Relationships, Unfiltered: A Guide to Dating in Recovery

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Think you are ready to date in addiction recovery?

Some people get their kicks from reality TV, sky-diving, or venturing out with no cell phone. For me? I like to observe people on dates when sobering up. People watching at its finest. Many people decide to pick up a significant other after they have put down the bottle, the dice, the pills, or *fill in addictive behavior.* And sometimes, well sometimes it does not turn out very well.

I once heard an addiction treatment center therapist say, “I have never had a couple that met at rehab later come back to me and tell me what a wonderful and happy life they have together.” (Take a moment and make the mental note of that one couple that you think is an exception to this rule…). Early recovery can feel very much like a middle school dance where you date without any perception of the future….”I know I am in med school and he still deals drugs but he is super spiritual, ya know?”

“I know I am in med school and he still deals drugs but he is super spiritual, ya know?”

So what do people tell you? Wait a year, keep a plant alive then a pet, then date. Get through Point X and then you should be able to date successfully.

From my perspective, whenever you date it is a challenge. All kinds of fun issues with yourself and others will surface and you need to be prepared to handle it. Dating while curbing substance use and other addictive behaviors has its own set of challenges and rewards.

Things you need to be prepared for if you’re newly sober:

  1. You are used to a level of drama that most “normal” people would think only belong in Tyler Perry dramas.

  2. You are not used to being by yourself. And by that we mean unsupervised in your own head, without any mood altering substances. It can be a scary place. People have been known to settle for bad relationships to avoid going there.

  3. You will change as time goes on. What works well now might not work well later.

  4. There’s no nice way to say this…you might find yourself well…um, emotionally stunted. You might not know how to handle the first argument without screaming and blocking their number.

  5. You will read into EVERYTHING. You will be the worst Sherlock Holmes, Special Victim’s, CSI detective. You are used to being hard on yourself and expect others to be hard on you too.

I don’t believe in rules for grown-ups, unless they are laws (I do believe in those!) You won’t find here at Workit a hard and fast rule on when we think it is best to date, but you will find help in figuring out whether you’re ready.

Guidelines for dating in early sobriety:

  1. Are you okay with being alone? Should things not workout with your main squeeze you should be sad, that’s normal. You should also be confident that you can stand on your own two feet.

  2. Do you know what you want in a partner? Breathing, cute, and into me are not enough.

  3. What tools do you have in your toolbox to deal with relationship issues? Two completely mature, sane, and well-communicating adults will still have problems and need to know how to deal with them.

  4. You have the ability to say “no”. You know what works for you and what doesn’t. Relationships are all about compromise…within limits. Like trying Thai food out, not letting someone freeload on your couch for months.

  5. Is most of your life calm? If you are successfully paying bills, showering, and showing up to work– taking care of your life– then you are ready to invite someone to the party. If you can’t accomplish basic adulting 90% of the time then you should put the focus on you.

So what if you have dated, or are dating, and didn’t take the time to check my handy lists? Be aware, be forgiving and be prepared. Be aware that your relationship might have been started on a rocky foundation. Be forgiving to yourself (and your partner) if you have not acted in the best ways. Be prepared that not all relationships end with wedding bells and bliss and that it is completely okay. You can leave a crappy relationship and survive– trust us, we know… It is what we do with our life experiences that makes the difference.

Go out, love yourself, love your life, and then love someone else.

Chrissy Taylor is a clinician with over a decade’s worth of experience working with various disempowered populations to promote self-efficacy and resource acquirement.

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