By Diane Cameron, author of OUT OF THE WOODS
Even after all these years of recovery I catch myself having expectations for Valentine’s Day. How many resentments this day has caused: Dates, boy friends, husbands. Even knowing that Valentine’s Day is a commercially created day, the cultural pressure exists.
How do recovering people practice loving kindness for ourselves and others on Valentine’s Day? How does recovery guide me to make a Happy Valentine’s Day whether I am in or out of a romantic relationship? What does love really mean in the context of recovery?
One of the joys of being in recovery is watching other people grow. For me, it has been particularly moving to observe sober men as they change their lives and beliefs.
Early in recovery—just shy of two years and at that point where the fog is clearing –a man named Fred who was then in his late 50’s came to my home group one morning. It was his first day out of treatment and he was in pain. His “bottom” involved devastation at both work and at home. He was hurting. I listened as he spoke and I recognized his grief. Then, after the meeting ended, I watched as the men in our group surrounded Fred, they gave him phone numbers and insisted that he come to breakfast with them. I watched as the men taught him, and loved him.
Even though others in the group had had done that for me, it was then, with Fred, when I was just sober enough to understand what I was seeing that I recognized love in action. I hold that moment as one of my recovery treasures. That day I felt my heart open enough to want love to surround another person.
It makes me happy to see men change. To know that under different circumstances my father and my brothers might have changed too. To know that there is an endless supply of love in these rooms and that we are all changed by that love.
In early recovery I used to hear, “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” It felt like a puzzle, a bafflement. I didn’t think you could love someone into change. I mean, hadn’t I tried that all those years before with disastrous results? I know now that I didn’t really love; I was just trying to control someone or to make him take care of me. In romantic relationships, and sometimes as parents, we mistakenly try to love people into changing. And it generally doesn’t work.
But in our Twelve-step fellowships it does. Our friends in recovery can love us until we can love ourselves. And when we have learned to love ourselves, we can then truly love others. That changes the meaning of Valentine’s Day for me, and it makes it a special day of gratitude.