Is Healthy Dating In Recovery Even Possible?
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Is Healthy Dating in Recovery Even Possible?


This post was originally published on May 29, 2014.

So we’ve all heard on numerous occasions the suggestion in the rooms that unless you’re already in a relationship when entering recovery, you shouldn’t get into one in the first year. Yada yada, like anyone pays any heed to that! How often do we hear about people finding the love of their lives in a meeting within the first month off the booze? Very often. And how often do we hear of people going back out because the love of their life turned out to be a slightly psychotic stalker type and not the loving spiritual being they’d imagined? Also very often. The barroom drama of screwing around, jealousy and sexual competitiveness does not magically disappear when people quit drinking or using or both. If you want to witness some of the most twisted relationship encounters, you need go no further than the rooms of recovery…of any kind. With the absence of our beloved chemicals to kill the pain of rejection and betrayal and hoist up our self esteem, how do we cope? Well we go back out, we move onto the next unsuspecting soul or we grab ourselves by the back of the neck and get well. Alas, there are lots of emotional casualties left bleeding slowly to death as a result of one of the favorite pastimes of both early recovery participants and not-so-early recovery participants.

Yes, dating in sobriety is a tricky obstacle course to navigate. Amidst the sea of unbridled emotions and neediness, we can find ourselves very confused when it comes to love and sex. So what about after that first year, when we’re supposedly healthy enough to dip a toe back into the sea of love? Personally, I think it will take me a lifetime to become healthy enough to be trusted with another person’s love and attention. My hat’s off to anyone who has it together enough to go there after a year. I’m four-and-a-half years into recovery and I’m still that “scary as shit girl, steer well clear” when it comes to romance. At least that’s how I feel. I have roughly the emotional maturity of a 15-year old when it comes to men. Well, maybe that’s not true—more like 17.

I think my Higher Power put me in a home group with men that I wasn’t remotely attracted to, which helped me avoid the bed hopping antics of some of my fellow recovery members; this was a life saver, in my opinion. Or maybe they didn’t find me in the least bit attractive, because I never seemed to get hit on. Either way, I’m grateful that it didn’t happen. It’s pretty cool being able to walk into a room without the memory of previous sexual antics being flashed in my face and disturbing my spirituality. I’ve dated only one man from inside the rooms and to say it brought up a new set of challenges is an understatement.

Let’s face it, the issue of dating and finding love seems to be an eternal conundrum for all humans since the beginning of time, which is of course why it’s been the focus of so much literature. Romeo and Juliet anyone? Lots of desire, passion and drama for the most ardent of romance fans. And of course let’s not forget Kathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Lots of broken hearts that eventually led to a lot of death in the name of love. But throw an addictive personality into the mix and you have the recipe for a novel even Jackie Collins couldn’t have anticipated. When you take the addictive substance out of the equation and get some quality sobriety time behind you, all the so-called character defects you have unearthed and refuse to let go of seem to become superpowers in relationships. Take manipulation; addicted people are often experts in the art of manipulation. After years of cheating, stealing and lying our way through the consumption of chemicals, we have it down to a fine art. Now put two of these sober experts together and holy tornados, there’s destruction. We 12-steppers are armed with a whole new set of insults that “normies” couldn’t possibly understand. We say things to each other like, “Well, you’re obviously not working your program if you can disregard my feelings like that” or “Clearly you need a new sponsor because how your living your life is not program” or “Looks like you need to do another 4th step, as you seem to be having issues with honesty.” And my particular favorite for those who don’t have a sponsor: “Being a self-regulated dry drunk is going to send you back out…asshole!”

Now, to a non-addicted person, these statements seem harmless and possibly genuine concerns about a loved one. But to recovering people, particularly those that have some years behind them and quite a bit of program knowledge, these comments are on a par with normal people telling their significant other that they are a complete scum of the earth asshole and deserve to die a most grievous, painful and slow death. Yes, we can judge each other to a level we have never been judged before.

But when things are going well, two 12-steppers in a relationship can be the most amazing experience imaginable. We have a thorough understanding of the shared challenges. We share a deep spiritual journey and can lift each other up in the most spectacular manner when we aren’t doing so well. And with all that deep feeling and newfound passion for life, the sex can be pretty darn hot. But when things are bad, they are devastating.

So then, a wise person might suggest, it would surely be better for a recovering person to date a non-recovering person? Well, I’ve been there and done that too. And here lies yet another set of problems. Normal people don’t understand why 12-steppers just can’t stop using without all these meetings and steps and stuff. They can feel left out of the loop and neglected because they are not part of our recovery world. Sometimes they can view it as a secret society that they are not welcome to participate in. They can become insecure about the new friends we make and all these program phone calls. A large wedge can develop between a couple if the non-recovering person doesn’t understand.

And so therein lies the dilemma. It is indeed like trying to choose between two different versions of the same species. Whether we like it are not, we addicts are different on many levels from non-addicts, especially in terms of our thought process and emotional complexities. We can be hard to have a relationship with. At least I know I am. I’ve been told often enough. So how can we win in the love stakes? I guess I’m not the person to answer that question. I’m a love disaster. But I have seen relationships blossom and grow between people who are both in recovery. I have also seen relationships between addicts and non-addicts transition from hopeless to beautiful and nurturing. I have also seen people in the rooms struggle to find the right person and remain single for many years and find it perfectly cool to not have a significant other. Me? Well, who knows? At the moment, whether it’s normie or an addict, I still manage to rightly fuck it up.

Will this dilemma ever end? I’ll definitely let you know if I find out the answer.

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About Author

Nicola O’Hanlon is part of the blogging community for the recovery website You can see her blogs on She was born and still lives in Wexford, Ireland.