-Love over Fear-

“I’d be cool with living here forever.”

I was moving into my first apartment on the beach, and was chatting with my dad as we pulled up for the first time.

“What, really?”

There was a tone of concerned amusement in my dad’s voice. My ultra cool beach pad was essentially a coquina box, with two windows buried behind some un-kept landscaping. 

(co·qui·na/ kōˈkēnə/ noun/ a soft limestone of broken shells, used in road-making and building structure in the Caribbean and Florida.)

In my mind, I had arrived. With a little over two years of sobriety, this seemed to be the culmination of everything I had worked for. At this moment, I was lounging on a pink cloud of contentment. Newly appointed manager of the surf shop across the street, cozy beach bungalow, and a mystery surfer roommate to boot.

Did I mention I was single? After more than many failed relationships, I had convinced myself that a life of solitude was the one for me.  The dating game had me jaded, and I had grown weary of ever having a relationship again.  

In the infancy of my recovery, I was unable to take a look at myself. I was incapable of realizing that the problem was in fact, me. I thought the problem was in the women that continually let me down.  I was searching for a utopian relationship where everything was perfect, where I could do whatever I wanted all the time, and by whatever, I mean surfing.

And so, the dream I had worked towards was finally in place. I was single, I had a place on the beach, a job at a cool surf shop, and wore tank tops and board shorts for every occasion.  I had sworn off women, I could chew tobacco and surf whenever I wanted. What more could I ask for?

Two months later, I took my fiancée out on our first date. 

My sponsor always says, “if you want to give God a laugh, tell him all about the grand plans you’ve made for yourself”.

Maribel was also in sobriety, and that scared me. Up to this point, I had run from every relationship I was ever a part of. The rooms were my sanctuary, and I didn’t want to jeopardize making that part of my life uncomfortable in any way.

You have to understand that I never looked at a relationship with another woman, or another human being for that matter, as long term. I always assumed I would run, or I would move, or they would leave. Base level relationships were the defining element of my recovery, and I had no idea what a real relationship with anyone looked like. 

Maribel changed all that for me. And she did so with fiery Colombian grit, and dedication to my imperfections.

Maribel and I fell in love, and through our experiences together we learned what a real and meaningful relationship looked like.  I was rough around the edges and in need of some serious work.

My default response to uncomfortable experiences was to run, and I learned the importance of sticking around to sit and feel.  Maribel didn’t put up with my shit, and she let me know when I was out of line. She won’t mind me saying, that she was forced to look inside herself as well, and together we put forth a lot of work.

Two huge steps for me in our relationship were moving in together, and getting engaged. Thank God for recovery, and real growth. Because without sobriety I would have never been fit for either. Looking back, my fear of long-term commitment was fueled by the idea that my independence would be threatened. I thought the things I loved doing would somehow be blotted out from my life. I had never experienced healthy balance in a relationship, so I had assumed that getting involved always meant being consumed, and giving up your free time.

I had no idea that my codependence had pretty much ruined every relationship I’ve ever had. In fact, I had no idea that I was a codependent, nor did I know what that meant.  I was incapable of letting those close to me feel emotions other than happiness, because to do so would make me feel uncomfortable.  I refused to feel anything other than ignorant bliss and if there was any discomfort, I would run.

It wasn’t until we attended a couples in recovery workshop that I even knew what I was struggling with was called codependency.  I was apprehensive at best about the whole experience. Like everything else that scared me in our relationship, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Thank you babe for talking me into the whole thing, uh…and…(cough-cough)…you were right.

I think that there are probably lots of people who struggle with codependency, and don’t even know it. For me, a simple awareness around codependency, and how it manifests in my life, has helped me make huge strides.  I wish this story was about how to cure codependency, but it’s not.  I still struggle with it everyday, but I know what to do when I feel it coming, and I’m more open about it with Maribel.

Every single step towards a deeper commitment to Maribel produced fear in my life. Each time I fought the urge to run away, I was able to move forward and experience true growth. 

Moving in together scared the shit out of me. Well guess what, it was the second best decision I ever made. We moved CLOSER to the beach, and our place was a sure upgrade for us both.  Not to mention I got two hilarious little shih tzus out of the deal. My little shit heads.

Getting engaged scared the shit out of me. Well guess what, it was the BEST decision I ever made. As we grew closer, we experienced a deeper understanding of how we operate, and how we react to different situations.

We experienced pain, and saw new growth sprout from those struggles. A couple times we rolled over HUGE bumps in the road, and sometimes we didn’t know what to do. No, lots of times we didn’t know what to do.  No, lots of times I didn’t know what to do!

In recovery we have learned to ask for help from those who have been there before. That’s what we did, we turned to others, we asked for help from people in recovery. We looked to other couples in sobriety, we asked what they did, and we tried a different approach.

We based our relationship in the principles of our recovery, and when we made mistakes we did our best to work through them…we stopped leaving and we started staying.  One night my sister in law (to-be) shared with me a great piece of advice. She said “all you have to do is stay, when times are tough, all you have to do is stay”. That really resonated with me. The idea of leaving when things got weird was ingrained in me. I started doing my best to stay, and by stay I mean physically and mentally. I tried to remain rooted in reality, in the present.

I’ll be honest, I was the cause for most of these mistakes, and if you ask Maribel I’m sure she’ll tell you the same of her. Perhaps that’s part of our success, we are getting better at identifying our part. I’m getting much better at asking myself what part I’ve played in the situation.

We are six months away from getting married. We work everyday to be the best we can be for each other. We compromise, we laugh, and we cry together. I still mess up ALL THE TIME. Maribel is getting really good at forgiving me. I drive like a maniac, it drives her crazy, and I am madly in love with her. She wears her shoes in the house and tracks dirt everywhere. I follow her around with a broom, and she is madly in love with me.

I guess the moral of the story is imperfection. For me, that’s the best part. Who really wants smooth sailing all the time? How are you supposed to grow, and prepare yourself for the future without challenge?

Being with Maribel has brought out the very best in me. She has taught me how to be a man in recovery. She has inspired me to be the leader that I was meant to be. I think I may have brought out some good in her too, just a pinch.

I consider myself very lucky to be engaged to such a strong, independent woman. She has a knack for taking care of others, and is kind and caring…almost to a fault! She lives for her family, and in that we share common ground. Our families are on the verge of coming together, and let me tell you what…it’s going to be awesome!

On top of everything, I’ve made the best friend I’ve ever known. I never spent this much time with anyone, ever. I’ve learned more about myself than I thought I could, and she has shown me the importance of compassion and honesty.

I can proudly say that she now recycles and knows who Fleetwood Mac is. I know what an arepa is, and how to cook it just right on Sunday mornings. I’m still working on her though, she hasn’t seen any of the six Star Wars, and nearly fell asleep IN THE THEATER for the new Star Wars movie. WTF?!

Progress, not perfection right?

-Chris B. (Chris is the admissions and outreach coordinator at The Augustine)