities. Personally I believe the old saying “Men with the Men, Woman with the Women” should be updated for the 21st century to include those who identify as something other than the gender they were assigned at birth, and people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisesexual, pansexual, asexual, transgender, queer, or questioning. There is no one right way to get sober.
Ultimately, it is up to all of us as individuals to decide who to trust and receive help from in our own recovery. However, early recovery is a confusing time that is wrought with emotion, and adding love and sexual attraction to the mix can create harmful situations that may affect your sobriety. If you’re looking for help in your recovery, I suggest seeking out people who you are not sexually attracted to, to avoid any additional confusing emotions.
If you are struggling with mental illness please contact your local behavioral health center or call 911 in the case of an emergency. If you are struggling with addiction to any behavior reach out to your health care provider. If you are experiencing withdrawal from drugs or alcohol call 911 or check into a medical detox facility or go to the emergency room.
For more information about helpful recovery services like sober living, recovery coaching, sober companionship, interventions, and more, contact Avenues. You don’t have to do this alone. We’ve got your back.