Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places…

Conspire alum Lauren Johnson continues her series on incarceration, recovery and life in general. 

Over the years, one of the points that have been made almost as many times as it has been ignored, is that relationships are the number one cause of relapse for people in recovery from addiction. Unless you are married, you are usually encouraged to end relationships that you were in during the addiction, or to have all parties treated. As the partner of an addict, you also tend to suffer from your own form of sickness in the day to day dealings of living in that unhealthy lifestyle. That is why close friends and family members of addicts are encouraged to attend Al-Anon. Since codependency is frequently a dual diagnosis of addicted persons, then it stands to reason that there are other people involved. It is impossible to be co-dependent alone

Initially when I thought of codependency, I imagined someone who was clingy and needed to be with someone in order to feel complete. I have come to learn that it encompasses so much more than that. People who feel compelled to be a caretaker, people who are people-pleasers, and those who try to control and coordinate those around themselves can also fall into this category.

Single people who attend AA/NA are instructed to stay out of a relationship for the first year of sobriety. This serves multiple and equally important purposes. First, it gives the addict time to focus on his or her recovery. Relationships are a huge distraction from that, and can sometimes replace the drugs as a different form of addiction. It gives him or her time to learn who s/he is without the use of substances, and the chance to realize what s/he wants out of life before adding someone else into the equation . AA/NA also instructs the addict to get a plant and care for the plant for one year; if the plant is still alive at the end of that year, then s/he can begin dating. It sounds funny, right? But you would be surprised at how on target they are in their reasoning. I have watched as countless numbers of participants decide to make their own rules for recovery and fail. I have seen the rule played out in real life and do you know what?

Relationships ARE the number one cause of relapse! I have watched countless people illustrate this in their own lives. I have seen women with children and husbands waiting for them at home get kicked out of a program for being in an unhealthy relationship with another woman in treatment. I have seen people abscond from the halfway house and lose their freedom as well as sobriety. In most cases the stay at a halfway house is 3-6 months. If you can’t delay the gratification for that short time span, then it is a problem. I know of a lady who met a guy at the halfway house, they dated secretly for a month or two, and just as they were being released back into the community, someone reported them. It just so happens that it is not only against the rules of the halfway houses, but a condition of parole that the parolee not associate with anyone else who is, or has been on probation or parole. So in order to prevent getting in trouble they went and got married. They had both begun drinking alcohol upon their release from the halfway house and within a month were back to heroin and cocaine use.

In my own personal experience I have never been in any kind of relationship with a woman other than friendship. I have watched while women who would normally not entertain the idea of being with another woman do so in an incarcerated environment. Love and belonging is a basic need for everyone. But we have all heard the song : “Looking for love in all the wrong places”? Well that should be the TDCJ theme song.

In TDCJ my job was “peer educator”, in this job we taught two classes to all of the incoming women to the unit. The first class was health, where we taught about STI’s, HIV, and general women’s health issues. The second class that we taught was called SAFE PRISONS. In 2003 the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed and while rape itself is not as prominent in a women’s prison, it can still happen. We covered a variety of topics in this class and put on some dramatic skits to illustrate some of the different forms of harassment that can occur and discussed how to avoid them. To my amazement, I watched scenes similar to the skits play themselves out before my eyes, including the consequences of the acts themselves. Even in jail where people are clean and sober, relationships seem to be one of the main causes for problems but knowing that isn’t always enough to prevent it. When I would talk with the women there I would tell them whether they were gay or straight, that prison is not the place to get into a relationship. Similarly if a person can’t wait that relatively short time in sobriety there are going to be problems.

In the real world, jealousy is an issue that comes up for many couples regardless of sexual orientation.. In an environment where everyone is a woman, it makes it difficult for a woman to be in a relationship and still have friendships. The potential of it turning into a relationship is bigger, which increases the potential for jealous and violent acts. Any relationship that leaves one or both parties isolated is not healthy. But again, what drives these relationships is not so much the need for love and belonging, as it is the need for distraction.

James Redfield wrote a book called The Celestine Prophecy. In this book was an example of one of the best ways I have heard jealousy, control and codependency in relationships explained.

This specific “insight” as it was called, had you imagine people as a half of a circle. We have all heard the line “you complete me”? The book talked about how in the beginning of a relationship two people meet and the exchange of energy between them going back and forth is fulfilling to both sides. Like connecting two halves of a circle to make a whole. It is give and take and gives a false sense of completion with the other person. Then as time goes on it becomes a power struggle because now someone has to drive the circle. We need to be complete before getting involved with someone. We should compliment, not complete each other.

I can’t stress enough that these two areas of life, in the first year of exploring sobriety in the real world, and the time someone spends behind bars, are the worst time anyone could choose to look for love. Too many people rob themselves of an opportunity for growth with that distraction.

-Lauren Johnson


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