Finding Romance on a Quest for the ‘Perfect Milkshake’

Early into her sobriety in 2014, Alyson Marla Chavez attended a recovery-themed meditation class at the Mindfulness Community of Milwaukee. She went at her sponsor’s behest, initially rolling her eyes at the whole thing. Then she caught sight of Joshua Robert Stewart.

“I realized: ‘Oh, there are cute guys at A.A.,’” Ms. Chavez said.

The two struck up a conversation during a tea break but didn’t cross paths again until a few months later, at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that spring. Mr. Stewart noticed that Ms. Chavez, who was having a particularly difficult day, seemed distressed. So he offered to go on a walk and grab a coffee with her when the meeting ended.

From then, the pair began spending more time together, both at and outside of meetings. Though a deeper connection started to bud, romance wasn’t on either of their minds.

Neither Ms. Chavez nor Mr. Stewart were making their first attempt at sobriety, but both by then were committed to making it stick. That meant hewing closely to the directives of Alcoholics Anonymous, which cautions against new romantic entanglements in the first year.

“We were friends,” said Ms. Chavez, 46, who was raised in Lakewood, Colo. “It was fun and exciting to hang out with him, but at first, we really were just trying to build our lives.”

They went on coffee runs, out for meals and engaged in more frivolous but amusing pursuits such as scouring Milwaukee, where both were living, for the “perfect milkshake,” Ms. Chavez said. They also spent a lot of time outdoors.

“I like using nature as a form of a higher power,” said Mr. Stewart, 40, who grew up in a Milwaukee suburb.

After many months, Mr. Stewart, who then worked as a field service technician and often had to travel, had a realization while on a trip to California: He missed Ms. Chavez.

In December 2014, the couple had their first real date. They went ice skating, which proved to be more romantic in theory than in execution.

“I think we went around the rink once, and both almost fell about ten times,” Ms. Chavez recalled. They soon ditched their skates and got hot chocolate instead.

Both say that their bond and love could not have deepened over the years without open communication, a strong suit for the couple from the beginning.

“One of the crucial parts of being sober, if you really want to make it work, is being fully honest with yourself and everyone else in your life,” Ms. Chavez said. “We understand how to be honest with each other, how to talk to each other, how to get through problems together.”

Added Mr. Stewart, “It’s good to constantly have that partner in crime that’s on the same page as you.”

He proposed on the day after Christmas in 2019, while the two were on vacation in Santa Barbara, Calif. A month earlier he had surreptitiously flown out to Los Angeles to ask for Ms. Chavez’s family’s permission.

“He’s an amazing planner,” Ms. Chavez said. “He’s very thoughtful about how he celebrates people.”

Months later, when the arrival of the pandemic led them to postpone their original wedding date, in August 2020, they saw it as a disappointing, yet fitting, development.

“It’s very typical for things to take a long time for us,” said Ms. Chavez. “We are a slow-moving couple. It’s part of what I think has kept us so strong.”

While working to restage their nuptials, the two bought a house in May 2021 in Franklin, Wis., where they currently live. Ms. Chavez is now a bilingual director of community relations at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. Mr. Stewart works in technical sales at Cleaver-Brooks, Inc., a machinery industry company in Milwaukee.

They were married July 30 at the Lake Park Summer Stage, in Milwaukee. The Rev. Rick Deines, a Lutheran minister and a founder of the Serenity Inns, an addiction recovery center where Mr. Stewart once lived, officiated. The venue, inside the city’s Lake Park, was a place the couple regularly visited, to take walks, exercise and enjoy live music.

For the reception that followed, as a nod to the location, they had organized an outdoor concert for their 145 guests. A close friend they had met through Alcoholics Anonymous performed a two-hour set with his band.

“We’ve really taken good steps in the right direction, and we’ve stayed sober through it all,” said Mr. Stewart, who along with Ms. Chavez has now been sober for more than eight years.

“I always say it’s a miracle and it really is,” said Ms. Chavez. “It’s not like our life is perfect. But we’ve been able to rebuild.”