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Dating in Early Recovery

As Valentine’s Day is upon us, we celebrate romantic relationships with cards and candy. However, relationships with a recovering addict takes a little bit more  consideration. While many people will come into their recovery experience within the parameters of a relationship, others will not. Many have divorced or separated from spouses due to their active participation in the addiction that brings them into recovery. Others will come into recovery single. Whatever stage of relationship you may be in, it will behoove you to learn the methods for dating at this time in your recovery. Even married addicts will find that they need to begin many aspects of their partnership or marriage on a new footing when they stop practicing an active addiction.

Regaining Your Emotional Balance

Emotional balance is difficult for the first several months, and begins to stabilize in time. However, the first months can be very uncertain for those who are feeling their emotions and learning to express them for the first time in many years. Active addiction robs each person the ability to participate in an emotional relationship with themselves, therefore with others as well. Addicts become so estranged from their own feelings that expression of them is impossible. Add drugs or alcohol to the mix, and there is little emotional experience for either partner. If they both drink or drug, they will both need to stabilize in their early recovery before they are available for emotional responses to their significant relationships.

Enter the single addict, who believes that they are ready for dating. Many treatment professionals will counsel that they remain outside a romantic involvement for the first year of recovery. This is a good idea, but few addicts will heed this admonition. Therefore, practicality suggests that there be guidelines set for them to follow in that vulnerable time. Although no recovering addict will admit their vulnerability, it exists just the same. Most consider themselves to be well on their way to lifelong abstinence. This is a scary time, because they are the last ones to recognize their own relapse indicators. One of the most powerful is becoming romantically entangled too soon into their recovery.

Things to Consider before Getting Back “Out There”

Since it will, most likely, take place, despite the counsel of wiser minds, here are a few pointers to follow when contemplating the romantic realm of dating:

If dating another recovering addict, be sure that you are clear on the idea of drinking and drugging. Being new to the recovery world is a drawback, because it is difficult to find activities within a safe range to participate in when abstinent. Be sure that your date does not include going to parties or bars where alcohol and/or drugs are going to be circulating. The discomfort of being with a new person and uncertain about the feelings brought up in this situation can easily lead one to drink or drug to “fit in” with the crowd. Be sure the other party understands that you are serious about this recovery.

Too often, it is the emotional imbalances present when beginning a new relationship that set off newly recovering addicts. Be sure to communicate your feelings of insecurity, longing, loneliness, and others to your sponsor and a supportive friend with whom you do not have a romantic involvement. Sharing these feelings with your new romantic partner or date might lead to them trying to take care of your feelings and/or validating them. This is an unhealthy situation, because that is not the role they need to play.

Allow yourself to enjoy the emotions of a new romance; they can be quite heady. Just also be sure to give yourself a great deal of support so that they do not take you into dangerous places.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for more than 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

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