The first year of recovery is a vulnerable time. Known as the “abstinence stage,” the focus of this period is to cope with cravings and other triggers and avoid using. This first stage of recovery includes several tasks:1
- Practice honesty.
- Engage with a support group.
- Practice self-care.
- Develop new friendships and let old, destructive friendships go.
- Maintain awareness of cross-addiction.
- Develop healthy, enjoyable alternatives to using.
- View yourself as a non-user.
People in recovery are often eager to make big life changes in early recoveries, such as changing jobs or starting or ending a relationship. But experts agree that changes like these should be avoided in the first year, during which time the focus should be on self-care, gaining perspective and strengthening coping skills for and other triggers.
Dating in Early Recovery Could Be Risky Business
Dating isn’t recommended during early recovery, for several reasons:
- The “rush” that comes from dating may be used as a substitute for the “high” that comes with abusing a substance. Dating could become a cross-addiction.
- A potential breakup can trigger destructive emotions that can lead to self-medication with drugs or alcohol.
- Preoccupation with a new relationship can shift your focus away from self-care, support group meetings and other tasks that are critical for successful recovery.
What to Do When Love Won’t Wait
Waiting a year to start dating is probably easier said than done, especially if you meet someone with whom you connect on a deep level. If you’re going to date in early recovery, it’s important to keep ongoing recovery as your number-one priority. This means staying in therapy, continuing to attend regular support group meetings, continuing to make and maintain healthy lifestyle choices and staying mindful of your emotional states, attitudes, and beliefs.
It’s important to know what a healthy relationship looks like. A good relationship is based on 2
- Mutual respect
- Honesty and trust
- Separate identities
- Playfulness and fondness
A healthy relationship should make you want to take good care of yourself, and you should feel comfortable and secure in the relationship.
Dating Partner Tips: Choosing Who’s Good for You
Dating someone who may distract you from your recovery goals or who isn’t a healthy match for you could pose a serious problem for ongoing sobriety. Making some choices ahead of time regarding who would and would not be an appropriate partner can help you enter the dating scene with greater awareness and a set of concrete guidelines to follow.
- First, make a list of the ideal qualities of a dating partner. These might include a specific shared interest, such as sports or music, or values like honesty and integrity. Write down all the qualities you can think of that an ideal dating partner should have.
- Next, make a list of warning signs that should make you reconsider whether dating a particular person is the healthiest thing for you at this time. For example, dating someone who just ended a long-term relationship could pose problems, as could dating someone who doesn’t want to introduce you to their family.
- Finally, make a list of deal breakers, things that should trigger an end to the relationship before it goes any further. These may include red flags like chronic unemployment, substance abuse or someone who app
- ears to be using you only for sex.
Having these ideal qualities, warning signs and deal breakers in writing will help you stay mindful of what a good relationship should look like and what could put your recovery at risk.
Above All, Stay Mindful
Dating at any point during recovery can be a distraction from your long-term recovery goals. When you begin dating, make a point to spend time each day focused on your goals to keep them fresh in your mind. Continue engaging with your aftercare plan, which may include meetings, therapy and other programming.
Listen to your instincts. If you feel uneasy in the relationship for any reason, examine it carefully to decide whether you should continue dating. Run your concerns by your supportive peers, or discuss them with your therapist.
Mindfulness in recovery is essential for staying on track for the long-term, and it’s particularly important when you’re ready to start playing the field again.