Valentine’s Day is the holiday everyone loves to hate…but are we getting it all wrong? Is there more to it than heart shaped chocolate, overpriced dinner and, for singles especially, an overarching sense of inadequacy?
As with many holidays, Valentine’s Day is rooted in ancient Roman tradition. According to an NPR article written by Arnie Seipel, the Romans engaged in barbaric customs meant to improve fertility. Over the centuries, Valentine’s Day has evolved from a debauched and cruel festival to a more subtly depraved exercise in consumerism. Although we can be grateful that we now celebrate with Hallmark cards rather than goatskin beatings, Valentine’s Day doesn’t seem to be done with its evolution.
By examining the word “fertility”, one can make the argument that the ancient Romans were inadvertently on to something. While most people define fertility within the framework of procreation and childbearing, fertility also constitutes productivity, not unlike a soil rich with growth-producing nutrients. Could the modern Valentine’s Day, therefore, be about seeking ways to grow as individuals and, by extension, as partners?
Some people have started celebrating S.A.D. – Singles Awareness Day – on February 14th. While this shift toward self-care is, indeed, a step in the right direction, it’s arguably not substantial enough. Sahaj Kohli said: “The fact that someone else loves you doesn’t rescue you from the project of loving yourself”. Self-love isn’t just a cliché recommendation for singles, it’s important work for all of us – even those who are deeply entrenched in relationships. Self-care is commonly perceived as selfish but, in truth, the way we love ourselves reflects our ability to love others. When we make ourselves a priority – and cultivate habits that are conducive to our growth – we become better partners, family members, and friends.
Newcomers to both treatment facilities and recovery meetings are often advised not to get into a relationship in their first year of sobriety. Unfortunately, this advice isn’t always realistic. Some may already be in a marriage or relationship, while still others may not have developed the fortitude to resist Cupid’s ill-timed wiles. Regardless of the scenario, it’s important to engage in regular motive-checking, i.e. “Am I using this relationship as a replacement drug? Am I doing the work I need to do on myself?”
One sure sign of stalled personal growth is a tumultuous and unhealthy relationship. Water seeks its own level; we attract people who reflect who we, ourselves, are. That’s not to say that if you are in an abusive relationship you, too, are abusive (or that you ever invite or are to blame for mistreatment), it means that there is something in you that desperately needs healing. It means that – somewhere in your history – you learned how to operate on a certain kind of playing field. Until that part of you is acknowledged and addressed, the playing field will defy reform… and it will be difficult to run with a different league of players.
It’s astonishing how much influence an unresolved past can have over the present. This is especially true for individuals struggling with addiction; there is a high correlation between early trauma and substance abuse. As adults, we unwittingly seek partners with whom we can settle past conflict or trauma. While this unconscious impulse is understandable, our efforts are typically futile and self-destructive. Not only can we not control other people, but true healing and closure must come from within.
If you’re looking to do something different in the romance department, here are five ways to lay the groundwork for growth:
- Ask for Help: Is a relationship threatening your wellbeing and/or recovery? Has it become an all-consuming drug? Do you feel unfulfilled on your own? Are your behaviors hurting others? If you answered “yes” to any of the aforementioned questions, love yourself enough to ask for help. Another person can’t do the inner-work for you, but a friend, counselor, sponsor, or mentor can guide you. Cultivating community connection is a vital part of healthy living. The burdens we carry as human beings are weighty. It’s hard to leave a toxic relationship or, alternately, to confront maladaptive patterns of behavior before entering or continuing one. A problem shared, however, is a problem halved.
- Write: Both the Twelve Step model and the Refuge Recovery model incorporate written inventories. Talking about something out loud isn’t as effective. Writing rewires the brain. The act itself facilitates reflection on a deeper level; you can reframe the past, recognize recurring problematic themes, and refine yourself as a person. You don’t have to be William Shakespeare – or even particularly good at spelling. If you’re looking to “upgrade your playing field,” inventory writing is an infallible method.
- Set & Respect Boundaries: You teach other people how to treat you by the boundaries you set in place. Your capacity to love healthfully is also measured by whether or not you can respect the boundaries of others. When you cling to another person and try to exert control, you are operating from a place of fear rather than from a place of love. Rainer Maria Rilke said: “The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development.”
- Create a Morning Routine: When you’re irritable, restless, and discontent, it’s hard to show up for the people in your life. On the other side of the coin, when you’re present for yourself, it’s easier to be present for others. A morning self-care routine sets the groundwork for you to peacefully approach the day. You don’t have to be a guru to practice a morning ritual. You could start with five minutes of reading – perhaps passages from Just For Today or Daily Reflections – and progress to adding a combination of guided meditation (available for free on YouTube), yoga, exercise, and nutritional food. It’s not essential to incorporate every one of these suggestions; create a routine that works for you. Some people keep it simple by attending a morning recovery meeting. Others find it helpful to keep a journal or a planner. The common denominator is a commitment to nourishing self. You can’t pour from an empty cup – so start your day by filling it.
- Treat Yourself (But Don’t Defeat Yourself): Part of the fun of both Valentine’s Day and Single’s Awareness Day is the entertainment factor. In early recovery, especially, it can be difficult to glean joy and excitement from day-to-day activities. Finding ways to treat yourself without substances can be a vital part of learning how to enjoy life again. While there is something to be said for treating yourself, it’s important to recognize when it becomes another way to “fill the void”. For instance, it might be fun to get a massage or a new wardrobe item – or take a group of friends out to dinner – but are these regular occurrences which break the bank and have negative consequences? Is the pursuit of entertainment and excitement a distraction from recovery work? Self-awareness is key to striking balance.
In a round-about way, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to express gratitude for the recovery process. Recovery allows us to analyze our “water levels” and assess whether or not we are ascending to a desirable height. Recovery work also nurtures the soil of self-growth, thereby helping to propagate healthy lives and fulfilling relationships.
If your drug and alcohol use is impacting your relationships, please call (888) 649-1149. We are available to take your call 24/7.
Autumn Khavari is the Process Recovery Center’s Web Content Writer. She received an education in Substance Abuse Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.