Dating During Early Recovery
When I got sober, people had plenty of advice about how to maintain my recovery. Most of the suggestions I got concerned dating in sobriety. The general consensus is that getting into a new relationship in your first year of sobriety is a bad idea. Dating an addict can lead to distraction, co-dependence, break-ups, and sometimes relapse for someone in early recovery. This made sense to me, and I wasn’t planning on starting any new romances. The problem was, I came to treatment with a relationship and somehow left with it (mostly) intact. Plenty of people could tell me how to avoid a new relationship, and to focus on my sobriety, but what about dealing with the break-up of my pre-rehab romance?
Dating an Addict in Early Recovery
I arrived in South Florida for my eighth rehab in August of 2013. I had been dating Cody (not his real name) for three years, and we had both been in and out of recovery for about three-quarters of our relationship. When one person stops using and the other doesn’t, long-term recovery can be impossible. After a phone call during which he told me that he had lost yet another job, it became clear that I was dating an addict while trying to begin my journey in early recovery. I was faced with the choice between my new life- with the job, home, family, friends, sponsor, and inner peace it had given me- and my relationship. It was excruciatingly painful, but I decided to end it, and that began my journey through my first sober break-up.
Risks of Relationships in Early Recovery
Dating someone in active addiction, or even starting a new relationship during early sobriety carries many risks, including:
- Distraction from therapy and the steps
- Numbing feelings through love or sex addiction
- Failing to focus on building a sober support network
Utilizing Sober Support Networks
I went through the first few days of the break-up in a haze. Every time I picked up my phone, the urge to dial him got more intense. Contact with my sponsor had never been so vital. She instructed me to call her or text her every time I wanted to contact him. That’s what I did. On the bright side, that was the most disciplined I had ever been about calling her. I also called my sober supports, almost fanatically, up to five times a day. They were my lifeline. Thankfully, I was living in an all-female halfway house with a built-in support network of women who were also trying to recover.
Coping With Heartbreak
Staying at my sober living community was essential, despite my instincts to run and hide. Sympathetic ears at home surrounded me. I also had a structured schedule of interaction with other sober people, because my house required me to attend a twelve-step meeting every day. I also coped by taking suggestions from my sponsor, such as:
- Attending women’s meetings
This gave me a chance to cry and vent to a roomful of women who were sober and who cared about my sobriety. I raised my hand at nearly every meeting and shared until I was tired of my own voice, and then I shared some more.
- Working with another alcoholic or addict
I wasn’t ready to sponsor- I had been dragging my heels on my fourth step (not recommended)- but service can start on day one of early recovery. Taking time to talk to a newcomer gave me chance to forget about my own problems and do something selfless.
Keeping busy was another suggestion I got from my sponsor and my supports, so I took a coffee commitment at a women’s meeting that I attended weekly. It was simple, but knowing that people were counting on me to show up and brew a pot of dark roast gave me some accountability and a sense of purpose. I also got a chance to meet more women in early sobriety, and it opened up more opportunities for service. I ended up chairing my home group meeting for two months, a commitment that required me to reach out to other women for speaking opportunities.
- Gratitude lists
Reminding myself of all of the gifts sobriety had given me kept me from being sucked into a cycle of self-pity and destructive behavior.
Avoiding Outside Addictions
Like most addicts, when I am in pain, I will grasp onto anything that will dull that pain, if even for just a moment. One of my favorite ways to do that in the past was through relationships. In order to stop myself from covering up the pain of my breakup through a rebound relationship, I made a commitment to abstain from dating until I had completed my steps with my sponsor.
This self-imposed “man-ban” had the dual benefit of forcing me to face and work through my pain and to get moving on my steps so that I could re-enter the world of dating. Sure, there were times when I attempted to anesthetize myself with an unreasonable amount of pastries from the Italian place down the street from my halfway. I may have downloaded and later deleted a few dating apps in those first few weeks. But ultimately, I knew that what my sponsor’s words were true: there is no way to numb it. You can’t go around it. The only way forward is by trusting that on the other side there is peace, serenity, and a greater purpose.
Peace After Pain
For a long while after my first sober break-up, I doubted my higher power’s plan for me. Despite my doubts that the pain would ever subside or that I was capable of a loving and healthy relationship; I placed my faith in my sponsor, my higher power, and in a program of recovery.
Over time, the promises came true. I have worked through and let go of that pain, and I am truly thankful for those lessons. I’ve been able to make an amends to the other person in the relationship. I’ve also been able to have healthy relationships again. I have used my experience to relate to sponsees and newcomers, to assure them that the pain is temporary and that there is immeasurable joy on the other side of it.
Most importantly, through the tears, the sleepless nights, and the doubt, I have learned that no matter the depth of the pain, I do not have to pick up a drink or a drug. When the pain becomes too great, my supports are there to help me carry it. No one completes their recovery on their own. But, the lesson that no crisis means that I must return to the despair of active addiction is one that has served me through all of the ups and downs of my sobriety. What I believed was an earth-shattering sacrifice at the time was, in fact, a gift. And, that’s a lesson that I am grateful to have learned.