The advice to not date or become involved with someone intimately during early recovery is a frequent point of resistance. People involved in 12-step programs often rely on the “one-year rule” for guidance. In other words, it is recommended that someone not date during their first year of recovery. Because there is a lot of resistance to this guideline and the results from dating can be detrimental to one’s sobriety, let’s look at some of the important reasons WHY dating during the first year of recovery is not advised.
1. Me Time
The focus of early recovery should be laying a strong foundation for long-term sobriety and this involves searching deep within ourselves. Personal reflection and self-analysis is an important step to knowing ourselves and learning to accept and love ourselves. Our work to understand ourselves can be undermined or become convoluted if our efforts are distracted by a budding romance.
New romances are not only distracting they can quickly become all-consuming. They may initially feel great, but it doesn’t take long before we find ourselves slipping into old patterns, habits and behaviors. It also becomes very difficult to sort out what are my issues to work on and what are someone else’s.
You can truly only love someone to the extent that you love yourself. Recovery is essentially about finding and loving yourself and this cannot be achieved through dating another person. Romantic relationships can be appealing because they can temporarily numb pain we may feel from facing our personal hardships, behaviors and past. Cultivating love, respect, and care for yourself is the key to establishing healthy and lasting relationships down the road. People sometimes are lulled into thinking they are healthier because they are in a new relationship, but there is no short cut to becoming healthy. It involves time with yourself.
2. It’s an Attachment Problem
Early recovery can be the most uncomfortable time period of our lives because our attachment for coping with the world (our drug) has been stripped away. In addition, we often need to strip out many other areas from our using past: old using friends, unhealthy places to live, unhealthy past activities and just about every other aspect of our former using-lives. This is a lot of change. Many feel a need to attach to another person for comfort, instead of working on self-regulation and healthy ways coping with this change.
Often the attachment to a new person can feel incredibly strong and lasting. But because it does not have a strong foundation, it is a really false sense of comfort that does not last. Drugs can be viewed as a maladaptive attachment attempting to fill a void of unmet needs. Jumping into a dating relationship will only perpetuate the cycle of unmet needs. This is because the recovering individual doesn’t have the time and space to see what their unmet needs are or how to approach them appropriately.
In early recovery, it is important to recognize the relationship we had with our addiction. Addiction was almost certainly the main focus of our lives. There were times we may have felt joy, relief, comfort and understood. And of course there were times we felt abused, helpless and a victim to our addiction. We form a strong attachment to our addiction. When the drug is removed, it is comparable to a romantic break-up and therefore it needs to be grieved as such. We put a lot of time, money, energy and emotion into our addiction and it is important to grieve the loss of all these things. Sitting with this emotional withdrawal or void is uncomfortable, so people will sometimes jump into a romantic relationship as a way to fill the void. Similarly, people will replace drugs with sex as a way to achieve a quick fix. The same patterns and behaviors that were used to get and use drugs are often used to get romance or sex. When this happens, one addiction has been traded for another. We can only break free when we understand what is underneath our addictive behaviors.
3. People, Places and Things
Early in recovery our new way of thinking and coping with the world is new and immature and therefore we are often inclined to rely on old behaviors and old ways of thinking. This is especially apparent when we notice the type of partners we choose to date in early recovery. At this point, our lives are more defined by the addiction world than the recovery world. It is no coincidence that people in early recovery tend to be attracted to people still using or equally new to recovery. Also, because our relationship with our addiction was one-sided in favor of the addiction, we often see people getting involved in relationships that are just as one-sided. These relationships are often filled with drama and chaos. It is common for those new-to-recovery to become over-involved and hyper-focused on the new relationship.
When healthy coping skills are under-developed, we run the increased risk of relapse. If the relationship doesn’t work out and the couple breaks up, the main coping skill people choose tends to be the substance of their addiction.
The underlying concern for dating in early recovery is that it provides a distraction from the real task at hand, which is working on ourselves. This may be confusing because a strong recovery program involves sober connections and community. However, it is easy to mistake vulnerability and intimacy of the sober community for romance and sex. If you are contemplating dating in early recovery ask yourself if you are at the place you want to be and if the role was reversed would I be someone I would want to date right now. If the answer is no, don’t take it as shaming or discouraging news, take it as a reminder that you are learning and growing into the person you want to become. It won’t be long before you ARE the person you would want to date.
Written By: New Hope Recovery Center
New Hope Recovery Center is located in Chicago and offers individualized alcohol and drug addiction treatment in a loving supportive environment. Contact New Hope Recovery Center at 888-707- 4673 (HOPE).
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