Dating is not an exact science, and managing the dating process sans substances can make the experience an even more anxious one for those who had a previous dependency on alcohol or illicit substances. Anyone recovering from addiction or alcoholism knows that overcoming the damage done to personal and professional relationships can be one of the hardest aspects of recovery. Regardless of your story, getting back into dating is a stressful and trying process, particularly when you are unable to return to the substances that helped you cope prior to recovery. Of course, it is natural to feel a desire to get close to someone else. Going through recovery (even early recovery) does not exclude you from feeling this natural desire. Even so, those going through recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism are often left wondering if a relationship would be healthy for them, let alone if a relationship is plausible given their circumstances. The good news is you can still enjoy the dating process without drugs or alcohol. Clean dating can take more effort and willpower, but it is well worth it for those coming back from the edge of alcoholism or drug addiction. Since dating is not an exact science, clean dating will not necessarily look the same for everyone. However, if you are experiencing an unhealthy amount of anxiety as you face the possibility of returning to the dating scene, consider some of the following clean dating ideas as a good starting point.
Tip #1: Avoid Dating During the Early Stages of Recovery
It may not sound particularly encouraging, but the general consensus is that dating (even clean dating) during the early stages of recovery is a bad idea. There are a variety of reasons for this, but foremost among them is this: those in early recovery are generally more sensitive to changes in neurochemistry. New relationships are associated with a different kind of ‘rush’ or ‘high’ (either from the sex or simply from thinking about the other person). These quick changes in neurochemistry can make you more susceptible to your addiction. Dating at this stage is not healthy from a relationship standpoint, either, since the other person can be used as a kind of coping mechanism, making you much too dependent on that significant other.
Tip #2: Make Sure You’re on the Same Page
One of the most difficult aspects of returning to the dating scene after entering recovery is in facing the possibility of your prospective partner being a drinker. This is not necessarily a deal breaker, but research has shown that a higher percentage of breakups occurred when one person was sober and the other was a heavy drinker. It may seem preemptive to broach this topic on the first couple of dates, but if things start to look serious make sure you address your addiction or alcoholism with the one you are seeing. If honesty is the best policy, this becomes doubly true when wading back into the clean dating waters in recovery.
Tip #3: Make a Sans Substance Dating Plan
The most important person to focus on in recovery is you. While recovering relationships is certainly a crucial aspect of recovery as a whole, successfully abstaining from substances or alcohol requires developing a healthy self-image, a good amount of self-respect, and time to focus on your priorities. All of this does not just happen automatically, so it is important to create goals as you approach clean dating. Some goal ideas include:
- I will not date anyone who is addicted to or abusing substances
- I will not date anyone I don’t want my friends or family to know
- I will look for someone I can develop a long-term relationship with
- I will look for someone who helps me grow as a person
Tip #4: Recognize Healthy and Unhealthy Dating Ideas
While dating can be a fun way to get back into the social scene, it is also associated with triggers. For an alcoholic, it may not be the best idea to go out to a bar. For a recovering MDMA addict, it is probably a good idea to avoid dances and raves, at least early on. Consider some of these healthy, substance-free date ideas for your clean dating foray:
- Cliché or not, go for a coffee date
- Do something active, like playing tennis or going for a hike
- Take an art or fitness class together
- Go bowling or sing karaoke
- Stay in with a movie or board game
What Can You Do to Get Back Into the Clean Dating Scene?
Clearly, dating without substances or alcohol is far from impossible. With a commitment to your continued sobriety and self-affirmation, dating can be a way to return to healthy relationships for the recovering addict or alcoholic. If returning to the dating scene is on your radar, what is one way you can take a step toward this in recovery? Feel free to share your ideas in a comment below.