Dating in Early Sobriety—a Cautionary Tale
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Dating in Early Sobriety—a Cautionary Tale


Recovery divides my life into two seemingly convenient categories: Drunk Lucy and Sober Lucy. I had my first sip of alcohol at a wedding when I was 13, but I did not start to drink alcoholically until I was 17. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 19, and only then because I was three sheets to the wind.

I consider alcohol to be the most effective panty-dropper of all time—at least, it was for me. Back when I had no defense against the first drink, I didn’t even need to black out before I selected my prey for the night. I revved my engine by “pre-gaming:” four or five glasses of whiskey to start, two or three lines of cocaine and my choice of attention-grabbing, eccentric jewelry—the kind that requires negative sixteen fucks to be given in order to wear it.

After I had a few drinks in me, I felt stunning. I assumed every guy at the bar was there for my entertainment. Before the alcohol took its hold, my self-esteem didn’t have a fighting chance. I figured there was nowhere to go but up (or down on someone). By the time 9 pm rolled around, I was the Queen of Sheba.

I didn’t hook up with dudes every night. I did have other things to do. It’s just that I made a point to grow my roster. Half the time I bragged about my drunken novelty fucks, the other half I cried over why I couldn’t find a good boyfriend. I did my part to stay as safe as possible, though I took chances that to this day make me shudder.

On one of my rare hook-up free nights, in arguably one of the worst years of my drinking, I joined friends for karaoke. I purposely chose to sing “5o Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon. My friends thought it was a bizarre and hilarious choice. During my performance, some dude shouted out, “Whatddya know ‘bout 50 ways?” I shot back, “Sir, you don’t want to go there.” He smiled. Good thing he wasn’t cute, or I’d have shown him.

To date, I’ve done two fourth-step sex inventories. I’ve slowed way down on my sexual consumption. But I still haven’t made the best choices as a retired sexpot/party girl.

I over-corrected when I got sober. No sex, drugs or alcohol for this girl. None of the things I used to cling to for support were there to terrify/console me. I threw myself at AA with the desperation of a dying woman—and it worked. I have remained sober. However, I took it as a sign from my Higher Power when I met someone a couple of days after I finished my 12 steps. I figured that my seven-month stint as a nun had expired. I had paid my dues and it was time to take the plunge into a relationship. I’m pretty sure now I just really wanted to have sex. Either way, I paid dearly.

My first sober AA boyfriend had great taste in music. He also had troubles with the law. Two months into our relationship, he took me on a special date to tell me he was going to be under house arrest for six months. I cried over our gourmet pizza dinner, then I got pissed. I dipped into the shallow end of my knowledge of the 12-steps in order to avoid passing judgment. I thought I was in love with this man. I thought I could handle the wreckage of his past. Who was I to judge him?

I searched far and wide to find a way to make things work. Truth be told, I wanted to get mine. I was sober, therefore I deserved to be in love. My then-sponsor told me, “Honey, let the man go. It’s the right thing to do.” I objected because I perceived this as a judgment. I had been too quick to dump guys in the past to avoid intimacy. I tended to qualify, categorize, analyze and judge all of the ways a man was just no good for me. I rarely gave anyone a real chance. I wanted to be different for this guy.

So we fought. Ugly-cry, gut-wrenching, below-the-belt fights. I hated that he wouldn’t work his steps. I tried to micro-manage his sobriety. I appointed myself to be his side-piece sponsor. This did not go over well. I ended up cheating on him because I didn’t know a better way out. (I did, actually, but I was too proud to break up with him and admit failure.)

I think feelings are the worst. I hate the threat of intimacy, especially when I am not prepared. I jump into things too quickly for fear of missing out on the potential for true love. These are things I know about myself now, only after almost 18 months of sobriety. I’ve learned that I cannot work my recovery out on someone I’m dating. I don’t need to stay with a guy to punish myself for past indiscretions—it isn’t fair to either person.

I work on self-forgiveness with my sponsor and David Bowie as my Higher Power. I know that slut-shaming myself is not productive. I work to forgive myself. A boyfriend can’t help me to unfuck all of the men from my past, just like I can’t help him stay out of jail. I can see these things because I don’t drink my feelings. My current sponsor reminds me that every man, every relationship and every heartache delivers opportunities to heal. I know she’s right—she is nine years sober and accepts herself.

Relationship drama once fueled my drinking. Alcohol and the sexually adventurous, random European men I bedded were complicit in robbing me of love for myself. True love never got a chance to take flight, only I did. I fled the chance to be honest. I fled the right to connect with myself. I fled to be anywhere but in my own skin.

Because I’ve made mistakes, I know a few helpful things about dating in early sobriety. My past matters, but it doesn’t have to strong-arm me into unhealthy relationships.

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About Author

Lucy is a writer, recovering politico and sober alcoholic following her bliss. She lives in Virginia with her husband and manages Pop Up Write Up, a creative, supportive online space for writers to share new ideas.