Recovering addicts often share how previous relationships during their drinking and drug use days were tumultuous and unhealthy. Many times, both partners were drinking and doing drugs, or one was using while the other acted as an enabler. Too often, recovering alcoholics and addicts find themselves in codependent relationships that lack healthy communication, goal setting, and problem solving. Because of the psychological problems that are a root cause for abusing drugs and alcohol, these issues transfer onto our marriages, relationships, and friendships.
If you’ve been sober for some time and are looking to get back out in the dating world, there are a few words of advice that can help along the way. There is no reason to let past relationships riddled with codependency issues, emotional abuse, and deception prevent you from starting over fresh now that you’ve cleaned up. However, there are a few things to watch out for, and five important tips to help you get started.
1. Make sure you have sober time before even considering dating again. There’s the classic “one year rule” that those in 12 step programs advice their sponsees and newcomers to abide by. Addiction.com explains, “experts almost universally advise against making any major changes in your life in the first year of sobriety-and that includes dating and/or jumping into a new relationship, or ending an existing relationship or marriage.” This rule isn’t supposed to depress you; it’s supposed to protect you and your recovery. It ensures that you get a solid emotional and healthy physical footing before putting yourself through a huge change.
Your primary objective is to care for yourself. There is no need for a stressful distraction in your first year of sobriety. Life will be stressful enough the first few months after getting sober, and a relationship can increase that stress. Furthermore, a lot of the psychological and emotional problems you may have had when drinking and using drugs haven’t been fully solved yet. These need to be addressed before moving forward in any new marriage or relationship.
2. Don’t get too serious too quickly. Once you’ve waited a year or so and are ready to start dating again, make a commitment to take it slow. Go on a couple of fun, lighthearted dates. You don’t need to find your soul mate quite yet. Alcoholics and addicts tend to act on our emotions, which includes our loneliness. Without alcohol or drugs, these intense emotional feelings and need to be with someone can intensify. This can cause you to get into the wrong type of relationship too quickly, or to become too serious with someone before you’re ready.
Make dating fun. Don’t get sexually intimate too quickly either. Sex can intensify emotional responses in fragile, recovering addicts, especially in women. Relationshipvision.com states, “When unmet emotional needs begin to get played out in the relationship, the relationship can become an addictive or dysfunctional one, which further perpetuates the cycle of addiction. Take the time-how ever long the process of self-reclamation takes, before entering into a sexually, intimate relationship.” The bottom line is that the recovering addict needs to be careful before making himself or herself too emotionally available. Lighthearted dating can be fun; there’s no need to rush it right away.
3. Look for people who don’t have baggage. I know, it sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. And it’s true, many recovering addicts find other recovering addicts to be with because they have common ground together, a common past of pain and a struggle and of overcoming it. That’s not to say that a recovering addict shouldn’t date another addict. But if they do, they should date someone who has plenty of sober time, works a good program, has a wide variety of interests, and seems to have a stable group of friends and a solid career path.
Dating someone who isn’t a recovering alcoholic or addict also has its benefits. If you find someone who is a moderate drinker, but does not consider alcohol a major part of their lives, it could be a good fit for the both of you. The other person will have no problem with the fact that you don’t drink, and you probably won’t feel stressed out or threatened by their casual drinking.
Basically, the types of relationships to avoid are ones where both you and your partner are newly sober, both are in unstable situations, or one person is a heavy partier while you are trying to stay sober. The latter situations are recipes for disaster.
4. Be honest about your recovery. It’s best to be honest with your partner about who you are, where you are in recovery, and what your limitations are. Let them know that meetings are important to you, that staying sober is a priority, and explain how it will make you a better partner in the relationship. Sure you don’t need to go into every embarrassing detail right away about things you did while drinking, but just give a general, honest overview of your past.
The chances are that the other person will be more than happy to support you and your sobriety as long as you are consistently sober and working an honest program. If they don’t want to deal with this type of situation, don’t take it personally. The relationship wasn’t meant to be. The worst things you can do is to avoid questions or lie about why you don’t drink. It will only create more problems later on. It’s best to just get it all out there and let fate take its course.
5. Stay in the relationship for the right reasons. Make sure that both of you are in the relationship for the right reasons, and not because of loneliness or a replacement for drugs and alcohol. It is possible for recovering addicts and alcoholics to be in successful, happy marriages and relationships if they can learn from past mistakes and not rush into anything too quickly. There is an entire world out there with endless possibilities, including friendships, marriage, children, and more. Don’t let past negative habits get in the way of helping you find the happiness you deserve. Wait the “one year” rule and then get out there and start having fun!
Are you or someone you know struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol? Contact Footprints Behavioral Health at 949-558-4723 and speak to one of our certified treatment counselors, Linda Rose. Start planning your road map to recovery today.