Dating While in a Recovery Program Like AA

If you’ve taken the difficult step of addressing addiction, you may already realize that making such a huge — but positive — life change has a ripple effect on all other parts of your life. And especially early on, you may worry about how to navigate some life activities without alcohol, drugs, or any other addiction.

Going into recovery means taking away what was likely your biggest coping mechanism. It’s unexplored territory that may leave you with more questions than answers, especially in terms of how best to address changes in your social life. While how you choose to move forward once you’ve decided to face addiction is a completely personal decision, here are some things to keep in mind if you plan on dating while in a twelve-step recovery program.

Take it slow

Yes, recovery really is a one-day-at-a-time situation. Deciding to stop substance abuse is a milestone event — but it’s the first of many. As appealing as the idea of a life with addiction completely behind you is, it’s just not the way it works for most people. Healing takes time, and for most people, recovery is an ongoing process.

Since one of the biggest components of stopping addictive practices is changing habits like how and when you socialize, you may find the first few months of recovery lonely, especially if many of your friends were people you drank or did drugs with.

While you may want to start dating right away, consider waiting. Developing new social circles is an important part of recovery, but so are listening to your own thoughts and not replacing one distraction (drinking or drugs) with another (dating).

There’s no one right time to start dating. That’s up to you to decide. But don’t feel like you have to rush it.

Meetings aren’t meat markets

Going to twelve-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous will put you in close contact with people who understand what you’re going through, and being in a room full of people being vulnerable with one another creates close bonds that may result in attraction.

But that vulnerability is part of what makes the program work. And part of what facilitates that vulnerability is the understanding that people are all there for the same purpose. Respect the values of the room and don’t use it as an opportunity for flirting.

Work with your sponsor

An important part of the twelve-step process is finding a sponsor to help guide you through the steps and provide day-to-day guidance when difficult situations crop up. A good sponsor is someone who has a significant amount of time in recovery, and is someone who help you navigate some of the most difficult choices you’ll make in sobriety.

Ultimately, who you choose to date and when is your decision. But listen to their advice when it comes to dating. The value of twelve-step programs comes from building on the support and experience of those who have been in the program longer. A sponsor isn’t a therapist. They’re just a trusted person with more experience in sobriety than you have.

Learn your own boundaries

When you do begin to socialize and date again, listen to your heart.

But be wary of situations that may put your sobriety at risk.

For some people, this means not socializing with people who drink, or avoiding bars or restaurants that serve alcohol. But you may find that those are situations that don’t trigger you. You’ll learn what works for you and what doesn’t. If you’re unsure, talk to your sponsor about how to navigate the situation.

Letting people know

When you start dating, it’s up to you how much you share about your sobriety. If you’re sure you only want to date people who don’t drink or use drugs, it’s worthwhile to be open about your sobriety from word one. However, you may know yourself well enough to feel comfortable with someone who does drink in moderation. There’s nothing dishonest about not putting your sobriety front and center. After all, it’s just one part of you.

That being said, If someone asks you out for drinks, it’s probably less uncomfortable to say you don’t drink in advance. But you don’t owe anyone any more than that: the amount of time you’ve been sober, what motivated you to get sober, and any number of other questions are questions you aren’t obligated to answer on a first date.

It’s very possible that letting people know you’re in recovery will turn some people off.

And while it can be disappointing, it’s a blessing in disguise: it weeds out people who aren’t interested in supporting you and your sobriety.

While some people may simply prefer to date people who enjoy wine tasting or cocktails, others may not want to have to ask the difficult questions of themselves that may crop up when dating a sober person. Either way, those are their hangups, not yours.

Be willing to wait for the right person to come into your life. Don’t settle for someone who drags you back into a life you’ve worked to put behind you.

Meeting people outside of meetings

There is far less stigma against sobriety than there used to be. Being open about not drinking is less taboo, and options like zero-proof mocktails are becoming more and more common. On the best dating apps, you’ll find sober folks represented in healthy numbers. Again, go ahead and be as open or as private as you’d like to be in your profile. It’s your choice.

And while meetings should be off-limits for dating, there are plenty of other options for getting to know other single sober folks in your area. In some areas, some twelve-step groups may have larger events meant specifically for socializing. Just like any other social situation, you don’t want to come on too strong and make anyone uncomfortable, but there’s more flexibility to get to know folks outside of meetings.

There are also more and more online services and apps made specifically for sober daters. These can be a great way to find other sober folks — on your own timeline, and without compromising the twelve-step meetings that are so valuable to maintaining your sobriety.

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