Relationships are one of the casualties of addiction; they can be a casualty of recovery as well…Finding sobriety may ultimately mean finding yourself single. Unfortunately, in early recovery, we might lack the skills to navigate single life sensibly.
I don’t think “Dating for Sober Dummies” is available via Amazon, and there’s no Wikihow page for “How to conquer the Mid-Life, single, sober, still young enough to have a baby but my baby’s in college and I’m dating life stage”. (Though by the end of this year maybe I’ll be qualified to write them). Feeling pretty clueless how to start, I figured I’d search the same place I always do when problem-solving life’s great mysteries…..
Current Google searches in my browsing history:
- How do I date sober?
- Can I date people that drink if I’m sober?
- Do I tell my date I’m in recovery?
- Should I give up now and never date because who in their right mind would want to date a nurse in recovery who has to do random pee tests and ask permission to go on vacation and can’t drink on dates and has a shameful laundry list of stupid things she’s done and spends 3 nights a week at meetings with a bunch of other addicts?
I’m proud of my accomplishments since eliminating opiates and alcohol from my life. Still, there’s a significant amount of stigma and shame in admitting to being sober. It’s not really the SOBER part, although it’s sometimes isolating to be the non-drinker. What really stings is all the crap that led to the fact that I have to be sober which makes me want to keep this a big fat secret. Will they think I’m a junkie or criminal? A poor role model for their children? A no fun loser? I’m aware that I’m a high-risk date. I’m well aware of my attributes too, but I have to be realistic. In fact, dating sites compare dropping the bomb that “I’m an addict” is comparable to saying “I’m married”.
Addiction is more than just a quirky personality trait. If you’re deciding whether to date me, and you make a list of Pros and Cons, it won’t shock me to see ADDICT highlighted and underlined three times in the Con column. So I wanted to approach this time in my life with knowledge and discernment.
My research proved Google agrees with recovery experts: “Don’t Date.” Certainly not the first year. In some circles it’s virtually against the law to date while you’re “working the program.” For the first year, the STRONG suggestion is “Don’t Date. Don’t make major changes in your life. Don’t stop or start a relationship. Don’t move. Don’t change jobs. etc”
Well crap. It happens that a plethora of major changes occurred in my first year whether I approved or not….so what’s one more? Technically, I was sober a year before I dated. Advisable or not, as soon as I was single, I polished up my profile and entered the world of dating. Consider it an altruistic experimental study. Dating for the greater good of sober singles!
Having established that I AM going to date, I considered the following questions: When do I tell, and How much do I tell?
- Do I put it on my profile?
36 y/o mom of 1 in college; 1 brilliant Cattledog. Loves skiing and yoga. Doesn’t drink or do drugs. Little problem with addiction- got it under control.
- Do I share in our initial text conversation?
Hey there! Love your pics. We should totally surf together. FYI if we meet for drinks, I won’t order alcohol. Cuz I’m an alcoholic. In case you didn’t really want to date one of those.
- Do I wait til we’re sitting in awkward silence sharing the hummus platter, as the waiter takes our order?
(Him) “I’ll have the IPA – the double, that’s 9% ABV right?” (Me, eyes wide) “MMMM. Sounds yummy. I’ll have the iced tea please! I mean I want the IPA, but I can never drink again. Pesky addictions. Wink!”
- Do I keep it to myself until we’re going steady and he’s already half mad in love with me?
(Him) “What do you mean you’ve been at recovery meetings??!! I thought you were volunteering for ‘Save the Whales!’ 3 nights a week!” (Me) “I know, I know! But does it REALLY matter? I mean, it’s not like it’s affected us so far!”
Google wasn’t super helpful answering these, but it was clear on certain other topics to avoid. I learned on first dates you never discuss…..
Politics, religion or exes. No need to divulge finances, or lack thereof. You’re not required nor encouraged to mention your college job as a bikini barista; the 4 prior engagements which never quite led to an altar; your former record as a shoplifter at Rite-Aid (You pled NO CONTEST! It doesn’t mean GUILTY!) None of these subjects are first date appropriate. Luckily, they’re pretty easy to dodge in polite conversation.
What about sharing the decision to be sober? Some suggest say nothing, some say bare your soul. One thing is for sure, the topic of drinking will come up. On the first date, if it’s coffee, we can skirt around it. But by the second date, it’s drinks and dinner. Or drinks and bowling. Or drinks and (fill in activity here). DATING REVOLVES AROUND ALCOHOL! By date 3, if I haven’t outed myself, aren’t I guilty of omitting a very important detail?
This doesn’t only apply to addiction. What about a mental health diagnosis? Or a life altering physical diagnosis? I’ve had my share of relationships, as well as my share of a Past, but the things I worried might deter my potential heart’s desire from being with me were generally long resolved. Now, not only is “dating” really new and awkward, I’m showing up with enough baggage for a month long trip to Turkey. An ugly little voice still creeps into my consciousness …..”You’re not going to be good enough. He deserves better. Just don’t bother.”
Maybe that voice means I’m still not ready, though I’m well over a year into recovery. Undoubtedly I have more work to do, learning to forgive and love myself. But on behalf of all single addicts and alcoholics, I’m committed to staying the course.
One of the sayings in recovery is that in life, no matter what, “more will be revealed”. This sounds obvious, but the meaning is profound. Recovery is a process that unfolds incrementally. Don’t give up; don’t be afraid because the current state of your life will not be the permanent state. The circumstances, no matter how challenging, will evolve and reveal the next stage… if you continue to do the next right thing,a beautiful meaning and purpose will be revealed. I cling to this mantra tightly, especially when the doubts creep in that I’ve become permanently damaged goods.
Whether it’s dating, parenting, tackling new projects or just learning to laugh at myself, I’m committed to trying again, for all our sake. And you, dear readers, get the benefit of the ridiculousness this entails.
Cheers and gratitude,