We recommend that newly sober men and women avoid major life changes within their first year of recovery – and this includes getting into romantic relationships. Why? Because during the first year of addiction recovery it’s important that you focus exclusively on yourself and your own self-betterment. Not only do relationships serve as distractions, but they can prove to be relapse triggers if they end. Of course, we don’t expect our past patients to stay romantically uninvolved forever. The time will come when you’re ready to date again. Many sober men and women choose to date people that are also in recovery. In some ways, this is beneficial. These include:
- Your partner will understand where you’re coming from. If you need to hit a meeting or step outside and call your sponsor, there won’t be any argument. Your partner will get it because they’ll have experienced it firsthand themselves.
- Your partner will engage in sober activities with you, and won’t encourage you to go to places that might trigger relapse. Another benefit to dating someone who’s also sober is you can find fun, sober things to do together. You can be rest assured that date night will never be going out to a bar or going club-hopping. You can work together to discover fun, sober date ideas, like going bowling, going to the movies or making dinner together.
- You’ll both be actively working on yourselves. Being in recovery together means growing together which can be a beautiful thing to experience. You can encourage each other to continue on your own individual journeys while both working towards a common goal.
In some circumstances, dating someone who is also in recovery might prove to be a challenge. It could be a challenge if:
- He or she is trying to “work your program” for you.
It can be difficult to date someone who’s also in recovery, because they might feel like they know what’s best for you based on their own personal experiences. If you date someone in addiction recovery, you might hear things like, “You need to get to a meeting,” or, “Have you prayed or meditated today,” if you get into an argument. “You’re being a jerk… go call your sponsor!” If you do date someone in recovery, always remember to stay in your own lane and do your own work!
- Your partner experiences a relapse. If your partner is sober and experiences a relapse into alcoholism or drug addiction, it might be difficult to support them – or to stay sober yourself. Misery loves company and it is likely that they’ll attempt to drag you back out too. Because of this, making sure that your own program is solid and stable is of utmost importance.
Of course, dating a “normie” or someone who doesn’t understand addiction or recovery first-hand can present its own set of challenges. These might include:
- A lack of understanding when it comes to how you spend your time. It isn’t uncommon for those who are dating recovering alcoholics or addicts to start feeling jealous of the amount of time spent at meetings or with sponsors or sponsees. Attending a program like Al-Anon can help immensely with these feelings. You can also reassure your partner that your recovery has to come first if you want to be a good partner. If you start to prioritize anything else, your life is liable to fall apart again.
- A lack of compassion about the unique challenges you face. Because someone who hasn’t experienced addiction firsthand can’t possibly fathom how painful it is, they’ll probably have a hard time grasping why you struggle with some things – they might even be inconsiderate at times, but probably not intentionally. It’s important that you’re patient with them,and that you do what you can to see things from their point of view.
- An unwillingness to take certain relapse triggers into consideration. To those who haven’t struggled with addiction or alcoholism, going to a bar for a drink after work probably isn’t a very big deal. But for you it might be – especially if you’re feeling a little bit shaky in your recovery. If your partner wants to go to happy hour with his or her friends and you refuse to join, it might be a point of contention. Just remember to stay true to your personal boundaries and you’ll be okay. Fights and arguments will always blow over. Tiffs with your significant other are never worth putting yourself in a precarious situation.
Having the Conversation
If you do decide to date a “normie” you’ll eventually have to have “the conversation,” meaning you’ll have to tell them about your program of recovery and why it’s so important to you. But when is the appropriate time to talk about it, and what should you say when the moment feels right? It’s important to remember that talking about your recovery isn’t a prerequisite to staying sober. Of course, it’s a good idea to talk about your addiction recovery regularly in Alcoholics Anonymous and with your sponsor. But you don’t have to walk around saying, “I’m sober, I’m sober,” to everyone you meet. If you go on a first date and the person you’re dating wants to go get a drink, there are several routes you can take. Here are some suggestions:
- “There’s a movie out that I’ve been wanting to see, would you like to do that instead?” You can replace “movie” with “restaurant”, “art exhibit” or anything else that you think of. This will allow you to shift the focus away from drinking without having to explain yourself. You’ll also be able to get to know the person you’re going on a date with on a deeper, more genuine level.
- “I have to wake up early tomorrow, would you want to go get ice cream instead?” Rather than get an alcoholic drink, offer some other beverage or snack. Invite your date out to get a coffee earlier in the day. If he or she is only available at night go grab a light dessert. There are tons of other options when it comes to first dates!
- If you feel stable in your recovery you will likely be able to go to a bar without feeling triggered. Once the mental obsession has been lifted you can safely go anywhere without temptation. If you feel comfortable going to a bar just order a soda water or a glass of kombucha and carry on as usual.
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Progressing in the Relationship
If you go on a second date and then a third and a fourth, eventually you will want to discuss your recovery with the person you’ve been seeing. You don’t have to go into all of the gory details of your drug addiction or experiences with alcoholism if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. In fact, it’s often better to hold off until the relationship has progressed even more. But you can say something like, “Now that we’ve been seeing each other for awhile I think it’s appropriate for me to tell you I’m in addiction recovery. I experimented with drugs and alcohol for awhile and eventually realized that my life would be a lot better off without them.” Be honest but keep it brief. If questions are asked (which they probably will be), answer them if you feel comfortable doing so. The most important thing is that you always stay honest with yourself and never be dishonest with the person you’re dating. Laying all of the cards on the table usually isn’t necessary, but being intentionally dishonest can be a very slippery slope.