Sex in Early Sobriety

It always bums me out to see newcomers come in and out of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous like a revolving door, showing up at a meeting, hooking up with a guy or a girl and disappearing. So the topic of sex in early sobriety, while touchy for some people, is something that needs to be talked about.

Many in AA have heard the conventional wisdom that it’s a good idea to wait until a year sober to get into a relationship. This comes from the understanding that most people still have a lot of soul searching and self-discovery to do up until this point. There is a lot of internal work that can often be uncomfortable in early sobriety, and having another person to make your Higher Power can get in the way of this spiritual development. Now, while not followed by everyone in AA, this isn’t particularly controversial advice and like everything in the program, is just suggestion. There are definitely cases where an individual has completed their steps and done sufficient internal work to allow a relationship to be successful in sobriety. In order for this to happen however, there have to be 2 participants who are deeply in touch with themselves to be all right alone. The problem is, not everyone in Alcoholics Anonymous is willing to have that consideration for another individual, especially when romance is involved. Specifically when sex is involved. And that is where we start to see these problems come up inside of the rooms.

Now, let me preface all of this by saying that this is purely my opinion, built off of observations that I have made, and founded in a set of principles that works pretty well for me. The Big Book of AA is very clear that “we do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct,” on page 69, and I have often heard that excuse thrown around in the rooms as a justification for sexual irresponsibility. By all means, if you are a sober adult that has finished the steps, go have fun. My message is not to commit your self to a life of celibacy or give up some of the more enjoyable pastimes that sobriety has to offer. But lets keep it real – a big part of working a spiritual program is not continuing to harm others. And preying on newcomers, picking them off like wounded animals outside of meetings, is definitely harmful. So while we don’t want to tell anyone how to behave sexually, there are definitely some things that are OK, and some things that aren’t.

for illustrative purposes only; any person(s) depicted in this photo is a model

for illustrative purposes only; any person(s) depicted in this photo is a model

Why is it such a bad idea to have sex as a newcomer though? What’s the big deal? Well, to be honest I think the previous analogy does a pretty good job of summing it up. When we first get to the rooms of AA, we are like wounded animals.  Emotional growth stunted, physically unhealthy, spiritually bankrupt, and desperate to not feel the way we feel anymore, we don’t have the ability to stand on our own two feet and we need the community of AA to pick us up while we regain our footing. That growth happens only in the absence of the drugs and alcohol that stunted it for so long. We have to remove the blocks, fixes and hindrances that prevent us from developing spiritually. Well, sex can definitely be a fix. In early sobriety, we cling to anything that will help us feel better, even if the relief is short lived. This isn’t because we are bad, we are just desperate for some comfort. Sex provides that comfort – temporarily.

When spiritual development takes a back seat to sex, or any other instantly gratifying behavior for that matter, our recovery suffers. In early sobriety, it’s pretty easy to make someone of the opposite sex your Higher Power, and even easier to fixate on the temporary relief that sex provides. This is all at the expense of the work. Even worse, it sets us up for relapse, because once the sex or other person is taken away, we find ourselves faced with the same uncomfortable feelings that were there in the first place; and as a result of not doing the spiritual work, we seek out any solution we can to feel better.

If you think it’s OK to sleep with newcomers, whatever your justification may be, I challenge you to get in touch with whatever insecurities you haven’t dealt with that make endangering someone else’s sobriety a good idea in your mind. And if you are new, give yourself some time to figure out who you are before going there – you’ve got plenty of time to get frisky down the road.

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  • Debbie O-A
    Posted at 10:37h, 25 July Reply

    Touche Howard! Thank you for a great piece! I’m sure recovery is difficult to sustain in the best of circumstances, otherwise there would be very few relapses. Toss in a sexual relationship in the early stages of recovery and that is certainly one way to derail someone’s course.

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