Love and intimacy are fulfilling and necessary parts of life. Dating, on the other hand, can be complicated and messy. It can be stressful even for the most grounded and stable among us. This begs the question: Should you date while in recovery? Like dating, recovering from substance abuse is also complicated but rewarding. It can certainly be tempting to date while in recovery—after all, you’re rebuilding your life, and shouldn’t romance be a part of that? While it’s perfectly normal to want to start building your future, especially now that you’re full of hope, there are pitfalls that come with dating while in recovery. It’s important to be aware of these pitfalls and challenges before entering a relationship. Keep the information below in mind when deciding whether to extend that dinner invitation.
Why You Should Consider Waiting
The main concern with dating in recovery is jumping into it too soon. When you’re fresh out of rehab, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the possibilities that sobriety brings. While you were actively using, you may not have felt a healthy relationship would ever be possible for you. However, it’s exactly for this reason you should be cautious. While you’re still in early recovery, you don’t fully know yourself yet. You may still be overwhelmed by emotions you’d been burying through the use of drugs or alcohol. If your substance use was fueled by an underlying mental health disorder, you’ll want to make sure it is stabilized. Issues like major depressive disorder, as well as personality disorders like borderline personality disorder, can severely impact your ability to form and maintain a healthy relationship. Being in a relationship requires consistent time, energy, and empathy. When you’re newly sober, you should be as invested in yourself as possible. Learning to care for your own needs and cope with your own emotions needs to be top priority. If you try to share your resources with another person, you’ll likely end up short-changing yourself.
Tips for Dating in Recovery
Recovery is a lifelong process. Eventually, you’re going to be ready to start a relationship. Here are a few tips to help you know when it’s time to start putting yourself out there, and to help you balance your sobriety with your dating life.
Wait Until You Are Out of Rehab
There’s no getting around this rule. You should absolutely avoid dating while in a treatment center, whether that is a partial hospitalization program, inpatient rehab, or intensive outpatient program. You are simply too busy at this stage of recovery, and you are hard at work just trying to avoid relapsing. You’re especially vulnerable at this point to falling into a completely different kind of addiction—love addiction. You could be replacing one type of drug with another. This type of love more than likely isn’t genuine, won’t last, and isn’t fair to you or the other person. It can also become co-dependency, which usually means there’s an element of fear, control, or abuse in the relationship. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t offer advice in relation to dating. However, among recovering addicts in 12-step meetings, it is commonly advised to have a year of sobriety under your belt before dating. Professionals often offer this same advice.
Make Time for Yourself
It can take a while to truly get to know who you are after you become sober. Discovering your personal identity (maybe for the first time) can be a painful, difficult, and frustrating element of recovery. There’s so much about you that gets covered up by substances, including personality, emotions, likes, and dislikes. You may have to find out all these things about yourself by trial and error. Recovery means doing things like trying new hobbies, exploring how you can have sober fun, and figuring out which styles of self-expression work for you. It may be tempting to do these things with a romantic partner, but try doing them first with someone who can offer more support, even critical support when needed. A family member or sponsor is best. More than anything, you need to devote time to your coping skills. Things like meditation, journaling your thoughts and feelings, and reading are great ways to get in touch with yourself and build resilience when new challenges arise. Alone time, while it can be uncomfortable, is necessary in recovery.
Be Consistent in Your Aftercare
When you leave addiction treatment, you should have an arsenal of aftercare supports in place. These may include:
- Individual therapy
- An identified 12-step meeting and sponsorship
- Medications and regular meetings with a psychiatrist
- Case management for housing needs, job location services, etc.
These supports will be there to help you address any pitfalls that may arise as you begin dating. For example, a therapist can help you learn better ways of communicating and monitoring your behavior in a relationship. This is especially important if you have a history of unhealthy relationships. There are also supports available for partners of recovering addicts. Couples counseling or Al-Anon meetings can be a great way for your romantic partner to learn more about what you are going through and how to support you. They’ll also help you be more empathetic toward the unique and challenging situation your partner is in.
Be Honest with Potential Partners
It can be hard to open up to people about your past struggles with alcohol and/or drug addiction. You probably worry you’ll be judged or rejected, or you just don’t want to make things awkward. Keep in mind that the longer you wait to tell the person you’re dating about your past with substances, the harder it’s going to get. Not being transparent with your partner about your past substance abuse can also jeopardize your sobriety. You might agree to go to a bar or other place where you used to use out of reluctance to break the news. If the person you’re dating drinks, you could be triggered by the sight or smell of alcohol. They will also be wondering why you aren’t interested in it—excuses will only last for so long. Telling the person you’re dating right away about the fact that you’re in recovery has many benefits. If they’re respectful of your sobriety, they can help you avoid temptations and triggers. You’ll be establishing a solid foundation of trust and honesty from the get-go. You’ll also learn right away whether the person you’re dating is respectful of your sobriety, because if they aren’t, you’ll want to rethink your desire to date them. Keep in mind some may not be comfortable dating people in recovery—something you’ll appreciate knowing from the start. The promise of healthy, fulfilling relationships are one of the many benefits that come from treating and recovering from your substance abuse. Dating is no doubt one of the most exciting opportunities you have for building new relationships in recovery. We can’t guarantee it’ll be easy, if you follow these tips, you can proceed with confidence into the dating world. If you’re interested in learning about the variety of quality substance abuse services Washburn House offers, don’t hesitate to give us a call today!