Dating in Recovery
Recovery teaches us how to have loving and honest romantic relationships, but there are reasons for why newcomers in sobriety are advised not to begin dating right away. Many begin their path to sobriety with complicated aftermath of work life, family and relationship issues. It is common to enter recovery with heartbreak, a pending divorce or feeling stuck in harmful patterns.Recovery requires work and self-examination to start sobriety off on the right foot, leaving dating as a bottom priority. Here are a few do’s and don’t’s for addicts to remember for dating while sober.
DO: Put your program first
Addicts often look for people or things to keep their mind occupied without drugs or alcohol. It’s a natural impulse to fill the void left by drugs and alcohol. In recovery, we work to diminish this by practicing self-awareness and healthy habits. Engaging with a person we’re attracted to by receiving or giving attention feels good, but putting too much focus on another person before the addict is ready can lead to codependent behavior and negative outcomes. Addicts must prioritize their commitments in learning to stay sober, whether it is an agreement to attend twelve step meetings, participating in group activities and forming a solid relationship with a sponsor. If a relationship threatens the recovery process, this is a sign that the addict should not be dating. As Los Angeles-based sex and life coach Christine Milrod has said, “sobriety needs to be a priority. If a relationship starts to threaten the recovery process, it needs to end.” (TheFix).
DO: Have a network of friends
It’s crucial for those in recovery to build a foundation of support with members of the same gender in their program. Sober friendships in a community are built on similar goals and expectations that are different from what a romantic relationship involves. There is a level of understanding that exists between platonic friends. It’s risky to date without a core group of friends who are focused on their own recovery as well. When addicts experience common feelings such as insecurity, disappointment or simple second-guessing, they limit their support network of peers who understand this experience. An all-male or all-female sober living facility can provide a safe place for residents to have frank and open discussions about similar experiences or struggles that they might not share in a co-ed space. Early sobriety can be uncomfortable, and addicts should primarily seek sober friends who can become like family to them.
DO: Know yourself
Dr. Christine Milrod also points out that “many people in recovery have previously used for so long that they have no idea of who they truly are. They need to get to know themselves on a very deep level and enjoy self-acceptance before rushing into a sexual relationship.” (TheFix). Additionally, an addict’s “picker” may change in sobriety and the people they may have been involved with while using are very different than those they would select after some time in recovery. Addicts often realize that a former toxic relationship lasted because drugs and alcohol allowed them to cope for too long, or that they had avoided commitment to another person because the relationship interfered with their drug use. Some time and patience in a recovery program gives more time to see things as they were, are and should be. If an addict dates before they are truly ready, they may find that patterns return because they have not yet had the chance to know and care for themselves first. When those in recovery are ready to date, they are conscious of what to look out for in others and decide if this person is truly right for them.
DON’T: Endure unnecessary discomfort
The dating landscape is drastically different for those in recovery. Going to a bar to meet new people can pose a threat in early sobriety and it is part of the addict’s journey to change their scenery. Addicts who formerly used drugs and alcohol as ice-breakers are suddenly left to new devices to feel comfortable. If an addict is uncomfortable with his or herself and struggle to engage with people of interest while sober, it isn’t time to start dating yet. It’s essential for addicts to fully understood their own behavior, reactions and desires learned in recovery. Unhealthy relationships can jeopardize the sobriety of both people involved, especially if one or both are new in recovery. If a situation is uncomfortable or awkward, it’s okay to take a step back and hold off on dating until it feels right.
DON’T: Ignore dating advice
Recovery involves mentorship of another individual – someone who the addict relates to and shares with openly. Sponsors are there to help the addict successfully navigate through their own recovery program. A sponsor can also offer guidance in dating experiences. While they are not meant to determine when and who an addict should become involved with, their opinions and advice are valid even when it is not what the addict necessarily wants to hear. After all, a sponsor has been through many of the same situations their sponsee is experiencing. Sponsors have an in-depth understanding of who the addict is and what they are trying to accomplish, and can offer trustworthy advice. It is helpful to remember their advice as that “good voice” on our conscience when making decisions. They may help the addict learn how to set boundaries in a new relationship or point out an unhealthy cycle that is continuing.
Dating in sobriety is tricky territory to navigate. But when an addict in recovery takes necessary steps to stay sober through self-care, they will form long-lasting and loving relationships with others. A wonderful thing happens when the time comes, where a sober person experiences love and acceptance for who they truly are.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.