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By Aimee Runyon

For those of us recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, dating can be a complicated and confusing world. When you finally do decide to start dating again it is important to seek the advice of those in your support group to make sure the time is right.

Many people are aware of the “one year rule” in 12-step programs, which suggest waiting at least a year after getting clean to begin dating again. While this is just a suggested time period, many treatment professionals and old-timers have seen the consequences of dating in very early recovery. Whether it is a replacement to fill the void that drugs and alcohol used to fill, or a distraction from actually working on yourself, getting into a relationship too early can lead to complications and consequences for you and your partner.

Here are a few tips that can help you navigate the new world of dating in sobriety:

Tip #1 – Decide If You Want to Date Others in Recovery or “Normies”
This can be something that changes over time or on a case-to-case basis, although there are many who typically date one or the other.

While there are a lot of benefits to dating those in recovery, it can also lead to risky situations. There are often times in which one partner relapses and the other follows, although this isn’t a guarantee.

If you decide that you want to date non-recovering people, it’s best to have some clean time under your belt and be solid in your recovery, as this can lead to tempting situations.

You should also always be upfront about your recovery. Honesty from the beginning will help build the foundation for a lasting relationship. Although the idea of dating people with a past history of drug and alcohol use can be a turnoff for some, it won’t be for everyone. Being honest will also help establish accountability within the relationship that can help your new dating partner help you stay healthy.

Tip #2 – Make a List of What You are Looking for in a Partner
One of the best suggestions when it comes to dating in sobriety, is making a list of all the things you are looking for in a partner. There are many sponsors in 12-step programs who will suggest that once you make that list, you aim to achieve many of those qualities yourself, then you naturally attract people who have those qualities. If you’ve heard the old saying “water seeks its own level” this is what that speaks to. If you find yourself continuously attracting the “wrong” type of partner, this is a great way to figure out exactly what you want in a relationship.

Tip #3 – Keep Your Recovery First and Separate
One of the most important things to remember when dating in recovery is making sure your recovery is always your top priority. There are many exciting parts in the beginning of a relationship. For someone in recovery, that can lead to missed meetings, missed calls to your sponsor, and slacking on participation in your daily program. All of those are ingredients that can lead to relapse, so maintaining a recovery/life balance is key to not only lasting recovery but also lasting relationships.

If you decide to date someone who is in recovery, another important thing to remember is to keep your programs separate. This means limiting meetings that you attend together and limiting the amount you talk about your own recovery programs. Remember that your program is your own, and the same goes for your partner.

Tip #4 – Be Aware of the “Love Drug” Chemicals in Your Brain, Ease Into It
On top of the excitement that comes with meeting a potential new partner, scientifically we produce numerous hormones that can increase that excitement. For sober people, we must be aware of this “love drug.” A new relationship can very much become a replacement drug.

Many confuse infatuation with love, so it’s a good idea is to take it slowly. Again, make sure that you are at a place emotionally that can handle all of the new feelings that come with dating and be prepared if relationships don’t end the way you expected.

Tip #5 – Apply These Principles in All of Your Affairs, Including Your Relationship
When you enter a new relationship, it is essential to take the principles you learn in your program of recovery and apply them in your relationship. Applying the 12 steps to your relationship can lead to a relationship that has a great foundation, and can last if you put the work in. The principles behind the steps, such as honesty, open-mindedness, faith, integrity, and humility build solid relationships. Sincere apologies, empathy, and “keeping your side of the street clean” are all necessary in a happy relationship.

These are just some of the lifehacks for sober dating. There are many others to discover when speaking with others in recovery who have been through it themselves.

Just remember, it is impossible to love others if you don’t love yourself. If the relationship you have with yourself is healthy, it leads to genuine, lasting relationships with others. Keep this in mind as you dive into the seas of dating in sobriety.

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