In Love and Recovery – The New York Times

Lauren Sabbath wasn’t sure how much of her past she should divulge on her first date with David Clayton Jr., whom she met on the dating app Bumble, in September 2017.

Mr. Clayton noticed when Ms. Sabbath ordered a sparkling water. When she nervously told him she was sober, he high-fived her.

They met at a restaurant near their homes in Massachusetts; at first, they mostly bonded over a shared appreciation of music. Mr. Clayton was also taken with Ms. Sabbath’s smile.

They lingered much longer than Ms. Sabbath had planned, as she had a final exam to study for. They texted the next day to make a second date.

Ms. Sabbath, now 35, quickly realized that with Mr. Clayton, 37, she felt safe in a way she never had, and more of her story began to emerge.

Ms. Sabbath is from Bethany, Conn., and is the younger of two daughters of Kert Sabbath, an oncologist and hematologist at Yale Cancer Center, and Karen Sabbath, a dietitian at the Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center in Waterbury, Conn.

As a teenager, Ms. Sabbath was anxious and depressed.

“I felt like there was an instruction manual that everyone else got to life that I never got,” she said. “When I found alcohol, it felt like for the first time I was OK.”

But, of course, she wasn’t.

When she started attending 12-step meetings in 2007, she thought those who said they were happy being sober were lying. Finally, in 2008, she hit a bottom of sorts, and some women in the program took her under their wing. She got sober at age 22.

“They taught me how to help others and get out of my own way,” said Ms. Sabbath, who graduated from Clark University; she earned a master’s degree in social work from Boston College and is a clinical social worker.

Even in recovery, Ms. Sabbath continued to make such bad choices in boyfriends that when she began sponsoring others in her 12-step program, her sponsor told her: “‘You’re not allowed to give relationship advice. If someone asks, refer them to someone else.’”

Meanwhile, Mr. Clayton, too, considered himself to be carrying around baggage.

In his late 20s, he got a woman pregnant. They were not in a relationship and fatherhood was not a part of his plan.

Mr. Clayton grew up in Medford, Mass., the older of two sons of David Clayton Sr. and Justina Clayton, and he was the first college graduate in his immediate family. He received his degree from Tufts University, where his mother is an admissions administrator in the child development department. His father recently retired as a senior bioprocess associate at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

When the pregnancy news came, Mr. Clayton’s first inclination was to tell no one and move far away. The shame of having a child out of wedlock, he said, was “overwhelming.”

But, as he received nonjudgmental reactions from others around him, it helped him to be less hard on himself.

By February 2018, the couple traveled to Costa Rica. They moved in together the following September.

Now, they live in Natick, Mass. Ms. Sabbath is a clinical director at Clearhaven Recovery Center in Waltham, Mass. Mr. Clayton is a senior software development engineer at Tracelink, a software company based in North Reading, Mass., that manages the supply chain for pharmaceutical companies.

Though he admits he was at first “a bit naïve and judgmental” about people in recovery, Mr. Clayton began to understand that world much better.

“Our work lives are so different,” Ms. Sabbath said. “Over dinner, he tells me about these bugs he had to fix and a platform that crashed, and I’m telling him about a couple who overdosed on meth.”

Mr. Clayton said he considers Ms. Sabbath “a superhero, in what’s she’s chosen to do with her life. She’s a very strong woman.”

“Watching Lauren start to believe that she deserved honest, authentic, respectful love was a really wonderful thing,” said Danielle Gill, a bridesmaid and close friend of Ms. Sabbath’s whom she met in recovery. “I had never seen her as authentically vulnerable as she was with Dave, and he makes her laugh a lot.”

Ms. Sabbath said, “We love each other for what we’ve survived, but not just that; for what we’ve accomplished.”

“We just have so much fun together,” Mr. Clayton added.

Mr. Clayton also said that “Lauren has been and continues to be an incredible role model for my daughter.”

Ms. Sabbath did not imagine herself becoming a mother, or, for that matter, a stepmother.

“Even though I’m never going to be her mom, we’re still special people to each other,” Ms. Sabbath said. “There are things that I have the privilege of offering her and giving her that she doesn’t get from others.”

While the couple hadn’t shied away from talking about race before 2020, the murder of George Floyd and the racial reckoning it caused provided them the opportunity to go deeper. They attended Black Lives Matter marches together.

Both their mothers had initially expressed hesitation that their child might not be fully accepted into the other’s family, but after the families met each other, that fear dissipated. Each family embraced the other as their own.

“My mom really went above and beyond to learn about how to be part of an interracial family,” Ms. Sabbath said.

In the fall of 2019, Ms. Sabbath was training for the New York City Marathon. Three weeks before it, she suffered a stress fracture, foiling Mr. Clayton’s plan to propose at the finish line. Rather, they visited Burlington, Vermont, that weekend, where he proposed overlooking Lake Champlain.

They were married at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., on Sept. 19. Ms. Sabbath’s cousin Peter Brown, who was deputized by the state of Massachusetts, officiated the ceremony on the lawn outside the Highwood Manor House. Their 170 guests showed vaccination cards and negative Covid test results before entering the property.

Mr. Brown offered a tribute to Mildred and Richard Loving, the couple behind the Supreme Court case that made it possible for interracial couples to marry.

They were wrapped in Ms. Sabbath’s grandfather’s tallit and tied the knot with Mr. Clayton’s grandmother’s scarf; they jumped over a broom and broke a glass.

Today, Ms. Sabbath, who is taking Mr. Clayton’s name, wants others who consider themselves too damaged to be in a healthy relationship to know that it’s possible. “I never believed I could be happy or have a normal life,” Ms. Sabbath said. “It’s really important for those who have been at the bottom to see others who have found their way.”

“All of Lauren’s strengths and struggles positioned her to see where Dave was coming from,” said Javier Bellini, a groomsman and close friend of Mr. Clayton’s since seventh grade. “A lot of their previous experiences molded them into the persons they needed to be,” and, “who they needed to be for each other.”

Their Vows Of Ms. Sabbath’s smile, Mr. Clayton said, “I fell in love with it so quickly on that first date. Your smile, when I see it, makes me feel like everything is, and is going to be OK, no matter what.”

Ms. Sabbath said, “I can’t describe exactly what changed when we met, but I know that for the first time since I could remember, I believed that I could find happiness with a man that held himself with dignity, respect, kindness, and held me that same way.”

The First Dance A good friend of Mr. Clayton’s choreographed it, as Mr. Clayton was a semiprofessional hip-hop dancer for six years. To Tina Turner’s “The Best,” the dance included Mr. Clayton holding Ms. Sabbath aloft by her waist, reminiscent of “Dirty Dancing.”

The Cake Topper Given Mr. Clayton’s love of Marvel Comics, they chose action figures of the Marvel characters and couple, Luke Cage, a Black man, and Jessica Jones, a white woman. As both characters have overcome major obstacles (and Jessica Jones even struggles with alcohol), they have become their alter-egos of sorts; the couple dressed up as them on their first Halloween together.

The Tattoo The bride wore a Lela Rose gown with an open back that showed off her phoenix tattoo that commemorates five years of sobriety.