When I got sober I followed my 12-step sponsor’s advice and didn’t date for the first year. I understood the suggestion that if you enter recovery in a relationship, stay in it unless it’s threatening your sobriety, and if you enter recovery single, stay that way. It made sense to me. There was no need to jump on the emotional roller coaster of trying to meet new potential romantic partners and starting to date in the first year.
Then came my sober anniversary and I was officially let loose into the wilds of dating. I was terrified. At the end of my using, I couldn’t even take my dry cleaning across the street without a drink. How was I supposed to go on a date?
I worked with my sponsor and approached dating with three key 12-step principles:
- Rigorous honesty. No, this did not mean that I had to announce to every guy I went out with that I was in recovery. Getting sober is an extremely personal decision and I didn’t think I had to share it with everyone I met for coffee. A simple “I’m not drinking tonight” is completely honest. If someone reacted poorly, it was a good indication that they might not be right for me.
- First things first. Like many alcoholics and addicts, I can use pretty much anything (food, exercise, shopping) as a drug. I had to be very careful not to use every new guy I met that way. I could not put anything or anyone before my sobriety or I would risk losing it. Sure, rearranging my 12-step meeting schedule to work around seeing someone was OK, but just skipping meetings to pursue a new guy was not.
- One day (or one date) at a time. Before I got sober, I was often planning the wedding before I even knew if there’d be a second date. In sobriety, I learned to apply to dating the “just for today” mantra I applied to not drinking. It was shockingly effective. If I could stay in the moment, I could avoid the often-unrealistic expectations I had put on new relationships before I got sober.
This is not to say that dating in sobriety is easy. But I did find that for the first time in my life, I had some actual tools and approaches that would help me keep an appropriate perspective on new situations.
Also, one of the very best things that sobriety did for me was teach me to value and respect myself. I no longer hated the person I saw in the mirror. I considered myself worthy of a relationship with a healthy person who would treat me with the care and kindness I had come to believe I deserved.
Sobriety gives us choices. No one can make me feel any particular way without my permission. It was liberating to feel that it was OK if someone wasn’t interested in me. Not everything was about me. As long as I didn’t pick up a drink, the next day, and the next date, had the potential to be the best ever.