You’re not supposed to date in the first year of sobriety. It’s one of the first things you learn in recovery.
It is somehow harder to digest than the idea that you can never safely drink or use again. Dating in early sobriety can be catastrophic, bringing out painful insecurities, causing relapse, or, best-case scenario, depriving you of the joy and growth of building a healthy relationship with yourself.
“Two dead batteries can’t start a car,” I was told in my first rehab. Months later, proclaiming myself “half-well,” I was told, “Then you’re only going to get half well things.” In that first rehab, men and women were separated which meant we barely saw each other. Passing notes to the cute guy in the morning AA meeting was the best drug available until I was allowed to buy energy drinks.
I had the biggest crush on this soft-spoken Southerner named Jed who had been injured in the military and subsequently became addicted to opiates. Years later, he messaged me on Facebook. He had liked me too – but was terrified to talk to me for fear he would be kicked out of sober living. I’ll never know what could have happened with Jed. He relapsed and died several years ago. But I do know what happened with Adam, whom I began dating when I moved off campus into a less restrictive sober living after I was told I needed to stop going off-campus to bang Jonathan, a heroin-addicted divorcé I’d met at a sober Shabbat dinner.
As I babbled about Adam and Jon – and who I would choose- over that dinner to my friend Pam, who would drive me every week, she looked at me sadly.
“When are you going to choose Rebecca?” It had also been said that my primary addiction was male attention. It wasn’t – when I was asked during intake what my drug of choice was I insisted it was everything. What it really was was whatever I could get that was least stigmatized in whatever environment I was in. In treatment and sober living, what I could get was male attention.
Adam and I dated, and then had an abortion together. After the abortion, I smoked a joint, then drank, at work. One night I got cut hours earlier than I was expected home at sober living and called Adam. We went to Miami together, to buy coke and do it in my driveway as my husband was out of town. Once that ran out, we ended up shooting pills and smoking crack, because that’s what Adam liked to do. I got kicked out of my halfway house, and wouldn’t truly attempt to get sober again for years. Four years ago, Adam messaged me to make amends while I was in the middle of a cocaine binge. He apologized for everything, even pursuing me when we were both in early sobriety, and then sent me an unsolicited picture of his dick. A true prince.
My favorite early sobriety story is not about me. It’s about this girl I knew who, like me, was a chronic relapser. She had a rent-controlled back house here in LA, and a decent job stripping. She met a guy in the rooms of 12 step and began dating him. He was cool with her job. He invited her to move in. He showed her a beautiful apartment. She gave up her house. He moved her into his apartment, which she hated, not the one he showed her. Then he told her that he wasn’t comfortable with her coming home to him from the strip club, but he would help out until she was on her feet. She got a part-time minimum wage job, which he immediately made her pay half the rent out of.
If dating in early sobriety is such a horror show, then why are we so obsessed with it? There are many reasons. The high of a new romance. Sex. An aversion to facing ourselves. We know these things.
One factor that isn’t as obvious is societal and historical. Just a few hundred years ago, you couldn’t be caught alone with a man standing in a garden without staining your name and the name of your sisters. Just one hundred years ago, women couldn’t vote. Just fifty years ago, a woman couldn’t have a credit card in her own name. A woman’s entire future rested on the husband she attracted. Men with wives were and are seen as more settled down and preferable to their single counterparts when promotions and bonuses are being awarded.
Another chronic relapser I know struggles with the idea that anyone without a husband and family is a loser. She relapsed after a year after getting bad news about the viability of her remaining eggs, the dream that she would someday have the things she believes she needs to be worthy fading with the reality of those test results. That’s not her idea. It’s the idea she learned growing up in our society. The entire show The Mindy Project was based on a character, a wildly successful 32-year-old doctor, who, because she didn’t have a husband, thought she was a loser. Every show about supposedly single women is hyper-focused on the men they date. That’s not really single to me, the idea perpetuated is that singleness is a state between relationships while you are seeking the next relationship. Singleness is a whole, joyous, and valid state of being.
We are sold this story from the day we are born that we need a romantic partner to take care of us, financially, morally, practically. When we enter recovery we don’t know how to take care of ourselves. We are as children. The beauty of sobriety is learning how to care for yourself. To ignore the noise of what you think the world thinks you should be and figure out who you truly are is a gift no one should deprive themselves of. Even if, against all odds, you do meet the perfect partner in early sobriety, you’ll never know if you could have done it, or what you could have done, on your own. And you will always know that.
There’s this idea that if someone comes around that’s too good to pass up we should jump on it, that if we are single today we will be single forever. That is a lie.
If you make the difficult decisions now you will have someone who will have your back until your last breath. Yourself.