Dating in Recovery ~ Do So At Your Peril…

This is a complex subject. We come into recovery broken people. And we’re told of the good news that we get our feelings back. One of those feelings is our sexual instinct. We’ve all been there, at a meeting, and an attractive person walks in…Come on, we’ve all noticed at some point or another! I recall an old sponsor who would take one look at the sparkle in my eyes, and would immediately say to me ‘look at the floor, Olivia!’.


I have mixed views on dating in the rooms. First and foremost, we are at that meeting for our recovery. Having said that, I’m mindful that we are human beings too. It is in our basic human instinct to pro-create. Unfortunately – for my sanity and that of my dear close female friends – I have a little hard won experience here. I am a single 36 year old woman and I’ve dated both in and out of the rooms, with recovering addicts and non-addicts – both come with their own set of pros and cons. What I may have considered to be rather unsuccessful attempts at meeting the right person for me, what I have actually learned are very valuable lessons. I believe that these are a rite of passage for everyone in recovery, but if we listen carefully, we might be able to avoid some of the pain of acting on impulse and jumping in with both feet first.

Read below where I share my experience of exploring dating and relationships in recovery, and my top pieces of advice.

You know, when I first came around the rooms it was very strongly suggested that I don’t get involved for the first couple of years. At the time I found that odd; how could a relationship affect my recovery? I thought to myself. Given my utter desperation to save my life, I listened. Well, mostly…I waited until about ten months for my first date. At that point I thought I was better than ever – I’d been through the steps, maintained the longest ever period of sobriety and gone back to work – I thought that I was well (!) On reflection, this is hilarious… I was absolutely bonkers!

At ten months clean, I had no idea who I was. Outwardly, I portrayed an image of togetherness, wellness even. Little did I know that, to the contrary, my self confidence, self-esteem and self-worth were in the gutter. What has been particularly enlightening in this journey is my utter disillusionment, disconnection from myself and a complete lack of any sense of reality.

Without that identity, inner connection, and love for myself, how could I possibly have a healthy relationship? I had absolutely nothing but infatuation to offer. I now see that what I was doing was attempting to fix myself, distract myself, act on lust and fulfill that basic human instinct – but I didn’t have the skills or emotional maturity to do that. Consequently, I made a lot of bad choices for me.

What I felt was that I had one failed attempt at a ‘relationship/encounter’ after another. The reality has been that I was not so graciously, and very reluctantly, provided one lesson after another about myself.

I was learning about me. And it has been illuminating. The lessons included: how I acted in relationships; what I want out of a relationship; what I find unacceptable in a relationship; what my values and beliefs are; my broken patterns of behaviour from childhood that I carried into adulthood and that no longer served me; the kind of person I want to share my life with; my hopes and dreams and just because someone paid me attention, doesn’t mean that they were right for me! This information, this work, formed the basis of who I am, my gut instinct.


 Here is what I have learned and the advice I give to any person new around


1. Stay single, as long as possible:
I recently went to San Francisco, at the time I had been dating a guy for a couple of months. I was over three years clean and, despite all the work I had undertaken, I had little idea about how not only how wrong the relationship was for me, but how I was still so disconnected from my truth, my gut instinct. When I was there I met up with a woman in fellowship who is a bloody inspiration and she said these words to me that I think will stay with me forever:

‘honey, men are like buses – just because one comes along, doesn’t mean you should hop on!’

I hadn’t quite realised at the time how profound this statement was. She encouraged me to stay single for my first five years of recovery, and reminded me of the fact that, in recovery terms, I am but a baby. She was absolutely spot on.

Whilst I have come on leaps and bounds in my emotional recovery, its paramount to to acknowledge how emotionally stunted we are when we arrive in recovery. Many of us have been using drugs in excess of 10-20 years! And during that time, we fail to develop emotionally to that of people our own age. So, to the outside world people say ‘but this is just life‘ or ‘toughen up‘ when we appear to be expressing emotions in a disordered or immature way. I still get this all the time. My close friends, outside of recovery, and some in, seem surprised at my sense of naivity when, conversely, my experience in other areas of my life is quite advanced, and I can be quite assertive. My emotional immaturity is in relation to people. That is the business in which my greatest work lay, and continues to be grow.


