By Paul Clarke
Are you dating a recovered addict? Or perhaps your spouse is in recovery, and you need advice about how to avoid risking their recovery? Or perhaps you are a recovered addict, and you seek guidance on entering a new relationship without jeopardizing your recovery?
Whatever the situation you find yourself in, here are eight tested tips for dating somebody in recovery. This guide compiles tips from experts as well as a number of tips we discovered by questioning folk who've managed to sustain a loving relationship despite prior addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. By the time you finish reading this handy guide, you will be armed with several strategies for effectively dating somebody who is now in recovery.
Meet Shelley and Steve
Shelley is 32 years old and lives in San Diego. In the past, Shelley’s held two long-term relationships, but she remains single. One day, Shelley meets Steve through an online dating website. At first, Shelley is crazy about Steve, but she subsequently discovers Steve is a recovered addict.
Unfortunately, Shelley feels Steve’s prior addiction is due to some sort of moral failing on his part. She assumes Steve must be a wild one, and she tells her close friends of this fact.
After all, unlike Steve, Shelley is normal and doesn’t really understand much about addiction let alone about being in recovery. But Shelley continues dating Steve.
Shelley has been dating Steve for a month now. She decides to invite Steve to her cousin’s wedding. At the wedding, Shelley drinks a massive amount of alcohol. This tests Steve’s resolve to its limit. Steve’s resolve finally breaks, and he decides to have that one drink. However, that one drink turns into a three-day bender. By the end of this bender, Steve stops drinking. However, Steve is now addicted to alcohol.
When he stops drinking alcohol, he suffers from withdrawal symptoms. Steve reluctantly checks himself into a local detox unit. This costs Steve several thousand dollars. Following this nightmare, Steve decides to call the relationship quits.
The above is a nightmare scenario anyone in recovery will wish to avoid. If Shelley had followed the advice below, surely Steve would have avoided this harsh relapse and their relationship could have blossomed.
Without further ado, I offer up these seven tips for dating somebody in recovery and avoiding this cruel situation now faced by Shelley and Steve.
1. Get over the shock that your date is living in recovery.
Unfortunately, society often judges recovered addicts harshly. But why is this so? Well, the answer is simple: Society tells us that addiction is bad. And unfortunately, people often equate recovery with addiction, even though the two are polar opposites!
However, if your new date reveals he or she is a former addict, then it's important you don't make too much of an issue out of that fact. And it's essential that you do not dismiss their prior addiction as some kind of character flaw. A prior addiction to drugs and/or alcohol definitely should not translate into a death sentence for this person’s love life.
Simply put, being a past addict should not equal doom for future relationships. It's likely he or she used to live a very different lifestyle to his or her current one. But if you're to make the relationship work, it's essential you are at ease with your date’s recovery. In fact, we recommend you positively embrace your date's recovery.
And let's not forget that recovered addicts are often extremely healthy individuals. Many recovered addicts have spent countless hours educating themselves about nutrition, healthy eating, relationships, self-awareness and exercise. Rather than begrudgingly avoiding drugs and/or alcohol, most recovered addicts are active in their recovery program. And this usually translates into a healthy and more active lifestyle the rest of us could only dream about!
2. Determine how long your new date has been in recovery.
This step requires you to gather relevant facts regarding your date’s recovery. As a general rule, the longer your date has been in recovery the better. As the saying goes, “Time heals all wounds,” and this is particularly true when it comes to being in recovery. If your date has been in recovery for less than 12 months, know there is a greater risk of his or her relapse.
Relapse is when a recovered addict returns to old addictive ways. And it really does go without saying that a relapse could result in an early termination of your hard-earned relationship. In fact, some experts even advise that you should not start a relationship with somebody who has been in recovery for less than 12 months.
Although I would not go this far, I would urge you to at least be aware that being in recovery for less than a year carries a substantially higher risk of relapse when compared to dating somebody with more than a year's worth of recovery experience.
3. Determine how active your date is at maintaining his or her recovery.
Recovered addicts are encouraged to actively work on their recovery. For this reason, there are many support groups located in most towns and cities catering for this need. The most famous support groups are Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotic Anonymous and SMART Recovery.
Being in recovery is more of a verb than a noun. This means the recovered addict should engage in an active program of recovery. This typically involves attending support groups, partaking in hobbies that keep them occupied, volunteering and practicing self-help. Living in recovery definitely should not be about reluctantly avoiding alcohol and drugs.
I thus advise you to subtly learn what steps your date is doing to stay in recovery. If your date is attending meetings, volunteering and/or improving his or her self, then this should give you more confidence in taking the relationship to that next step.
4. Attend group meetings with your new date.
Many people living in recovery continue to attend support/group meetings even many years after their drug or alcohol use came to a stop. It is unlikely your new date will reveal his or her continued attendance to you, so go ahead and ask your date whether he or she still attends these support groups. This shows you are open-minded and willing to learn about what life is like in recovery.If your date confirms he or she does attend a support group, offer your support by offering to attend, too.
5. Avoid alcohol.
If your date is an ex-alcoholic, then it goes without saying that you should really consider avoiding alcohol when out on a date. To do otherwise would be extremely insensitive to your date's position regarding alcohol. If you wish to develop a more serious relationship with your date, then we would recommend you consider giving up alcohol yourself. And by doing so, you'll also improve your own health! If your relationship becomes more than just dating, you may also need to avoid certain social events where alcohol is readily available. This includes birthdays, weddings, most parties and even funerals.
6. Don't write your date off as damaged goods.
Many prior addicts now living in recovery will come to a new relationship with baggage. This is because recovered addicts often come from abusive and unhappy families. The recovered addict may have experienced emotional and physical abuse at the hands of a parent, step-parent or sibling. This baggage often means recovered addicts struggle to develop trust in new relationships. But know that past dysfunctional relationships absolutely does not naturally lead to future dysfunctional relationships.
Unfortunately, many recovered addicts do not see this fallacy and instead continue to seek out unhealthy relationships even when their sobriety is firmly established. When you start dating a recovered addict, it's important for you to understand their past and to help them realize that you are different from people they've interacted with in the past.
7. Learn about the science of addiction.
I urge you to learn about the science addiction. This includes learning about the disease theory of addiction. The disease theory of addiction says that addiction is a disease and not due to the addict's moral failings. Addiction is classified as a chronic, relapsing brain disease, requiring lifelong maintenance in order to defeat.
8. Know that relapses do happen.
Unfortunately, addiction is a disease. And being in recovery is not a cure, per se. Studies say around 45 percent of recovered addicts will suffer from at least one relapse in their lifetime.
So if you decide to take the relationship to that next step, at least know relapse could occur at some point in the future. That being said, not all recovered addicts will suffer a relapse, and most relapses are easily corrected before too much damage is inflicted on the sufferer's health, career and relationships.
I urge you not to write off a date simply because he or she is a recovered addict. However, I am not saying a recovered addict is Mr. or Ms. Right simply because he or she is now in recovery. I am simply saying you must evaluate the merits of developing a more serious relationship based on many different facts, including how long the person has been in recovery and what steps they are making to maintain their recovery.
Paul Clarke is a UK-based blogger for Rehab 4 Addiction. Rehab 4 Addiction offers free advice for people suffering from drug and/or alcohol addiction.