Dating in Recovery: View Relationships Through a Sober Lens

Recovery can often feel like a very solitary process. Even people who are robustly supported by family, friends, counselors and programs during recovery still find that the journey can feel very insular due to the intensity of a process that requires so much self-reflection. This is why stepping back into the dating world can be an odd experience for someone in recovery. Even someone who has been in long-term relationships before may find that they have to "relearn" how to be in a relationship as a person in recovery. For this reason, it can often be important to tread lightly on the dating path. Take a look at some things to keep in mind if you're ready to explore sober dating. 

Consider a Dedicated Sober Period Before Jumping Back into Dating

Many people in recovery give themselves the gift of not looking for love right away. In many cases, this looks like a period of not pursuing or engaging in romantic relationships for up to a full year. The intensity of entering into a new relationship can sometimes make remaining in recovery difficult. This is especially true if there was an element of codependency in your addictive behaviors. The ups and downs of love can be triggering for some people who find that maintaining sobriety is tough when intense emotional situations pop up. What's more, the time and focus that often go into new relationships can take the focus off of sobriety. 

Evaluate Your Motives for Finding Love 

For many people in recovery, there is the risk of "transferring addictions" to other areas of life. When this happens, the person is seeking the instant gratification that they once sought from a specific substance or compulsion. On a biochemical level, love is a kind of drug. This is why it's essential to make sure you're not simply looking for another emotional outlet to get "wrapped up in." A romantic relationship should not be a distraction, replacement or avoidance tactic.  

Falling in love can create the same sensation of euphoria experienced by people when they take cocaine, according to researchers at the Syracuse University. The researchers discovered that falling in love triggers euphoria-inducing chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine and adrenaline in 12 areas of the brain that work simultaneously. In the early stages of recovery, dopamine receptors are often not back in balance. This can make a person susceptible to the naturally occurring "chemical rush" of love. In fact, people recovering from substance use may not have dopamine levels restored to full balance for an entire year. Also important to note is the fact that "love going wrong" can have a significant impact on emotional well-being of a person in recovery.  

Try to Date Someone Beyond Your "Sphere" 

One of the practical tips to follow when dating while in recovery is to avoid striking up a romantic relationship with anyone you see in your day-to-day life. The simple reason is that being forced to see a person if a relationship goes sour can be very triggering. For this reason, it's wise to try to avoid dating someone at work. If you're utilizing things like recovery meetings or gym classes as part of your plan for staying focused and healthy during recovery, try to avoid dating within those spheres. The fact of the matter is that routine is so important during recovery. Being forced to change your routine to avoid someone following a breakup can become an obstacle to recovery.  

Be Honest 

When entering the dating world after beginning a sober journey, many people feel reluctant to share the truth. They may feel worried that a potential romantic partner will lose interest if they open up about sobriety. However, the reality is that sobriety is part of the "total package" when someone is dating you. What's more, failing to share the truth about your sobriety could put you in uncomfortable situations. For instance, a romantic partner might take you out for a night on the town that includes a stop for drinks. This can put a lot of pressure on you if you don't want to disappoint your date by not ordering a drink. It's also important to honor the fact that the person you're engaging with deserves to know you as a "whole" person instead of being put in the position to fall for someone who is holding back. 

Final Thoughts: A Romantic Relationship Is Never a Replacement for Recovery Work 

Meeting someone new and exciting may make you feel better than you've felt in a long time. However, that's no reason to ease up on your recovery efforts. It's crucial to stay on track with therapy, meetings and other supports you're using to maintain your sobriety. Utilizing the support systems that you've built up can help you enjoy dating without worries about the ups and downs of relationships, putting you at risk for relapses. If you're not already working with a therapist, you might want to consider beginning therapy to navigate sober dating cautiously.

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