2. First, look within. 
It is crucial to work on your emotional recovery. Work the steps, then work them again. Read about self-esteem, fear, strength, values, addiction, emotional sobriety, mindfulness and everything and anything else that you can use to learn about yourself and develop your confidence and identity. I read a lot of Brene Brown, Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert in addition to lots of recovery literature. In not looking within, you’re simply swapping your addiction for drugs, to an addiction of co-dependency and lust.By gathering this insight, you will be able to communicate your needs in a relationship, from a place of confidence, and you are better informed to find someone who has a similar value system, and relationship objectives.I realised in working my step four that I act in such a way that demonstrates fear in all of my thoughts, behaviours and actions. For example, when something didn’t go my way, I sulked and sought ways to punish the other person. I was able to see how childish I had become. In a relationship, if there was conflict, I immediately thought it was over.With insight and knowledge of my condition, I’m better able to not act on my thoughts, and I’m graciously given that precious space – which is how I quantify recovery – between my thoughts and actions/behaviour.If I enter into a relationship without this information, i’m likely to perpetuate the unhealthy relationships choices I made in active addiction.


3. Fall in love with yourself.

Seriously. I cannot impress enough upon you that it is paramount  you first fall in love with yourself, before you can fall in love with someone else. Not only do you need to know who you are, but you need to love yourself. Its unlikely you’ll gain the respect and love you deserve unless you first show it to yourself. When you do it that way around, you influence what you will and won’t accept and are less likely to be treated badly and abandon yourself in the process – trust me, I know.To me, that involves spending quality time with myself – taking long walks, candlelit baths; I take myself on dates to the cinema and out for a meal, I cuddle up on the sofa in my PJs and watch a film. I employ a radical self-care regime. Because, frankly, I’ve been at war with myself and neglected my soul for far too long.


4. Practise congruence between your intentions and your actions
So many times I’ve said that I’m going to take this slow, and I’m going to get to know them first, and I want to meet someone to share my life with and have children. Except, my actions were to jump into something head first, let my meetings slip, and become physically intimate too soon. Consequently, I’ve not ended up with guys that really want to stick around; whether I’ve scared them off or because they were after one thing only. Some guys (not all) have a silver tongue. Be wise and take things slow. The longer you take to get physical, if the guy is interested in you, its likely he’ll stick around. And, most importantly, you’ll have more respect for yourself.I have learned this the hard way. And that means a whole heap of growth.Through experience, I’m very unlikely to get involved with someone in the meetings I frequent. And that is advice I give after I’ve already made that mistake. Because, as they say, don’t shit where you eat! Its very awkward if it doesn’t work out and can affect your recovery. If they are in the rooms, do different meetings and don’t get involved in each others recovery.

5. Maintain your recovery, and talk – a LOT! 
I’ve spent hours on the phone to my female friends, I had no idea how relationships work, I didn’t speak man! I had all of these feelings and I needed close friends to help me sieve through them and identify what was going on. It was frigtening. It is really no surprise that relationships are the biggest cause of relapse. We hear it all the time, people get involved, stop attending meetings and then the relationship breaks up and they relapse. It doesn’t always happen that way, but relationships are a sure fire way of affecting your serenity. This is why it is crucial to keep talking.I needed more meetings when I was in a relationship and I engaged in more step work – they both were invaluable – I recommend anyone in a relationship to use that as an opportunity to not only learn more about yourself, but help you to cope!


6. Protect yourself and your recovery.
This means that your recovery comes first. Without it, you have no relationships. So be mindful of dating someone who is a drinker, or likes to party. Put your meetings and your friendships first.We’re now in an age of internet dating. I’d recommend acting with caution. I have met a few very strange people who weren’t quite who they said they were, and I allowed to treat me badly. I’m not saying that internet dates are indicative of bad behaviour, but rather perhaps there is a correlation between why those online haven’t met someone in ‘real life’ and it is more likely that some people can be misleading.

So, there you have it, my experience of dating. It has involved a lot of pain and a lot of growth. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, with the solid self-knowledge, respect and confidence I now have. I have no doubt that I will continue to experience pain and growth.

I am happy single. Whilst I’d love to have children and share my life, my priority is creating my own happiness and fulfillment and, I believe, when the time is right, the right person will come along. By not acting on self-will, and out of fear that I won’t fulfil my dreams, I abandon myself. And, frankly, I’m so over that behaviour – it doesn’t serve me or the respect I deserve.