“The plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.”
– Nick Hornby, British novelist and author of “How to Be Good”
Dating can be as uncomplicated as simply putting one foot in front of the other, or it can be as hazardous as walking blindfolded in a field of landmines. With unknown snipers taking pot-shots as you. And your shoe-laces tied together.
The beginning of any relationship (regardless of how long it is destined to last) is normally a time of expectation, even a little personal excitement, but it is also two people taking a chance on each other – both with unknown histories, personality quirks, and different daily lives.
Throw in the fact that the other person – not you – is a former drug addict, and is now in recovery… Now, that usually comes as a little bit of a shock, a real eye-opener, as it were, as much as we like to think we are a totally nonjudgmental, “never-judge-a-book-by-its-cover”-type person. The future of the relationship can even come down to your own history, your preconceptions of addiction, and how much you actually know about the disease.
My advice? Don’t sweat it. Too much.
I’ve sat on the other side of that “first date” table, tucked away in the corner of the local pizza restaurant. I’ve sat there because I was once an addict – cocaine and alcohol, for your information. All over 6 years ago now, and I’ve been clean and sober ever since.
Thankfully, I found addiction recovery through a Pennsylvania drug rehab center, and I’ve never looked back. However, I have dated a few people who “looked back” on my behalf, made their own (completely wrong) assumptions about the kind of man I was, and went straight to imagining me passed out in a drug den, with needles sticking out of my arm, and who then promptly left me sitting alone at that corner table, just waiting for the bill.
And that’s ok. It was ok then, and it’s ok now. I gave up bearing grudges and resentment a long time ago. However, I have learned a few things along the way (including a lot about inherent human nature, but that’s another article…), and it’s that knowledge, gained through experience, that’s shared below.
Disclaimer: I am no relationship counselor, kindred spirit guru, or sexpert. Just an ex-cocaine abuser and alcoholic who found addiction recovery 6 years ago, and learned a successful way to live a better, more understanding life.
Here are your “4 Helpful Tips on Dating a Recovering Addict”:
Addiction is medically described as “a chronic, relapsing brain disorder.” The most important, most telling word in that clinical definition is “relapsing.” It is the sole reason finding addiction recovery is a long, hard process. Ex-addicts can relapse, especially in early recovery. However, relapse isn’t failure – it never was, and never will be.
Recovery from any kind substance use disorder (SUD) is a journey. Just because someone turns around and walks back in the wrong direction doesn’t mean they jump straight back to the beginning – it just means they have to make up that ground again.
So if your new dating partner turns to you and says, “I want you to know that I’m an ex-addict, but I’m sober now,” you need to ask them for “How long?” Simple, and honest. If they tell you they slip occasionally, they’re still in denial, and you should walk away.
If they tell you, “I’ve been sober a couple of months,” still walk away. In early addiction recovery, there’s a saying – “Relationships = Relapse.” They’re still not ready for that in their life too.
However, if they tell you. “I have been clean and sober for X-number of years,” their recovery is working. Therefore, whether you walk away shouldn’t be judged on their past addiction. That doesn’t mean to say you forget about it (and human nature dictates that you won’t, anyway), but it does mean you need to see them actively living a sober life.
Undoubtedly, you will have questions. Ask them! You should ask questions that show you want to know them better, and gain a deeper understanding of them. Former addicts in recovery are, generally, open and honest people, and they’ll answer you as best they can.
We all have histories. If we’re honest, we all have things we regret from the past, and maybe feel shame about – a recovering addict more than most. Furthermore, we all have “emotional baggage.” And that’s not a bad thing – hopefully, we have come out better people as a result. Additionally, you need to understand that recovering addicts see their recovery as intrinsic to them as people now, and, quite rightly, they take pride in their sobriety.
Considering these points all together, recovering addicts will normally have histories they’re not proud of, but a new life they are. The ex-addict may still even have stuff going on that emanates from their past, eg. family issues, legal stuff, and so on. However, that wasn’t them creating the problem – the addiction creates the problem – it’s part of the disease. Consider this when you are learning about each other.
Recovering addicts don’t need you to be a counselor, a medical doctor or some kind of spiritualist. They just need you to be you. So be supportive when they need it, but don’t think you have to “cure” them in any way, or smother them in care. They’re doing fine dealing with that on their own.
Avoiding the Landmines…
So, there you have them – your “4 Helpful Tips on Dating a Recovering Addict”:
Follow this simple advice, and the addiction aspect of your new relationship will be successfully navigated, you’ll feel better for it, and you can just get on with one of the most vital parts of living – enjoying yourself.
Lastly, if you are a “relationship counselor” or “kindred spirit guru” (the relationship may not be ready for a “sexpert” yet), feel free to drop a comment below with your own advice. If you’re not either of these things, drop a comment anyway – recovering addicts like sharing.