“'Two sickies don’t make a welly,’ my 80-year-old sponsor used to say.” According to James, a 33-year-old photographer from Los Angeles who’s been sober for eight years, when he first came to AA he listened to what his sponsor told him and religiously avoided dating women in the program.He didn’t date anyone at all for the first six months—he was in a Salvation Army men’s rehab anyway, so it wasn't like he had much of a choice.But when he finally entered the realm of sober dating, it was with a good chunk of sobriety under his belt, a strong program and a great relationship with his sponsor.
I guess I still liked hanging around screwed up people, even if I wasn’t using. I still found something sexy about it.”The Big Book doesn’t specifically state that dating is forbidden in the first year of sobriety, but you’ll hear this suggestion bandied around the rooms plenty of times. Christine Milrod, a sex and life coach in LA, suggests that this is because “many people in recovery have previously used for so long that they have no idea of who they truly are.
They need to get to know themselves on a very deep level and enjoy self-acceptance before rushing into a sexual relationship.” She advocates psychotherapy for examining past behaviors and coming into the self-acceptance necessary for entering into healthy relationships.
While Mary, a 26-year-old former heroin addict in Oakland, agrees with this assessment, she also admits that staying single in sobriety—particularly during the first year—is challenging.
“I only have a few months, and probably shouldn’t be dating anyone,” she confesses. It’s really hard to stay single when you feel like you’re giving up so much other stuff at the same time.” Dr. Falling in love is a sign that you are being restored to health.”Take it very, very slow.
Rosalyn Dischiavo, a sexologist and licensed addiction counselor, has a cheerier outlook: “There is another, more optimistic truth about love in early sobriety: it shows that you are healing. Date like it's 1955, whether it's with someone new, or with your current partner or spouse. Belisa Vranich—a clinical psychologist specializing in sex and relationships—all agree that there is no reason why addicts and alcoholics shouldn’t be dating other addicts and alcoholics.
Go to the movies, take a walk in the park, go skiing together, but slow down and give the intimacy a chance to develop. According to Milrod, the most important foundation is simply that “sobriety needs to be a priority.
The problem with “sober dating” is that even if you’re not using and have a considerable degree of recovery behind you, a lot of people in recovery still unconsciously identify with and seek out other addicts and alcoholics as partners. Sober people are often drawn to those who are using for a variety of complex reasons—among them, because it’s kind of like relapsing without going out, because it gives an edge of danger to a “normal” sober life which lacks the drama and tragedy of using years, or because it might make an addict feel powerful to not be the “identified patient” in the relationship. If a relationship starts to threaten the recovery process, it needs to end.” Dr.
Belisa likes to tell her clients to adhere strictly to a set of dating rules: “I’d love to tell you that the first rule is that there are no rules but it’s actually quite the opposite,” she says.
Her rules include avoiding “testing” yourself by going to bars and other places of temptation, no dating those with significantly less time (such as newcomers in the first year)—and, most importantly, don’t fall in love for the first year. “You’re more at risk for obsessive distracting love when you’re supposed to be focusing on your sobriety,” she says.