Single and Sober …. Directions and Definitions

After all it’s not whether the guy is “sober” that matters….how he interprets sobriety makes all the difference.

I love being single, but I don’t love dating. The only good I’ve derived from dating is an end to writer’s block.

Ok, all the personal growth has been pretty nice. Every time I meet I knew a new guy, I learn more about myself. Whether I like it or not.

For example, it was two years ago when this single journey began and I wrote this blog deliberating whether or not to tell a date I don’t drink alcohol. It was such a conundrum, I went on to write more….This one, and then this!

I wonder if I owe all these guys some royalties.

Just kidding! You think I get paid to do this?!

Despite my public recovery, I was terrified to tell a date. I even created a separate non-recovery oriented Instagram to show them. I don’t know how I thought we would get past a first date, but that’s what shame does; creates secrets and fear. It tells us we don’t deserve to be ourselves or make mistakes. It tells us we’re unloveable.

Today I know better. Why bother meeting a guy if I’m not honest? If sobriety doesn’t resonate with his lifestyle, then I need to know right away. He’s not for me.

So I divulge it right up front. My online dating profile states: “I have an alcohol free lifestyle”.

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The question I still grapple with is: “Do I only date sober guys?” I’m not sure that’s a hard and fast rule, so I’m trying to find a balanced approach, asking myself: “Does my date understand and/or agree with my perspective? Am I making choices that align with my values? Will my decisions today enhance or inhibit my sobriety? Does this potential partner define sobriety and recovery the same way I do?”

After all it’s not whether the guy is “sober” that matters….how he interprets sobriety makes all the difference.

Webster’s defines “Sober” as not intoxicated or addicted to alcohol. General consensus broadens this to include abstinence from all mind altering substances. But subcategories exist and we need to acknowledge them. It’s not realistic or useful to hold everyone to the same requirements.

Refraining from all intoxicating substances is the gold standard, especially according to 12 step programs. But there’s compelling evidence supporting the role of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Stigma prevents widespread approval, but even skeptics acknowledge its benefit as harm reduction at the least.

Harm reduction is considered an acceptable alternative within many recovery communities, if only as a step towards renunciation. “Harm reduction” …seek(s) to reduce harm associated with drug use and ineffective, radicalized drug policies. Meaning some people can use certain substances under certain circumstances, only if it there are decreased consequences.

The booming popularity of CBD and hemp products is an example of this. As legalization expands and the public’s stance is increasingly casual, it’s not uncommon to hear qualifiers to sobriety such as  “I’m sober EXCEPT for…” or “I’m sober from alcohol, but..I use A, B or C.”

That’s cool. I’m no puritan, and certainly in no place to throw stones; my glass house is made of Suboxone, one of the prescriptions utilized in MAT.  I’m not qualified or interested in defining anyone else’s pathway or establishing their boundaries.

Buuuutttt….. it’s blatantly clear I need to define and establish my own, particularly as I search for a partner. If I don’t, I could be well on my way to adding my own caveats. Making exceptions to my rule of avoiding mind altering substances, it’s a short distance from “I’m sober but I do edibles” to “I’m sober but I drink on holidays” and eventually, “Who me? Nah, I’m not sober.”

A clear mind and body has led to the fulfilling life I have today, and connecting with others on the same journey is essential to my ongoing success. But there are rare moments when my mind questions whether that’s 100% indisputable.

This phenomena of doubt and vacillation has a pattern; it only occurs when I’m on a date or somehow swayed by a relationship – real or potential.

This is a story about one of those times.

He seemed normal ENOUGH. Early 30s, dog owner, and photos which led me to believe he had the capacity for cute. ( But who can rely on profile pics anyway?)

We’ll call him Bob.

A single red flag flew as I decided which way to swipe. At the bottom of his profile sat a one word sentence:

“Drinks?”

It’s only 6 letters, but I suspect a much more subversive message lurks if you read between them. The word stood out like a neon sign at a liquor store; beckoning, winking, hinting at all the temporary pleasure and tinder-style trouble that alcohol can lead to.

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Suspending judgment, I employed my balanced approach. Maybe he’s a normie? (Normie: someone who can take or leave alcohol. Might drink once a week or once a year. Not addicted. Not a threat.) Lots of people rely on the social conditioning of drinking culture to cultivate comfort on a date. Doesn’t mean they’re an alcoholic, or that I’ll be dragged back into that world.

My profile, at the time, stated this:

“I don’t drink alcohol. It’s not a problem for me if you drink, unless you become a problem when you drink.”

I’ve since deleted the second line. I’m not sure I can trust in the self awareness of others to determine if they have a problem.

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Date ready, semi-optimistic

We made plans to meet the next day to stand up paddleboard (SUP). He said he’d bring lunch. Based on previous experience, I kept my standards low. At worst, it was a day in the sun on the lake. I didn’t bother to think what would happen “at best”.  Online dating is less of a mission to find “the one” (because face it, that’s preposterous) and more of a social experiment that occasionally leads to a friend to adventure with.

