Relationships are a big part of life, so they are a big part of recovery. In treatment, you may work on repairing family relationships in family therapy. You might learn communication skills that can help you build new, sober relationships. But dating is a different and sometimes more complicated type of intimacy. Sober dating can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before.
When I got sober, I had over a decade of dating experience behind me, but almost no experience meeting new dating partners sober. The idea of trying to start any kind of romantic relationship without the lowered inhibitions of booze or drugs was overwhelming.
Most 12-step fellowships suggest waiting until you have a year of sobriety before you date. I don’t use AA, but I was almost exactly a year sober when I started dating again. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but it felt right. While all of recovery is about growth, you really need to focus on yourself that first year as you learn who you are sober and how to live without substances.
If you spend that time learning what your boundaries are and how to set them, cementing your values, and identifying your patterns, you will set yourself up for a better dating experience. You’ll be more intentional about who you let in your life, the pace at which your relationships move, and what you want out of relationships. You will probably be more comfortable entering unfamiliar settings without substances, because you’ll have done so much work in other areas of life.
How Do Sober Relationships Differ From Ones in Active Addiction?
Sobriety also allows for healthier romantic relationships. Before I got sober, many of my dating relationships were unnecessarily dramatic and toxic. This is common in relationships where addiction is a factor.
I started seeing my current partner when I was just under a year and a half sober. Now at five years sober, I’ve grown a lot since then. But by the point we started dating, I had enough experience to approach this relationship significantly differently than I had previous romantic relationships.
This relationship has also been part of my growth. Dating can teach us a lot about communication, boundaries, having hard conversations, being vulnerable—all of which are important parts of recovery. When you date sober, you can be a lot more intentional about what you get out of and learn from the experience.
That’s all the deep, lofty stuff—but what do you do on a sober date?
What Can You Do on a Sober Date?
If you’re used to meeting up for a drink, you may be at a loss. But there are so many things you can do on a date sober. You could go bowling, meet for coffee or a fancy dessert, go on a hike or some other outdoors activity, go out for dinner. If you struggle around alcohol, you could choose a restaurant that doesn’t serve it. (Obviously, much of this advice makes more sense post-pandemic.)
Pretty much anything—beyond going to a bar—that you did on a date drunk you can do sober. This way you can make sound judgements and really decide where you put your time and energy.
Recovery, like life, is often about learning through trial and error. Dating is the same way. Even when you’re frustrated with dating, each experience teaches you something you can use in the future. Every new thing you learn sets you up for a more fulfilling and positive relationship in the future.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. At Amatus Recovery Centers across the country, we will empower you with the tools to build healthy relationships and thrive in long-term recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.