When you are new to sobriety, sober dating can be a bit tricky. Ask any AA “old-timer”, and they will let you know the time-honored advice – “Don’t Date for the First Year“.
For most people, that’s actually pretty good advice. How can you be expected to make a mature, adult decision about something as important as your social and romantic life when you still are getting to know yourself again?
But the reality is, you ARE going to start dating again, whether it is in six months or a year from now. If you’re not ready, it may be even longer. Sooner or later you are going to meet a person who piques your interest, and then the real question will become not WHEN you should start dating again, but HOW can you keep your past – addiction – and your present – recovery – from affecting a promising new relationship?
And just as importantly, HOW can you keep your past and your present from sabotaging your attempts at dating?
The answer to the first question is simple – you can’t. You are going to live with addiction for the rest of your life. You are also living with recovery today, and then one day at a time. Those two concepts – addiction and recovery – impact every other aspect of your life.
And you know what? That’s just fine.
If you are working your program and emotionally sober, then you probably already have everything you need to form positive relationships with other people– romantic and otherwise. You undoubtedly see things much differently than you did when you were still boozing and using. Although, as your mind is clear, you are also probably relating with people much more positively than you did before.
The second question – how to avoid sabotaging your relationship– that will require absolute forthright honesty from you, and empathy, clear communication, and patience from both of you.
There are a few crucially-important things you will need to consider when you are starting to date again after regaining your sobriety.
Your Sobriety ALWAYS Comes First
A Lesson from Recovery – You simply can’t be there for another person if you aren’t first there for yourself. When someone else’s attitude, habits, and behaviors threaten your sobriety – when they don’t respect your recovery – you don’t need to be around that person.
One of the first lessons you were taught was to stay away from the Things, Places, and People that can trigger old behaviors or relapses. Whatever happens romantically, you always have to remember to concentrate on being the best YOU, you can be – participating in your recovery program, going to meetings, and working on your Steps.
Be Discreetly Honest
When you are in recovery, even innocent dating rituals can be contrary to your sobriety. For example, you can’t simply “meet for drinks”, and “wining and dining” is out of the question. Even something as innocuous as a home-cooked dinner can be problematic if the other person makes a nice gesture such as bringing a bottle of wine.
If the other person is not in recovery, you won’t be able to simply decline or deflect forever, because they will eventually start to wonder what’s up. For most people, alcohol is just part of the social scene.
When the relationship is still casual, a polite, “I don’t drink” will suffice. If the relationship blossoms, you will have to do a little more explaining.
Entering into serious relationship means more disclosure – your significant other deserves to know when you have a medical condition, in your case, that condition is the disease of addiction. Simply let them know that you are in recovery, and because of it, you don’t drink. If they care, they will respect that. If they have questions, feel free to answer them in a general way, but don’t feel obligated to beat yourself up because of your past. Remember, the focus is always on today.
You Cannot Choose What the Other Person Does
This is a hard fact – you can’t tell the other person whether or not they get to drink. They can make their own choices, as long as they respect your recovery. That respect is demonstrated several ways –
- They can’t pressure you to join them – “Come on – Don’t make me drink alone…”
- Where you go matters – The bar scene isn’t the best place for people in recovery.
- Their choices affect you – If they use your “drug of choice” it can put you in danger of relapse. Let them know that, while they can make their own choices, some choices need to be made when you’re not together.
Take Your Time
“Love addiction becomes a concern when infatuation replaces the high of drug use. Whether the object of the addiction is drugs or an unhealthy attachment to another person, the individual is searching for something outside themselves to fill the emotional void within,” Tanya Desloover, family and marriage therapist at The Rose, an addiction treatment facility for women.
Any fresh romantic relationship causes a “rush” which affects brain chemistry in a way that is very like the high that occurs when endorphin are released by drug abuse. For this reason, it is incredibly easy for a newly-sober person to jump into a relationship too soon, ascribing much more to it than actually exists. This could set them up for disappointment and heartbreak, which could in turn be a trigger or an excuse to use or drink again.
The best advice is this – if the relationship grows into something more, fantastic! But if it doesn’t, don’t force it. Allow things to happen at their own natural pace.
Dating, beginning new relationships, or even falling in love as a clean and sober person in recovery is something to be enjoyed. If you remember where you once were and where you are now, and more importantly, the road you took to get here– then you can do what is necessary to enjoy romance without jeopardizing all that you have gained.