Relationships and Dating in Recovery: What you Should Know

Can you date when you’re sober? Yes!

Should you date in early recovery? Probably not the best idea.

Okay, no one here is telling you what to do, but as folks who’ve been around recovery for a while––and perhaps, ahem, experienced some of these things ourselves––many of us have learned a thing or two about sober dating. And conventional wisdom also tells us that while dating in recovery can be very rewarding, it’s not always the best idea in early sobriety. Don’t get us wrong, sometimes it can work, but if you have a choice in the matter and you’re not already in a relationship when you first get clean, it could be a good idea to focus your energy solely on your recovery in the beginning. 

Dating in early drug and alcohol recovery can easily lead to relapse if we’re not feeling solid in our sobriety. Emotions will inevitably arise, social anxiety can kick in, and then what if there’s a break-up? If we’re newly sober and haven’t learned to deal with strong emotions sans drugs or alcohol, we could be putting ourselves in some pretty vulnerable and dangerous territory if we start dating too early on.

Why Waiting at Least One Year to Date in Recovery is Suggested

Your first year in recovery is arguably the most important of them all. Many drug treatment professionals encourage clients to wait a year before dating because this is the time that you’re rediscovering yourself––growing your “sober person” sea-legs, if you will.

If you’re in recovery and you’re putting down drugs or alcohol for the first time, it’s more than likely you’re not used to facing your adult life on life’s terms without substances. This is kind of a big deal, and it usually means that you’ll be developing a whole set of new coping mechanisms to handle various emotions. Those of us who’ve been romantically involved know how powerful our feelings and hormonal responses to love and relationships can be. In early recovery, we’re already dealing with an onslaught of uncomfortable feelings that we can no longer numb out to, and so adding a relationship into the mix can be a recipe for disaster. If you do meet someone in your first year, then if this person is truly relationship-worthy, they should understand that you need to take things slowly. Try being open and honest about your recovery from the get-go.

Challenges of Dating in Recovery

Here are some of the challenges that can arise when dating in recovery:

Social anxiety. If you’re used to meeting people in bars, nightclubs, at parties, or other social gatherings, you might also be used to feeling like you need a little social lubrication in the form of a few cocktails. Or, perhaps, a pill or two to take the edge off. Meeting new people sober can be scary if you’ve never done it before, particularly if you’re trying to get into the dating game.

First dates and drinks often go hand-in-hand. Not everyone suggests cocktails on a first date, but it’s a pretty standard opener. If you meet someone new and you’re getting ready for that first date, know that the subject of drinks may very well arise. Be prepared to explain to your date that you’re in recovery. This can feel a little awkward the first few times you do it, but it gets easier. That said, by making a firm decision not to date in your first year, you can eliminate potentially risky scenarios like this altogether.

Changes in your early recovery routine. We frequently develop new routines in early drug and alcohol recovery––these routines can be critical components of our recovery. When we start dating, this can throw off our early-recovery routines and put us into dangerous territory. Just make sure that when you do decide to start dating, that you’re keeping track of your emotions. Try not to make too many drastic changes to your daily routine for the sake of dating.

Fights and breakups. Of course, no one plans for fights or breakups, but they do happen. If you haven’t gained the tools necessary to handle challenging emotions sober yet, a fight or breakup with a lover can put you into a really dangerous headspace.

Sex can be awkward in early recovery. It’s pretty common for active addicts to always be drunk or high when they’re having sex. We’re not saying this is always the case, but if you’re one of those people that never typically did the deed sober, then get ready for a surprise when you start having sober sex. It’s actually pretty awesome, and you’ll probably remember it the next day, too (hey!), but the first time might be a little weird. Just make sure you’re ready.

Dating someone else in Recovery

Whether or not you choose to date another sober addict is completely up to you, of course. Many couples in recovery end up having really successful relationships, marriages, and even families. If and when you decide to get into a relationship with someone else in recovery, it eliminates the need to have to explain your sobriety. Sure, you might both have different triggers and you’ll probably need to have frequent chats about those, but you’ll never have to justify to your partner why you’re not drinking or using. Not to mention the fact that you can both support each other on your recovery journey, go to twelve-step meetings together, and, of course, just not drink or use together.

On the flip side, if both of your aren’t working a strong recovery program, things could be doomed. Let’s say one of you relapses. How will the other one cope? Only you can answer this, but it can be slippery. Also, if neither of you is working a strong recovery program, you might both be constantly working through challenging emotions. This can be an excessive amount of feelings for two people to deal with all at once, and too many feelings getting messily thrown around can trigger a relapse. That being said, proceed with caution when beginning to date another sober addict. But know that it can also lead to a pretty epic relationship if you’re both ready and willing to do the work.

Suggestions for When to Start Dating in Recovery

Below are some suggestions for when it might be a good time to start getting back out there on the dating scene. Once again, only you know when the time is truly right. Listen to your gut…  

You feel secure in yourself. If you’re feeling good about you and you’ve learned to love yourself sober, then you may very well be ready to give dating a shot. Just start out slowly.

You’re in a twelve-step recovery program and you’ve successfully completed the twelve steps. A lot of people start going to meetings to stay sober, but some don’t actually do the work. The twelve steps are powerful tools when it comes to sobriety, and they can really help us discover who we are by working through some of our most glaring character defects, among other things. Taking the time to really work the twelve steps and discover more about ourselves in the process can help prepare us to let someone else into our lives. Of course, it’s not guaranteed that we’ll be perfect humans who are ready to take on anything that life throws our way when we’re done working the steps. But we’ll at least have tools at our disposal that we know can work in our favor if we work them. Then, if we do get into a relationship and difficulties arise (which they more than likely will), we can access these tools.

You’re in therapy. Working with a therapist is almost always beneficial when it comes to dating  and relationships in general, but particularly when it comes to dating in recovery. Finding a therapist that has experience working with recovering addicts can be even more beneficial, and can continue to help you build upon your ability to have and maintain healthy relationships. Therapy can also help you learn to set boundaries, speak up for yourself, and identify certain triggers, among other things.

You’re in another twelve-step recovery program like Al-Anon, CODA, or SLAA. These programs can all be great supplements to your current drug and alcohol recovery program, whatever that may be. They can also help you to navigate your relationships. If you’ve been in drug and alcohol recovery for a little while and you’re nervous about how you might handle a serious relationship, you may consider one of these programs. All of them are based on the twelve steps, and they can really help.

Keep in mind that when it comes to dating in recovery, all of the things mentioned here are merely suggestions. Sober relationships can mean more authentic connections than ever before, solid communication between partners, and can greatly enhance our lives if we’re coming from the right head and heart space when we enter into them. Just make sure that you’re never sacrificing yourself and your recovery for the sake of your partner. If you’re in a new relationship and you’re starting to notice yourself making compromises that don’t feel good, you might want to take a step back and evaluate where your head is at. The right relationship can be a beautiful thing, but nothing is more important than your own recovery. Do the work, choose wisely, and continue to do the work!

We’re here for you…

If you or someone you know or love is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, Kembali Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our four week treatment program. No one has to do this alone.

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