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Dating Someone in Recovery.

6 January 2017

A new friend reached out to me with a question. They’ve recently begun dating a person in recovery, sober around seven years. The question was, how does a “normal” person date a sober person? My friend wants to be supportive of the recovery, because they think there’s a real chance for a good relationship here. But they also don’t know what being supportive actually looks like. How do we know what it means to support someone when we don’t even really understand what being in recovery means – besides no longer drinking?

Specifically, they wanted to know: should they clear all the alcohol out of their home? Should they refrain from drinking with dinner? These are serious questions which can give normal people a lot of anxiety. But luckily, at least in this case, they have easy answers: no, and no.

A person who is seven years sober, and working a strong program, as seems to be the case here, doesn’t need others to safeguard their sobriety. By the time this much time has gone by and we have done the 12 steps and are working regularly on daily maintenance, we know our danger-spots, we know our triggers, and we have tools and systems in place to protect us.

That doesn’t mean we could all date someone who keeps booze in the house. But if we know we can’t, then we seek out dates in places where the person we date isn’t going to keep booze in the house. We bring it up first, before we’re in the situation. Our sobriety is our own responsibility. The same is true about drinking with dinner. If I didn’t feel comfortable dating someone who had wine with dinner, I wouldn’t date them. But I have no expectation that anyone will change their own relationship with alcohol to suit my needs.

In fact, I really don’t want them to. That way lies codependence. I don’t want anyone resenting me because they “used to be able to drink with dinner”. I don’t want anyone walking on eggshells for fear that my sobriety is so fragile that their glass of wine might derail it. And I don’t want to date someone who changes themselves in some way to try to be a better fit for me.

When you date someone in recovery, someone with long-term, established sobriety who works a strong program, you get to be you. Go do your thing. We’re dating you because we like you the way you were when we found you. We appreciate your support, and are glad you didn’t reject us because we are in recovery. Lots of people do. But we’re really just ordinary people with a single disability. We can’t drink normally.

You don’t need to start attending open meetings. You don’t need to read the Big Book. It’s nice if you become passingly familiar with the steps and the program, but it’s not necessary. But what will be necessary is not to compete with AA. Those of us in recovery need it to be first, for the most part. We’re not choosing AA over you. We’re choosing AA so that we can also choose you. Without recovery being first, we can’t have a relationship with you at all.

So, don’t feel rejected or put out when we take a night or two (or three) a week to go to meetings. When we have dinner with other drunks. When we work with others. You won’t be neglected. We will make time for you. But we also have important routines that we must keep up in order to stay safe and sober and sane. Let us do that, so that we can also attend to you.

One positive thing? Celebrate our anniversaries with us. They mean more than we say.

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