It’s Complicated: Dating Someone in Early Recovery

It’s Complicated: Dating Someone in Early Recovery

Is dating a newly sober alcoholic or addict a recipe for disaster? Here’s some food for thought:

If you are in recovery yourself or not, you may have had an opportunity to date an addict or alcoholic who is trying to get well. Common wisdom around the rooms of 12-step programs, treatment centers, and sober living houses is to steer clear of the newly sober person, or court disaster and pain for both you and your potential paramour. Why is this and are there exceptions?

Many people suggest waiting until the new person has one year of continuous sobriety before diving in. Other people suggest waiting until they are in the middle of their 9th step in a 12-step program, as that is when many will truly learn how to treat people. Still others suggest waiting until someone has worked all 12 steps, as by then the person most likely has more to offer others. Of course, people can decide for themselves. Nevertheless, we offer some points to consider for the happiness and well-being of everyone involved.

A Potential Disservice

The newly sober person is often confronting themselves for the first time in years. Or maybe for the first time ever. If the newcomer is really trying to get down to the root causes and conditions that made them pick up the drink or the drug in the first place, they are likely to be in some pain. It might be messy. And for many of us, our first response to this initial look at ourselves is to run as fast as we can towards any distraction we can find. Anything to get us away from the hot intensity of our feelings, to put a bit of distance between us and the pain, regret, fear, and anxiousness of early sobriety. When dating someone in this place, we can do them a great disservice. We give them a way to opt out of this pain. And it might sound like simply comforting them, but often the truth is that they are just delaying the deep work that is inevitable if they are to stay lastingly clean and sober. For most of us, it is critical to sit through this anguish long enough to get to the other side, and the only way out is through. If we offer them a pleasant distraction and some dopamine hits from attention and romance, they might miss this vital step in getting well. We rob them of their pain, when it is indispensable to their growth. Of course, this isn’t a rule, just a broad observation based on personal experience.

Building a Foundation

Also, this: the newly sober person often needs space and time to focus on building a foundation in recovery, cleaning up the past, and learning how to show up for relationships with love and integrity. Many of us needed a good stretch of time before we could really turn our attention from these things to dating. Laying this crucial groundwork gives a person time to become someone who is truly available for a worthwhile relationship. It gives them time to grow and mature into real partners. So if you’ve got your eye on a newly sober person, or someone considering getting help for alcoholism or addiction, you may just be giving your future relationship a real chance by giving it some space and time. Growing a friendship first can be a true act of generosity to the new person, who likely could use the time to heal and learn to trust, practice patience, and build a new life. After all, for the alcoholic or addict, this is life and death.

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