When you're new to recovery, you might start feeling a rush of emotions: excitement, fear, shame, guilt, peace. These emotions can be incredibly intense- it's as if you're a young child exploring the world taking in all your senses.
But what happens when you start experiencing the positive emotions of connection, intimacy, attraction, or even love? Can a meaningful relationship exist in early recovery? When is it too soon or too risky to start dating? Let's get into what you need to know.
Risks Of Dating In Early Recovery
In the early stages of recovery, you are rediscovering yourself. This rediscovery process is unique and often contingent on the variables that reinforced your addiction. You might be unpacking traumatic events from your past, working through new ways to cope with triggers, and mending old relationships.
This work can be as rewarding as it is exhaustive. Drugs and alcohol often numb people from experiencing life. Without these substances, you may feel somewhat raw and exposed.
Choosing Unstable or Unhealthy Partners
If you haven't truly worked on yourself, you may feel attracted to people who carry similar wounds as you. At first, this connection may feel euphoric. You have found someone who understands you! They see the best in you! They're also on the road towards recovery!
However, this is such a vulnerable time, and dating someone too soon can trigger codependent patterns. You may feel like your recovery depends on their recovery, leading to dire consequences if one of you relapses. Or, you might neglect your other relationships and priorities because you feel so consumed by this other person.
Distraction From Recovery Work
Early recovery can feel like a full-time job. You might be meeting with a therapist, attending meetings, sharing in support groups, working on your health and fitness, and reestablishing your financial wellness.
This work may feel tedious, even if it's crucial for your recovery. Therefore, it can feel so tempting to distract yourself with a new, romantic relationship.
But this can be a slippery slope, and it often starts out so subtle you fully don't recognize it. For example, you might still value attending meetings, but you only want to go if your partner goes. Or, you might understand the importance of therapy, but you find yourself cancelling a session because you both have work off that night.
Potential for Enabling
One of the greatest pitfalls of dating in early recovery is the risk for dangerous relapse behaviors.
For example, let's say that you decide to embrace full abstinence from drugs and alcohol. But your new partner drinks and smoking marijuana occasionally. What might happen? You find yourself wanting to join in!
There's nothing wrong with adjusting your recovery goals. But if you act impulsively, recklessly, or move away from your treatment plan, you face an immense risk for a full-blown relapse.
Tips for Dating in Early Recovery
If you're mindful of the risks and still want to date in early recovery, that's your choice! Some couples find great success. Here are some considerations.
Be Honest About Your Recovery
In the early stages, you can't afford to lie or withhold information about your recovery. This rule applies regardless of whether or not you're dating someone also in recovery from addiction.
While it may be tempting to pretend everything is fine, this approach often backfires. As mentioned, recovery is such a core part of your life in the early stages. It's the top priority, and if you don't honor its role in your rule, you risk jeoparding your progress.
Have a Separate Recovery Plan
Your recovery needs to be yours. You shouldn't try to share it with anyone else- doing so only reinforces a dependency on the other person to fulfill your specific needs.
This recovery plan should be comprehensive and tailored to your growth and well-being. Don't just assume your partner automatically knows what's best for you. Even if they care about you tremendously, that doesn't mean they know how to appropriately support you during this time.
Move Slowly and Maintain Your Boundaries
When it comes to dating, the slower you go, the better. Moving too quickly can result in you losing your autonomy and acting impulsively. It can also set you up to crash and burn- if you don't take the time to really know the person, you may jump in far too deeply without realizing you don't want to be with them.
If you are with the right person, they are willing to honor and respect your needs. They will understand your boundaries, and they will also expect you to follow theirs.
Dating in early recovery can be risky, but if you're going to do it, be safe and responsible. Remember that it's still crucial for you to focus on you and your needs during this time. It isn't selfish- it's an essential component of your well-being.
At The Resurface Group, we understand addiction, and we help people achieve meaningful recoveries. Contact us today to learn more!