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Recovery in Three Short Chapters – Chapter 2: Individual Recovery


Chapter 2: The Road To Individual Recovery

Recognizing the Problems

Over the months John’s legal issues and mandated first offender meetings demanded he miss important out of town meetings. He dreaded having to tell his boss what happened, fearing what could happen when he did. Additionally, his driver’s license had been suspended and getting to work was difficult. The strain at home added to John’s shame and humiliation. The DUI happened over 10 months ago but he and Carol still had not talked about it.

The impact on his marriage and on his professional life was mounting and John wondered why he was still drinking after the DUI, especially given what he was now going through and after promising Carol he would stop altogether. As John’s denial began to painfully crack, John had to grapple with the reality of his drinking.

It became more and more difficult to justify his drinking. John woke up early one morning after another evening of hiding his drinking, but this time something changed in John. For some reason that morning John saw for the first time the destructive power drinking has had over him. John saw that he needed help. Everything he had worked for, everything he had with Carol was at risk.

Finding Help

John decided to get help. He began an outpatient program and got into recovery. Carol felt relief that John was taking steps to address his drinking. Maybe their life could now get back to normal.

At first Carol didn’t think she needed any help, this was about John and his drinking. Carol reluctantly agreed to attend family group after speaking with one of the counselors in the treatment program. The counselor explained that she would learn about addiction, recovery, and codependency.

Carol didn’t quite know what to think after a counselor suggested that Carol needed to address her own recovery issues and that John needed to focus on his own recovery. She felt blamed, that somehow she had contributed to Johns drinking problem. Nevertheless, Carol agreed to attend family group with John and the codependency group, for partners only. She was advised to put the relationship on hold when Carol talked about some of the relationship issues they were having.

John worked on staying sober and attended his outpatient meetings regularly. He started attending the AA meetings that others in his group went to. Much to his relief his work situation stabilized after he told his boss that he was in treatment. His boss even expressed his support.

Carol began attending Al-Anon. While she wasn’t sure she was going to continue to attend, she agreed that for the time being she would maintain a once a week schedule.

Recovery Aftermath

Finally, both John and Carol were getting support to help them manage their individual recoveries, but surprisingly to them both, things did not get any better between them. Carol noticed that she still seemed angry and anxious most of the time. What if John relapsed, would he tell her, or would he again lie about drinking?

Carol heard that addiction is a disease. Carol struggled with not really understanding how John could have let his drinking put everything at risk. Why did it take getting arrested for him to finally see how bad his drinking had become? Countless times she had told him if he had to drink, don’t drive. At some point she gave up telling him her concerns. She wondered if some of this was her fault, maybe she should have done something to prevent things from escalating? Carol kept asking herself was there something else she could have done?

Adjusting to Recovery

Between his work, her work, and all the meetings John was going to she saw John less than ever. They hardly spoke to each other, and when they did, neither knew what to say. Carol felt devastated and overwhelmed by the long history of John’s drinking. Neither of them knew how to manage thing at home. Carol felt relieved he was getting help, but she had no idea what to expect next or what she should be doing.

She had so many questions about their relationship and how they should manage things now that he wasn’t drinking. How much should she say to family and friends? What did he actually do in his groups, and were these groups actually helping him? How were they going to deal with the damage from his drinking? How should they deal with decisions they need to make about finances, purchases, work, even chores around the house. Carol felt exhausted and lonely in the relationship and in her own home.

Things were so different now in recovery but they both felt clueless about how to manage much of anything in their relationship. The group told Carol to work her own program, focus on her needs, and to let go of trying to control the future. Her support group advised her not to focus on the relationship at this point.

Carol did not understand why they weren’t supposed to work on issues affecting them both or their relationship when so much needed attention. Obviously, neither one of them had any idea how they were supposed to go forward with recovery now in their lives. Much to Carol’s disappointment and shock, these feelings didn’t feel all that different to Carol from when John was still drinking.

What Now?

John felt overwhelmed with all the changes in his life and in their relationship. He felt so many feelings about what his drinking had done to Carol, the relationship, and to himself. He felt shame despite learning that addiction is a disease impacting the areas of the brain linked to judgment and choice. It helped a little learning that the brain is hijacked in addiction, that the stop switch doesn’t work.

It is one thing to understand a bit about the neurobiology of addiction, and quite another thing to manage all the feelings that seem to emerge when sober. Why weren’t they talking about the neurobiology of addiction an how to manage and heal from the destructiveness they both felt from the addiction?

There were so many things John wanted to share with Carol about what he was learning. There were times he was struggling with not drinking, or simply felt depressed; but he didn’t want to worry Carol or dump anything else on her.

John felt anxious when Carol briefly shared that she was thinking about stopping Al-Anon. She felt that it didn’t seem like a match for her. His sponsor advised him to “stay on his own side of the street”, to not work her program. To be successful in recovery he was to focus only on himself, at least for the time being.

What About the Relationship?

Nevertheless, John felt anxious about their relationship and where they were going. Again, he heard that he was “future tripping”, and reminded to “take one day at a time”. While that made sense when it came to trying to stay sober, it didn’t make sense when it came to their relationship. John desperately wanted to talk about what was now happening in their relationship, and how to make recovery a part of their new couple life. He wondered if the relationship would survive the next year of not talking to each other, only focusing on their individual paths.

John and Carol felt that their individual recovery programs were important, but it also seemed as if there was a huge barrier still between them. They wondered if they would ever feel like a couple again. People reassured them that recovery took time and that they needed to be patient before trying to address their relationship.

One evening John and Carol finally had a serious discussion about their relationship, acknowledging just how strained it was despite how well they were both doing in their individual recoveries. “This wall between us, it seems so high and impossible”, Carol finally admitted to John. John nodded his head in agreement but didn’t know what to say or to do.They wondered what might recovery look like if they could also address their relationship as well as their individual recoveries. Neither of them knew that there are options for recovering couples, that there are ways to cross over that wall without sacrificing their individual recoveries.


Dr. Robert Navarra

Robert Navarra, PsyD, LMFT, MAC, is a Master Certified Gottman Therapist, Trainer, and Speaker, and an author. He is is certified as Master Addiction Counselor and specializes in treating and researching couples in recovery from addictive disorders. Dr. Navarra created "Roadmap for the Journey: A Workshop for Couples Embracing Recovery" and "Couples and Addiction Recovery: A Gottman Approach for Therapists, Counselors, and Addiction Professionals".

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