How To Date In Sobriety

4 tips to stay sober during the holidays

Addiction changes the way a person looks at the world, and treatment, properly rendered, does much the same thing. A life is completely altered due to drug and alcohol addiction, and successful rehabilitation entails rebuilding a person’s life. Humans are relational creatures. We were created that way. And when it comes to relationships, the realities and rules of abstinence after addiction become all the starker. Whether as one in recovery or their companion, a guide to sober dating is very important in understanding how matters of the heart change.

Dating in Recovery

Many treatment programs, and 12-step groups, rightfully discourage their members (either actively or otherwise) from pursuing romantic or sexual relationships in the aftermath of their recovery. The Fix tells the story of a eight-year-sober 33-year old man who, on the advice of his AA sponsor, “religiously avoided dating” for the first six months of his recovery.

The official policy of Alcoholics Anonymous (as laid out in the Big Book) does not specifically close the door to dating in the early period of sobriety, but abstaining from relationships is an integral part of the conversation. Speaking to The Fix, a sex coach points out that substance abuse warps how people see themselves, and others around them; by the time they get to recovery, people have no idea of who they are. In fact, addiction is usually the manifestation of insecurities and fears. When people don’t know what to do with these issues, drugs and alcohol can be an outworking. Without a sense of identity, it is all but impossible to form balanced, healthy connections with other people. Not to mention, if you are using illicit drugs, it can be difficult to find a healthy partner. This leads many to surround themselves with people who either participate in these behaviors, or at a minimum don’t hold them accountable. Therapy and aftercare support go a long way in restoring bridges that were burned by the addiction, but dating requires much more work (and time) than simply rekindling a friendship. In order to start a romantic relationship, those in recovery have to spend a lot of guided time getting to know themselves, especially who they are when they don’t have a drink in their hand and when the object of their affection is not the kind of person they would have been interested in during their drinking days. Such realizations and insights don’t come overnight, and they don’t come in a matter of weeks (or even months). Hence, the rule of thumb that people in recovery not date for the first year of their sobriety.The 33-year-old man who studiously stayed away from dating for the first six months re-entered the relationship scene as a fully committed and engaged member of his treatment program. But his first forays into sober dating were disastrous; he dated “messed up speed freaks” for five years, eventually coming to understand that even without a drink or drug in his hand, the lure of spending time with people who were on drugs themselves was attractive – even, to use his words, “sexy.” 

Sobriety Can Be Lonely

getting sober lonely

Why is the pull so strong? As any person going through recovery will say, being sober can be incredibly difficult. It can mean missing out on parties, it can mean being forced to cope with life’s struggles and challenges stone cold sober, and it can also mean being alone. When a person leaves an addiction, they usually have to leave a lifestyle which includes people, places and things. This can often render them lonely if they don’t seek out new people, places and things. Compound this with the above fear and insecurities, and you can see how early recovery can become lonely. The apparent cure for the loneliness is often sought in likeminded people. Even for people who aren’t using anymore, and who consistently work the program, there is an unconscious identification with other addicts, to the point of seeking out romantic or sexual partners with substance abuse problems (either borderline or full blown). Part of the draw comes from the feeling of relapsing without actually doing it; a psyche that is still too strongly tempted by addiction can rationalize anything, including staying with a partner (or multiple partners) who are using drugs.

Additionally, “normal” sober dating can seem boring by comparison. A person in recovery can very well remember the tension and drama of a relationship affected by addiction. For all the arguing and threats of breaking up, there was an edge, a thrill of being in that kind of arrangement. That feeling can be a drug in and of itself, one that is not found in sober life (and especially not in sober relationships).

Furthermore, some people enjoy the feeling of dating someone with their own substance abuse problem, because it allows the person a sense of power (or even relief) at not being the “patient” in the relationship. For once, the attention – whether positive or negative – is on the other person. The person in recovery can vicariously enjoy all the good and bad that comes with that territory, without a single drink having to be consumed. 

Codependency and Recovery

These are a few of the reasons that people should not only avoid entering into relationships in the first stretch of their sobriety, but they should also stay away from places and events that may prove to be too much of a challenge (like bars, nightclubs, certain parties and sports events, etc.). It may entail leaving early, being alone, or being considered the “boring” one, but the alternative is flirting with disaster. People in recovery need to take their recovery seriously, and that means not becoming obsessed with the idea of finding a partner at any cost. A sponsor, or accountability person, is helpful to get us to see when we are thinking and acting irrationally or selfishly. Rushing into a relationship breeds codependence, which is also known as “relationship addiction” because of how such arrangements are usually one-sided, abusive, and emotionally destructive – much like the original substance abuse problem.As an additional layer of protection, a person in recovery should also not date other people in recovery. The idea of fellow program members combining their sensitivities and weaknesses is fraught with danger. Psych Central writes that “recovering addicts need support,” and while the encouragement gained from other people on the same journey is invaluable, the line between support and unhealthy dependence becomes very thin, very quickly. For anyone going through treatment, relapse is always a possibility. Being involved with someone for whom that possibility also exists greatly increases the chance of the two people falling back into the same habits – only this time, together. 

San Diego Sober Living is the premier sober living in San Diego, California. With over a decade of helping women achieve and maintain sobriety, San Diego Sober Living strives to help women find sobriety while enjoying the beauty of San Diego. Call us today to either start or continue your journey.

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