Hempfield alum authors unique dating guide

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 6:20 p.m.

Westmoreland County native Karen Nagy once dated a man she met through her church singles group who was very easily agitated, who was late all the time, who had thoughts that were “topsy turvy” and who had a year of sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous. Nagy, a 1975 graduate of Hempfield Area High School who lives in Florida, turned to self-help books and countless recovery books to try to better understand him.

But none offered any advice or consolation for the person dating someone in recovery.

Although that relationship ended, Nagy kept searching for anything that would list behaviors of someone in early recovery and what to expect. She tried Al-Anon, a family support group through AA, to no avail.

So Nagy, who never had any desire to write a book, wrote one herself.

In April, “Girlfriend of Bill: 12 Things You Need to Know When Dating Someone in Recovery” will be released through Center City, Minn.-based Hazelden Publishing, part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

The title refers to the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson.

Sid Farrar, senior acquisitions editor at Hazelden, said he receives hundreds of manuscripts a year, usually from agents and usually not published.

“This one grabbed you right away,” Farrar said about Nagy's. “The working title is the actual title, which is very rare. There wasn't anything out there for dating people in a 12-step program. We hadn't seen anything like it.”

Farrar said the book provides a key to unlock this world, see what the other person is going through and determine if you want to go through it too.

He believes that, although everybody has problems, not everybody is working on them, which offers advantages.

“The book is a mixed bag,” Farrar said. “I was impressed Karen's book addressed all these things in the recovery community. We were thrilled to be able to publish it.”

For research, Nagy read hundreds of books on recovery and interviewed countless married and single friends affected by addiction. Her book discusses spirituality, emotional sobriety, relapse and codependency.

After writing the book, Nagy said, she learned that it was probably too soon for that boyfriend with the church connection to date. Most 12-step programs advise against it within the first year.

She said she may have been able to forgive more readily some of his behaviors, but she would not have offered financial support.

“When you stop drinking, that's not the end of it. I didn't realize that,” said Nagy, a music teacher at Miami Dade College who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “It's an impassioned book for people not knowing what's happening in recovery. The final chapter is if you want to do a long-term relationship, what to consider. There are many healthy relationships in recovery. I bring out the pros and cons and let people choose.”

She said the book helps anybody in a relationship with someone in recovery, whether it be a significant other, a parent, a child or a friend.

Steve Camp of central Florida, a friend of Nagy's who has been in recovery since 1973 and who is married to someone outside that world, said the book is important because most couples need to work through their issues to create a healthy relationship.

“The individual in recovery doesn't even know themselves,” said Camp. “They're used to escaping from feelings through drugs and alcohol. Even now, my spiritual understanding and way of life urges us to look at ourselves and to take responsibility. To try and get involved with another person in an honest and intimate relationship is very hard until you know yourself.”

Although Camp had heard the advice about not dating within the first year, he took the plunge at the six-month mark. “I didn't adhere to that and it was not something I was ready for,” he said. “It's not a great idea.”

Chris Kuznicki of Baldwin is a childhood friend of Nagy's who has addiction in her family. They use to be next-door neighbors in Hempfield.

Kuznicki said when somebody goes to AA, they look at things differently and they follow a certain code.

The book “might help you understand their slogan — 'One day at a time' — why they need rest, what to do if they slip or relapse,” she said. “There could be jealousy if you don't understand it — that they need their support group. It's a lifelong thing when in recovery.”

Nagy hopes people will buy the book for the information because there is work to be done on both sides. She hopes it helps those who love an alcoholic or addict.

“This is the first book like this outside the program,” she said. “No one has talked about this, ever.”

Michele Stewardson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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