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How to Navigate Romantic Relationships Now That You’re Sober

Falling in Love the First Time… Sober!

Most 12-step recovery programs strongly suggest that a person new to sobriety should not end or begin any personal relationships for the first year. That is good, sound practical advice. After all, how can you make an intelligent emotional decision about something as important as what you are still working on and rediscovering the new “old” you? Eventually, though, it’s going to happen, whether it is nine months, a year, or even longer into your journey to recovery. At some point, you are going to meet someone, and then the question becomes how can you keep your demons and current, lifelong disease – addiction – from affecting and possibly sabotaging a promising new relationship? The answer to the first part of the question is this – you can’t. If you live with an addiction, that is a lifelong condition. There will be certain decisions you have to make and actions you have to take on a daily basis when you want to maintain your life of sobriety and serenity. And that’s okay. If you have been committed to a healthy recovery, then you will have been given the tools necessary to maintain a positive relationship with others – romantic and otherwise. You probably have a much different outlook on yourself, your life, your goals, and other people in general than you did when you were still actively using. The second part of that question – how to avoid relationship sabotage – that requires honesty on your part, and understanding, patience, and open communication on both your parts. Let’s take a look at some things you need to keep in mind when you are reentering the dating scene, starting a new relationship, or even (hopefully) falling in love after regaining your sobriety

Your Sobriety Comes First

This may be a hard truth to hear, but it is one that you have probably already learned in recovery. You cannot be there for someone else if you are not there for yourself. If a person’s behaviors and habits endanger your recovery, and they are not willing to change for the better, you must distance yourself from that person. As you learned early in recovery, you have to stay away from the People, Places, and Things that can possibly act as triggers. No matter how any relationship plays out, working on your steps, keep participating in your program and keep concentrating on your own efforts to be the best YOU possible.

Be Honest – but Discreet

“Wining and dining” is a ritual when it comes to dating. For example, “meeting for drinks” is a very typical early-stage date. Alternately, when a person makes a romantic dinner for the other, it is commonplace for the guests to bring a bottle of wine. Obviously, typically-harmless gestures such as this can be detrimental to your sobriety. However, it is not just enough to beg off or decline, because eventually this new person is going to see a pattern and wonder just what is going on. Early on, it is enough to simply and politely say, “I don’t drink.” However, as the relationship progresses, full disclosure dictates that you explain a little bit more. Any person who you are beginning a serious relationship with deserves to know if you have a medical condition, in this case, addiction. It is enough to tell them that you are in recovery, and because of it, you abstain. You can answer general questions that they might have, and even tell some “war stories”, but there is really no point in giving a blow-by-blow of every low point you might have had in the past. As always, focus on today.

You Can’t Choose for the Other Person

Surprise! When you are reentering the dating scene, you do not have to restrict yourself to only those people who don’t drink. Their choices are their own. As long as they are respectful to you and your recovery, then they are free to do as they will. Respecting your recovery can mean several things –

  • Not pressuring you to drink/use – “Come on – I don’t want to drink alone…”
  • Being mindful of where you go together – Hanging out in bars all the time probably isn’t a good (or fair) choice.
  • Using your favorite “drugs of choice” – Being re-exposed your favorite abused substance can trigger cravings and put you in danger of relapse. Although the other person can make their own choices, they need to make those choices away from you.

Take It Easy

Any person in recovery – no matter their drug of choice – used that substance as a way to cope with the rest of their life. They sought comfort in the alcohol and drugs that they used. Too often, when sobriety is maintained, the need for that comfort remains, albeit without an established provider. Many recovering alcoholics/addicts unconsciously seek that comfort in their romantic relationships.

“Love addiction becomes a concern when infatuation replaces the high of drug use. Whether the object of the addiction is drugs or an unhealthy attachment to another person, the individual is searching for something outside themselves to fill the emotional void within.” ~ Tanya Desloover, marriage and family therapist at The Rose, a women-only addiction treatment center

Any new relationship carries with it a “rush” that releases endorphins and effects brain chemistry, in a manner that is shockingly similar to drug use. It can be tempting, therefore, to want to rush into a relationship too soon, or at the very least, ascribed more to it than there actually is. This creates the danger of disappointment and emotional upheaval that can be a trigger. The best advice here is simply to let things happen naturally. If a casual relationship blossoms into something more, then great…but if not, don’t try to force it, setting yourself up for a fall. The need for companionship with another person is a basic human need, and because addiction is such a lonely disease, that is even more true for a person in recovery. Dating, starting a new relationship, or even falling in love for the first time as a clean and sober person is something to be looked forward to. If you keep in mind where you were in the past and where you are today, and more importantly, how you got here – then you can take the necessary steps to enjoy any new romantic endeavors without endangering everything that you have gained.