 

Our date began with only minor disappointment. He arrived: tall, skinny, and at certain angles leaned towards attractive. The overall picture didn’t do much to get my pheromones percolating. I knew from his photos he had long hair, but it’s not like I expected Jason Momoa (now you know my secret celebrity crush!)

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My “secret” celebrity crush

Not at all surprised Bob wasn’t the man of my dreams, I clung to the silver lining  and made a point of enjoying the outdoors. We inflated our boards and launched into the lake.

Small talk revealed Bob owns a business employing hemp as its main ingredient. This didn’t trouble me. I told him a topical hemp product recently helped alleviate my back pain. We agreed the cannabis research is promising, but controversial. As our paddle boards veered toward deeper waters, so did the conversation.

Bob disclosed recent traumatic events helped him turn his life around, “I overdosed, just a few years ago.” It was an unexpected confession and my initial reluctance towards him eased. I felt a glimmer of optimism – even hope. Relating through recovery creates powerful connections, and my heart softened. Bob had suffered, like me, from an addiction to prescription opiates.

I’d never had this experience on a date. Our common history made me feel safe enough to share, “I started with Vicodin for migraines, and at first they made me feel like superwoman. But it spiraled into chaos. Those were the worst years of my life, but I wouldn’t give back what I’ve gained. I’m so grateful to be sober.”

“I can completely relate!” Bob said. “Recovery changed my life. That’s one of the reasons I got into CBD, it’s part of my program. That and mountain biking. Being sober is great.”

Maybe this date was going in the right direction! Maybe I could and forget about physical attraction and focus on our common values.

But wait.

Remember Bob’s profile proposal “Drinks?” ….

I mulled it over silently.  He says he’s sober…..uses CBD….wants to take his date for drinks….

He readily filled me in.

“Don’t get me wrong, I smoke weed every day. That’s part of who I am. And alcohol is no big deal for me. Not really anyway. My friends and family know I need to keep an eye on it, and they’ll tell me if I drink too much. But getting sober after my overdose has brought me new purpose, so I can enjoy nature and mountain bike. I see helping people new to the sport as a type of service.”

Here’s something you may or may not know – I’m opinionated, passionate, and live “sober out loud”, but detest making people uncomfortable, especially in person. I freeze around conflict and can pull a perfect poker face in order to avoid it. Too often, I keep the peace at the expense of my own beliefs. I also experience what I call “empathy on overdrive”. My ability to walk a mile in another’s shoes isn’t always a strength, not when it makes me question my ethical standpoint.

My shock at his version of “sober” never transferred to my face. As my confidence wavered I responded with a watered down version of my viewpoint. “You know, there’s times where I’ve thought someday I could drink. Alcohol wasn’t my primary issue so my brain sometimes falters. I’m so grateful for the probation program I’m a part of, and their vigilance in testing for alcohol too. I can see how others might be able to drink, but it’s forced me to take a break, and given me time to reflect on what I really want – which is a totally clear mind. That’s how I feel right now, anyway.” (ugh…so obliging and wimpy….Where was my affirming recovery voice?!)

“Yeah, I get that.” He answered. “I try to keep it under control. If it bothers you, I won’t drink in front of you today, but I did bring beers for lunch.”

Bob left it wide open for me to advocate for myself, but instead I accommodated him. “Sure Bob, I don’t mind.”

**Words of wisdom to single folk who drink: Meeting at noon to adventure outdoors on a first date never calls for alcohol. And seriously, if your date’s profile says they don’t drink…..better to save that beer for when you get home.**

Failing to set firm boundaries and dismissing my own needs gave Bob permission to take up space on our date with his drinking.  He continued, “I do acid and mushrooms. I used to sell them. But that’s in my past. Now I just do it when I’m with friends and want to trip.”

My mind reeled, but my tone stayed neutral as I continued to diminish my stance on the subject. “Acid huh? I haven’t done that for decades. It always gave me such a terrible chemical hangover. I know a lot of people don’t consider psychedelics in the same category as other drugs…”

“No they’re totally not!” He exclaimed. “After we hang out a few times I’d be happy to do them with you.”

Do you realize what I’m saying???

My date offered to drugs with me.

This had just accelerated from “it’s ok if he drinks” comfort zone into an out of bounds danger zone. It began to feel like a relapse laden minefield.

My heart sank in my chest. All optimism vanished, leaving behind a tornado of worry in my gut.

Bob might have recovered from an overdose, but he’s not in recovery.

Despite the disappointment and undercurrent of dread, I stayed for lunch. He washed his sandwich down with a Pilsner, while I sipped on sparkling water. To make it worse, I agreed to mountain bike with him the following Tuesday. (I know, I know….hindsight’s 20/20). Bob was really into me and I was too chicken to reject him to his face.

The idea of spending more time with him sat sour in my stomach.

For the next few days thoughts agitated me. “What if I just go on one more date to get a mountain bike lesson? Would it be ok if he drank around me then? What if I did try psychedelics again someday? Could it be true that some people have a strong recovery, but drink sometimes?”

