You’ve been to rehab, you’ve put in the work, and you’re now going through a daily process of recovery. While you’ll never stop “being in recovery”, there comes a point when you want to open up, to meet other people, and to focus on more than just yourself. While it’s important not to start dating too soon, and in fact studies show that dating within the first year can be a very negative thing for your recovery, eventually dating opens up as an option for you. You want and need to make romantic connections with others, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t if you’re in a healthy place mentally.
When you do, it will likely quickly become evident that most of the people you develop romantic feelings for won’t be sober. In a world where 85% of the population drinks, and 60% drink regularly, it’s unlikely that you will find a partner who is completely sober. And, while you can (and it’s a good idea) attend sober dating and look for sober dating, there’s no guarantee you’ll find someone there. If you do end up falling for and dating someone who isn’t sober, it’s crucial to go into this with strategy to ensure that you stay sober, stay clean, and understand the risks of dating someone around alcohol.
Starting with Hard Conversations
Most relationships allow time to develop and build strong bonds before you move on to hard conversations. If you’re sober and they aren’t, that will likely have to start right away. For example, your first conversation will likely have to be, “I used to be an alcoholic”. This will mean talking about what that means for you in the past and now, sharing your recovery, and sharing how it impacts your life moving forward.
For most of us, it also means setting boundaries surrounding your safety, what you’re comfortable with, what is expected and wanted from each side, and making compromises. That should heavily depend on how comfortable you are around alcohol, how much they drink, and how far you are into recovery. Some good examples of those boundaries might include:
- I respect that you drink but I would like you to avoid offering me alcohol or pressuring me into drinking alcohol.
- I am comfortable around alcohol and don’t mind you drinking in my presence (optionally, as long as it isn’t a lot) however, I am not comfortable going to bars
- I am comfortable around alcohol and can go to bars and be your sober driver
- I experience discomfort and cravings around alcohol and would prefer that you do not drink around me ever. I can plan to spend time with sober friends or doing my own thing while you take time to drink with friends and family.
- I cannot always control myself around alcohol, if you drink, I need your help in reminding me to abstain myself.
Setting boundaries means creating a dialogue, ensuring that everyone is heard, and ensuring that your boundaries are not restricting your partners freedom. For example, if you simply go, “You cannot drink around me”, without offering alternatives or being supportive of their lifestyle choices, it will likely create a rift in the relationship, unless your partner is ready to stop drinking themselves.
Navigating Social Life
Most people drink as part of their social life. And, you will be expected to join in on that. Whether that means going to bars, drinking at restaurants, or friends and family members casually pouring wine or beer and offering it to you, alcohol will be a part of your life again. This can be incredibly difficult, especially if your partner isn’t willing to support you, to talk you through cravings, or to ask people not to do so.
- Can you comfortably sit around while others drink?
- Can you consistently say no to alcohol when offered?
- How will you cope with cravings if they come up?
- Can you communicate these to you partner?
Your partner isn’t likely to want to go to an endless string of sober bars and parties. But, it’s important that they be able to compromise and do some things that are relaxing and fun for you as well.
Be Brave. Get Help.
Your Recovery is Work for Your Partner
Whenever you start a new relationship, you’re asking someone to learn your habits, patterns, personality, and overall, who you are. Recovery is a big part of that. For most of us, recovery extends beyond, “I quit drinking” and into a full scope of working on your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Recovery is about embracing growth, healing, and working to resolve your past while building your future. Your partner will likely have very little grounds with which to understand that, unless they have gone through a similar traumatic behavioral disorder and are working to overcome it.
Understanding you, your recovery, and your addiction will mean education, patience, and work from them. Your partner has to be willing to put in that work. Whether that means taking the time to talk with you to understand, accept, and embrace that you no longer want or need to drink, attending 12-step meetings like AA or NA with you, or learning on their own to discover how addiction affects the mind and body doesn’t matter. They have to put in that work to truly be your partner. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, especially in the early days of a relationship.
Integrating Your Partner into Your Lifestyle
If you’ve been to a drug rehab program, you know that recovery requires a long-term commitment to structure, to consistency, and to discipline. It means investing in your diet, regular exercise, and managing your activities and energy levels. You likely have to watch your diet to prevent energy crashes, to prevent nutritional deficiencies, and to recover from them. Most people in recovery eventually adopt relatively strict lifestyles, in which they set aside time to work out, relax, clean their home, eat or meal prep, and otherwise take care of every aspect of their lives.
If your partner cannot fit into that schedule and is not willing to do so, they will interrupt your recovery. Why? When you get caught up in the magic of a romance and spend all of your time with a person, you’re effectively pulling the rug out from under yourself. The heady mix of dopamine and serotonin of an early relationship will sustain you for a while and then you’ll be left without the habits and self-care that kept you in recovery. Your partner has to understand that and has to be able to fit into your self-care and routine.
Essentially, dating someone who isn’t sober, while you yourself are in recovery, is difficult. It requires an immense commitment to communication, to your schedule, and to balancing responsibilities. Many people won’t be up for it. At the end of the day, no relationship is worth your mental health or the recovery you’ve found so hard for. After all, if you do eventually relapse, your partner won’t likely be around very long. If you can find someone who works with you, compromises at the right points, and encourages and supports your sobriety at every opportunity, you can likely make dating work. But, make sure you’re ready to put in the work and communication to get there before you start dating.
If you or your loved-one needs help, please contact Laguna Shores today, We are here to support you. Reaching out for help takes courage – you can do it.