Relationships and Recovery: Maintaining Sobriety After a Breakup

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Breakups can be devastating for anyone. For those who struggle with a substance use disorder, maintaining sobriety after a relationship ends can be a major challenge. Intense emotions such as jealousy, insecurity, and uncertainty can all be potential triggers. However, it’s very important that we do not give in to the negative emotions that are often associated with bad breakups and resort to alcohol or drugs to numb our pain.

The “Splitting-Up” Spiral and Sobriety 

What could I have done differently? They were the one; what happened? How can I ever move on from this? These are just some of the many questions that we may find ourselves asking after a breakup. Whether the breakup was mutual and amicable or not, this negative loop of emotions and questions can persist for days, months, and sometimes even years.

According to marriage and family therapist Courtney Geter, “The negative thoughts that breakups cause can turn thoughts into feelings and feelings into behaviors.” These behaviors can be born out of many things. For people who suffer from pre-existing mental health disorders as well as substance use disorders, the subconscious need to control our emotions can be difficult to deal with.

For those of us who live with substance use disorders, mental health disorders, or both, often our intuitive response to a bad feeling (like a breakup) is to feel good in a way that requires little effort (using alcohol or drugs). By doing so, we numb the pain, and we think we feel better. But in reality, we are just putting off these bad feelings and not dealing with them. This endless cycle can prolong the misery, anxiety, and insecurity associated with breakups and influence our behavior in many negative ways.

Reining in the Routine 

A breakup, like any major loss, can throw a wrench into our routine. For many people who are in recovery, routine is key to preventing downward spirals and relapses. After a breakup, we may feel sluggish, lethargic, and miserable. Heading to the gym, enjoying our hobbies, and even taking care of ourselves can seem like herculean tasks. Fighting the urge to stay in bed all day, binge-watch TV, and eat a pint of ice cream can be tough. But by sticking with our routine, we can grieve in a way that doesn’t make us feel worse in the long run.

Processing our emotions after a breakup requires strength, diligence, and courage. In recovery, we are denying ourselves the thing(s) that for so long were the tools we used to control our emotions. Our routine, our meetings, and the recovery process are now our tools to move past this particularly difficult time.

Breakups can be one of the most difficult things that happen to a person. For men, struggling to rationalize and compartmentalize our emotions can be difficult, especially if we struggle with substance abuse or mental health issues. If you find that you are spiraling and resorting to unhealthy coping habits after a breakup, Jaywalker Lodge is here to help you get back on track. Our services are centered around helping men find the right path to recovery through individualized treatment plans. Our process focuses on inpatient and outpatient recovery programs that are centered around the tried and true 12-Step method. When you are heartbroken after a breakup, it can be difficult to seek help, especially if relapse and substance use becomes a part of the problem. At Jaywalker Lodge, we are here to help you rebuild and recover in a community that cares. If you feel that you are spiraling and struggling, call us now at (866) 529-9255.

Avoid Isolation

Another intuitive response to the loss and grief that comes after a breakup is isolating and alienating yourself from friends and family. When we feel bad, our batteries are running on empty. Because of this, we are more likely to want to cancel plans, stay inside, and avoid others. This can exacerbate that spiral of negative emotions and cause us to resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol, overeating, and others.

Resisting the urge to isolate can be difficult, but time spent with others can help us cope with the pain of a breakup. Call up your friend group and see who can hang out that day! If you’re feeling particularly down and don’t want to be out and about, group counseling or heading to a meeting are also great ways to put your pain into perspective without resorting to unhealthy coping habits.

Our routine and our support network are crucial in moments of intense emotional distress. Breakups are no different! While it may feel good to isolate, lay in bed, and abandon our routine, resisting these urges and powering through our pain can help us grow and heal.

Watch for the Rebound

The old cliche of the rebound after a breakup is a cliche for a reason. After a split, many people seek emotional support and validation in casual hookups. However, this can be another unhealthy coping mechanism that prolongs feelings of depression and anxiety.

Jumping into an intimate or casual relationship shortly after a breakup without letting yourself process the grief and pain that comes after things “go south” can be disastrous for both you and the person you become involved with.

The safe bet for those of us who struggle with substance use disorders and mental health disorders is to keep our routine, make sure we don’t give in to our reflexive and reactive bad habits, and reach out to friends when we need a shoulder to cry on. Staying sober after a split is possible! But it requires doing the hard work of being present with our emotions, even if we’d rather take control of them through old and unhealthy habits.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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