Yet I didn’t cancel.

After an initial “thanks for the paddle” exchange, I avoided him. (not my best coping mechanism, I know)  I didn’t hear much from him either and hoped he’d had a change of heart. Maybe I wasn’t his type, or I was too sober, or he was actually married with kids. First dates so seldom turn into a second, it was easy to think he’d vanished into the ether like so many other date “ghosts” have done.

Tuesday morning dawned and my phone lit up with a text. “Dammit” I swore. He wasn’t a ghost after all. “Good morning!” Greeted the text “Checking in to see that we’re still on for biking today.”

My stomach twisted. I knew there was no way I could bike with this guy. Not even as “just friends’. I waffled over my response. Do I tell him I’m sick? Have to work? Taking a last minute shuttle to the moon?

None of that felt right. I had to tell him the truth; at least a version of it. (I figured it wasn’t necessary to mention he had nice hair, but I wasn’t sold on his face. Or that shirtless, he reminded me of Austin powers.)

I respect the varying ways people choose to recover, and I support any version of sobriety that works, as long as it doesn’t harm others. But it turns out definitions matter when deciding who I can be intimate with, and Bob’s version of sobriety scared the hell out of me.

And I’m sorry, but I couldn’t for the life of me fathom how he fit the label sober under even the most liberal of explanations.

I’d spent the majority of our date being inauthentic. I’d avoided speaking my truth in order to bypass conflict, and diluted my opinions because it was easier than being brave. I empathized with Bob’s perspective, but was using that as an excuse to question my own.

It was time to get real. Being honest with Bob was gift of empowerment; a chance to use my voice, declare my line in the sand, let go of self doubt and practice the radical self love that I preach.

I took a deep breath and typed: “Sorry to cancel last minute, but I need to date someone sober and active in recovery. Our conversations about alcohol and psychedelics felt like a slippery slope I can’t afford to tread on. Take care.” I covered my eyes with my hand and pushed “send.”

Just as I feared, Bob didn’t take it well. Defensively insisting he is sober, he repeated that psychedelics assist with staying off hard drugs but neglected to mention his daily weed and drinking habit. He must have felt rejected because he threw in a jab: “Just because I don’t have to get drug tested like you doesn’t mean I’m not sober.” That stung. As nicely as possible, I got the last word in.

“Meeting you has given me a chance to reflect, and to realize I’ll connect best with someone who has shares my perspective and lifestyle. Alcohol and weed do not have a casual place in my life. Thank you for honoring my choice to listen to my intuition. It’s never been wrong.”

I re-read the text. My intuition has never been wrong.

It’s true. I’ve always sensed an internal compass setting my course. An internal GPS, you might say.

A Guiding Protective Source.

That doesn’t mean I’ve followed it consistently. If that was the case, Bob and I never would have met.

There are many many situations in my past where I paved my own trail, against the GPS, and without fail I’ve encountered hardship, regret and despair.

Even when major red flags are present, it isn’t always simple to tell left from right, or right from wrong. If I pay attention, I’ll notice my GPS signaling through my mind and body via emotions, sensations, and feelings.

guiding protective source

In the case of “Bob: to date or not to date?” there were immediate signals, but I just wasn’t convinced we couldn’t connect. I could easily be persuaded to be “just friends” or let him teach me to mountain bike. When paying careful attention to my body’s reaction, it was evident: my stomach felt queasy and my heart sped up a little. The wrong kind of excitement stewed under the surface – the kind of energy that simmers when there’s potential for trouble. 

Breathing into my heart, I let my soul listen. The answer was a resounding “Bob is a no-go.”

Decision made, my body relaxed and my heart felt light with relief. A sure sign I was taking the correct route to safety and well-being.

In my years of drinking and and opiate abuse, I drowned out that voice. I numbed my body and spirit until I could hardly sense my GPS at all.

Today, I’m awake and the volume’s on high.

Which means I have no excuse if I ever choose to ignore it. (You can hold me to that.)

As has been proven time and again in the “Single and Sober Saga”, dating isn’t to meet a guy, it’s to learn more about ME. This time was no different.

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The word Sober may be left up to the individual’s interpretation, but it’s not the word that matters, it’s the substance of the man himself that makes a difference in my opinion. And I want to date a man who’s substance isn’t altered by….well….substances.

 

So thanks Bob, for the extraordinary blog content. For showing me how often I still silence myself in favor of someone else’s comfort and for giving me an opportunity to declare boundaries and exercise my truth out loud. Thank you for reminding me how vital it is to live clean and sober, and how absolutely satisfied I am to stay single until I meet the right man, walking the same path.

Perhaps I’ll locate him via my GPS.

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

Want to read another one of my CRAZY dating stories? You won’t believe what the guy had at his house! 

Could you use support, structure and accountability on your recovery journey? I’d love to talk! Check out my website http://www.recoverandrise.com, and make sure to follow me, @scrubbedcleanrn

 

 

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