Stories of Hope & Grace: Staying Sober Through A Breakup

May 5, 2017

It’s Kristin speaking here. I wanted to break the fourth wall for a moment to write a story of hope and grace for those of you out there who might be going through a breakup. Maybe it was a short relationship, perhaps it was a long one, but now it’s over and you’re sort of sitting there wondering what happened. As someone who just ended a very intense, long-term relationship, I thought I would share my story in hopes that it might help anyone who will grapple with the same issues I did.

In recovery meetings, they always tell you to avoid relationships in your first year of sobriety. Many addicts can get a bit haughty about these rules, scoffing that love is not part of their addiction. Yet, time after time, I would see people relapse over breakups, coming in with hat in hand to cry about divorce, an abusive partner, or why that person they thought was really amazing never called them back. I waited almost two years into my sobriety to date at all, and within six weeks fell head over heels for an amazing man who was also sober.

I learned about myself during the course of this long-term relationship. I began to understand why mental health plays games with us when it has love to fuel its fires. Get two people with mental health disorders together in a relationship and it turns into a board game with very high stakes. He wanted to fight all the time; I wanted peace. He wanted to control everything about the relationship; I vacillated between surrender and fierce battling. We held onto the love with our fingernails as we evolved into different people, and inevitably the growth took us in opposite directions. Every single aspect of my own mental health started to spiral downward as the relationship devolved: I spent hours in bed with no energy, never went anywhere, my work suffered, I gained 33 lbs through emotional eating, had bouts of depression so severe my hair was matted to my head from lack of self-care, and I started having thoughts of ending it all. I begged for the fights to stop, I pleaded with him to get help. I doubled down on therapy appointments, recovery meetings, determined to hold onto it all. I loved this man. I didn’t want to leave…but I knew deep down that I couldn’t stay.

Inevitably, the straw that broke me was the moment I realized there was a wine store less than a block away from my apartment. I have lived in my building for five years; I’d never even really noticed it consciously. But a little voice in the back of my head said, “You could just go get a bottle of wine, and all of this would be so much better.”

Nope. Not going to happen.

That was it for me. Because those of us who have gotten distance from our addiction demons know if you play the tape all the way through, the end of it has me lying dead somewhere. I’m not exaggerating this in the slightest. I have the triple threat diagnosis of Addiction, Clinical Depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It took me 25 years of rock solid abuse and suffering to claw my way to sobriety and mental stability. I did not work that hard, I have not gone through everything I have gone through, I have not come this far to go all the way back to the beginning again. It doesn’t matter what comes my way. I can’t go back to the beginning because it’s really the end. I know that I’m technically on my ninth of nine lives. This is it for me. I’m not coming back from a relapse. I know it in the core of my being like I know the sky is blue or water is wet. I’m not going out like that. I have earned my spot on this planet, and I intend to keep it.

So, I ended it. It took two whole months to get everything separated, to ensure each of us had our own things in our respective places. The physical separation was just as hard as the mental one. It’s tough to look someone in the face and tell them that you still love them, but that love isn’t enough. Eventually, if you feel like you have to save yourself from a relationship, you absolutely should.

But it is not easy. Not at all.

The wound is closing slowly. Songs, commercials, any TV program or movie with a romantic arc can invariably send me swinging into a crying fit here and there. It took me weeks to remember what I like to do on my own. I started exploring new workouts, connecting with new friends, and every single day was a new set of feelings. I stayed on top of my recovery, went to meetings, talked about what was going on with me,  and sought out a group of other women who had been in emotionally abusive relationships. In the end, that’s what it was and it did more damage than I ever realized. I’m not afraid to ask for help, and I would ask that you not be, either. Because the aftermath of a broken relationship is where you need help the most, and you will be astounded at how willing people are to give it to you.

My therapist and I have had many conversations about this breakup, and through it all, I’ve come to realize the things that keep me small, the trauma that happened to me that keeps me in bad situations far longer than I should be. Whether that’s part of your story or not, know that talking to people about your mental health in a breakup (or any other time, for that matter) is not a sign of weakness. It’s pure strength to admit that you’re not feeling quite right, and it’s crucial to have someone help you undo the knot of thoughts that keeps you in the dark alone. Talk to someone. Talk to more than one person. Find the experts, and let them bring you into the light.

Today, I can say that I’m on my way to a better part of my life. I still have moments of pain, but they’re fewer and far between now. The emotional eating has stopped, and I’m finding myself enjoying the most basic parts of life now. I appreciate sunrises now. I’m training for a triathlon. I have new friends, and I’m able to help other people in breakups find their footing. I find that helping other people in recovery makes it easier to stay sober. After all, you can’t drown in your own problems if you’re helping someone else from the shore.

The healing comes. Peace of mind arrives slowly. Don’t look back, don’t turn around, and don’t go back into that dark night of using or sink into the depths of your mental health condition. If it needs to end, end it. Practice radical self-care every single day. Stay on top of your diagnosis. And someday, slowly but surely, you will become the person you’ve fought so hard to be. You will accept yourself, love yourself more than you ever thought possible. That’s a day worth staying sober for, and you get there with a lot of hard work, a tremendous amount of self-love, and healthy doses of hope and grace. Stay the course, one day at a time.

You’re worth it.