Early recovery from addiction is all about building a new life for yourself, so it is inevitable that you are going to start repairing old relationships you had with people, as well as build new relationships. What if the relationship you have with someone starts to move in the direction of being a romantic one? This is a somewhat controversial question for those in recovery, so we want to break down everything you need to consider before beginning a romantic relationship within the first year of addiction recovery.
Building Relationships in Addiction Recovery
Early recovery puts an emphasis on awareness of your thinking and actions, as well as being cognizant of the dangers of your thinking and actions. When starting new relationships as a new and sober you, you need to take a defensive stance and be very careful. The worst thing you can do in recovery is to put yourself in any position that could harm your recovery or threaten your sobriety. People and your relationships with them can either strengthen your recovery or weaken it.
What Addiction Treatment Specialists Say About Dating in Recovery
Counselors and addiction treatment professionals have come to the conclusion that dating in the first year of recovery offers more harm than it does good – at least when it comes to your long-term recovery and sobriety. AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) goes as far as to implement a “one year rule” on dating, citing the fact that your first year of recovery should be focused on rebuilding the relationship you have with you.
This “one year rule” is actually very smart and sensible, and can protect you from getting hurt at a time when you are still emotionally, physically, and mentally fragile. However, life and love don’t often correlate with smart and sensible, and love can make fools of us all. So, when love shows up in the first year of recovery, there are two choices: pursue the relationship, or decline to further the relationship. Those aren’t two great options for someone who has this question, and it is only natural to want to reject the one year rule and figure out how you can have the best of both worlds and create a third option. How can you pursue a romantic relationship with someone without harming your recovery?
Types of Romantic Relationships in the First Year of Recovery
First, let’s look at the types of relationships that might happen in early sobriety. Each type of romantic relationship will likely have its own set of nuances, so it is best to address the details to find the true weight of decisions that need to be made.
Continuing a Relationship When Sober
This is a very common type of relationship, and also one that has very “high stakes.” This type of relationship is characterized by the fact that you had a relationship with a person while you were using drugs and alcohol, and are considering continuing the relationship after rehab and in early sobriety. With these types of relationships, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
Did my partner drink or use drugs with me?
This is important to establish, because of the risk that your partner may continue to drink or use drugs while you are trying to remain sober. In many cases, your significant other’s use of substances can be a trigger that causes you to want to use them again as well.
Was my partner supportive of me getting help and getting sober?
It seems like a no-brainer, but if your partner was not concerned with your getting sober and didn’t support you in your recovery, then the relationship will be very toxic to your continued sobriety.
There are a great many other factors that could contribute to your decision to continue your relationship; if you have kids together, share a residence, work together, or have other long-term ties, simply severing the relationship may be difficult. The most important thing to remember is that your recovery takes first priority, and if your partner is not contributing to your recovery, the relationship is going to be a constant struggle.
Revisiting an Old Relationship When Sober
This happens so often and can take its toll on you mentally. In the first year of recovery, you are going to experience a lot of emotions. Shame and regret are going to be 2 of the strongest emotions, and even though you can try to suppress them, or deny that they will have an effect on you, they are going to have a very strong effect.
One of the main things you will regret or feel shameful about in your recovery is the relationships you had with those closest to you when you were using. The weight of your past actions will become crystal clear, and you will be overcome with the feeling that if you had it to do all over, you would do it right. You would treat them how you now see you should have.
Just because you can see more clearly in your early sobriety, doesn’t mean you aren’t going to make mistakes, and it doesn’t mean that the second try at a relationship is going to yield better results than the first round. It is important to remember this, and not get too caught up in the shame and regretful feelings.
The good news is, that if this past relationship truly is strong, and deserving of a second chance, that person will wait for you and will be willing to seek a second try when you both are ready. Within the first year of sobriety, you probably aren’t ready, and it would be unfair to both of you to try and force a second attempt at the relationship too early. If – after a year – you continue to feel that you could treat the other person better, and could have a successful relationship, it might be worth the attempt. However, relationships that are based only on the strong feelings of regret and shame probably won’t equal out to a strong long-term and healthy relationship.
Starting a New Relationship When Sober
This is the type of relationship that in early recovery are questioning. You meet someone in the first few months after rehab and treatment, and you like them, and you want to pursue a more intimate relationship — Is that so wrong? No, it is only natural to want to move on with your life and start working on your goals for the future. A significant other will definitely be part of that future, but when should another person become a part of your life and work with you on those future goals?
Emotional and Mental Symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal in the First Year of Recovery
Before getting into a relationship within the first year of recovery, it is important to look at the symptoms that you will encounter in that first year of being sober.
- Persistent anxiety
- Feelings of Guilt and Shame
- Lack of Energy
- Anhedonia (Inability to Feel Positive Emotions)
- Emotional Exhaustion
The above symptoms will be persistent and manic in the first months of recovery. You will undoubtedly experience high highs and low lows and will be – for lack of a better word – an emotional wreck. The first 12 months of sobriety should be focused on how you handle these feelings and emotions without chemicals or medications, and eventually, you will find your natural balance again.
The risk of adding a relationship to this crucial timeframe is having a dependency on that other person to balance your feelings. An energetic significant other can balance out your lack of energy, and an outgoing and protective personality can counterbalance your persistent anxiety. However, adding this person in as a counterweight before you have found your natural balance can keep you from healing yourself.
Progressing Relationships Slowly
The overall conclusion to these questions falls in-line with AA’s “one year rule,” and the only safe conclusion one can draw is that the best bet is to not get involved in a relationship until you have built yourself into a strong individual who can take what the world has to throw at them. You need to be able to stand on your own two legs first and foremost before you let anyone try and sweep you off your feet. Move relationships with friends and those who could be more than friends slowly.