I still remember my introduction to addiction recovery like it was yesterday. I was shipped from California to Southern Florida, where I would stay engaged in a residential treatment program for around 90 days. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to embark on a life-changing journey that would ultimately leave me with a small shred of hope for the future — a shred of hope I certainly didn’t have before. Because people my age were still partying hard all days of the week (at least, those in my chosen friend group were), I had convinced myself that my behavior was normal and if I truly wanted to stop, I would stop. I soon found out that no matter how desperately I wanted to stop, I couldn’t do so without serious help.
I stayed sober while I was in treatment because I didn’t really have a choice. As soon as I got out I transitioned into a sober living home, where I really started to embrace a sober lifestyle. It was easy to stay away from alcohol, because all of my closest friends were sober too. The more I committed to my recovery, the more beautiful my life became. Then, one fateful evening at the local Alcoholics Anonymous clubhouse, I held the hand of a beautiful young man during the closing Serenity Prayer. All bets were off.
Jumping into a Relationship in Early Recovery
I was somewhat stable in my sobriety, but I certainly wasn’t willing to heed the advice of those who came before me. Those who said, “Stay away from relationships for at least your first year. Prioritize working through your steps.” I scoffed at them. How cute that these strangers thought they knew me. Please. I started spending more time with Serenity Prayer Guy, who also happened to live in a sober living home in the area. Of course, neither of us had cars (he had already accumulated several DUIs at the ripe old age of 23), so we would spend hours bicycling back and forth, finding neutral spots to meet up and make out.
Even though I had been sober for an awe-inspiring 5 months at this point, I was still very, very sick. I certainly did not have the tools in place to navigate heartbreak in a healthy way. But, that didn’t matter, because I was not about to have my heart broken by a 24-year-old boozehound from Baltimore.
Of course, the day came when things turned ugly. He looked through my phone, found a text message he didn’t particularly like, and called me a slew of hurtful names. My self-esteem was still very much tied into what other people thought of me, and this swift removal of external validation was too much for me to handle. I cried and cried and cried, rode my back to the nearest bodega, and bought several small bottles of cheap wine. Just like that, I was off to the races once again.
When I was new to recovery I was confident that the rules didn’t apply to me. I was different; I was unique. I could totally date around within the first few months of sobriety with no consequence. I wasn’t going to “go back out” over some stupid boy. Well, guess what? I very quickly learned that the rules did, in fact, apply to me, and that my coping mechanisms were not only lacking — they were entirely nonexistent. I also learned (the hard way) how important it was for me to take suggestions. I had to learn to trust other people; people who had already been where I currently was, and who managed to stay sober long-term. I had to trust the process, which I was certainly skeptical of, being the over analytical person I am. I learned the hard way why dating in my first year of sobriety was not a wise decision. Not only did I immediately start prioritizing my relationship over my recovery, but I wasn’t equipped to handle any level of chaos or discord. Relationships — even when they aren’t between freshly detoxed kids with pretty bad drinking problems — can be a lot of work. In order to be in a successful relationship with someone else, I had to first be in a successful relationship with myself. That meant fostering a genuine sense of self-love and self-worth, developing healthy boundaries pertaining to my recovery, and honing coping mechanisms that would help me walk through uncomfortable emotions and stay sober.
Additional Reasons to Avoid Dating in Early Sobriety
There are numerous reasons to avoid dating in early sobriety, and some of them resonate more with me than others. If you or someone you love is new to recovery and is considering when to start dating again, it is important to remember that each journey is highly personal. While suggestions are made for a reason, there is some level of autonomy in recovery. Only (and maybe a trusted therapist of 12 Step sponsor) can decide what is right for you. Below are several additional factors to consider before you jump head-first into something romantic:
- It is a good idea to work through your steps before looking for your soulmate. You will learn an incredible amount about yourself during the process. There is a good chance that what you look for in a partner will change, as well.
- It can be tricky to prioritize your recovery when you are in a relationship. This is especially true for those who are new to sobriety and who have made a certain level of commitment to themselves and their recovery, like attending 90 meetings in 90 days.
- Even if you think you love yourself when you first make it to treatment or to AA, there is a good chance you still have a long way to go. As the saying goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.”
- Heartbreak is really difficult to navigate in early sobriety. Even if you aren’t necessarily heartbroken, the feelings that go hand-in-hand with tricky relationship stuff (inadequacy, jealousy, insecurity, anger, sadness) can be overwhelming to those who are still working on developing healthy coping skills.
If you or someone you love has been struggling with a substance use disorder of any kind, Intrepid Detox Residential is available to help. We have developed a comprehensive recovery program that covers multiple levels of clinical care, guiding clients through the treatment process and making sure they are set up for continued success in sobriety. In many cases, entering into a medical detox center is an important initial step, seeing as the physical symptoms associated with drug and alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and uncomfortable when unaddressed. Once a client has been physically stabilized they have the opportunity to transition into the residential portion of our clinical program, where they will continue to heal on a thorough basis. At Intrepid Detox Residential we believe that recovery is always possible as long as a person has access to quality addiction treatment options. To learn more about our treatment program or to begin your personal recovery journey, contact us today.