Is dating a newly sober alcoholic or addict a recipe for disaster? Here we offer 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 twelve-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 of us truly learn about how to treat people. Still others suggest waiting until someone has worked all twelve steps, as by then the person most likely has more to offer others. Of course, people can decide for themselves. Nevertheless, here are some things to consider for the happiness and well-being of everyone involved.
The newly sober person is so 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 in pain. It might be ugly. 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 off the X, to put a bit of distance between us and the pain, regret, fear, anxiousness, and intensity of early sobriety. When dating someone in this place, we can do them a great disservice. We can give them a way to opt-out of this pain. Sounds like comforting them, but the truth is often 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 pain 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. It is a broad observation based on our experience.
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 grow into someone who is truly available for a worthwhile relationship. It gives them time to develop and mature into real partners. So if you’ve got your eye on a newly sober person, or someone flirting with 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.
All in all, it never hurts to pause and take it slow. The right relationships won’t pass you by, and you might just be giving them a chance to develop and flourish!