Honest Self-Assessment: Are You Ready to Date in Recovery?
When it comes to dating during the early stages of recovery, there are many factors to consider. Many years ago, when I was in the 12 step program, I recall being told that dating was off limits until one year of abstinence had been achieved. Being the free-thinker that I was and am, I did not listen.
For whatever reason, I was able to handle dating before the first year mark. But before I opened myself up to this possibility, I checked in and did an honest self-assessment. I was completely committed to continuing to put my program first, no matter what. This commitment was what allowed me to be successful in maintaining my abstinence at such a vulnerable time. This most certainly is not going to be true for everyone, and being radically honest is the only way to know if this is a self-honoring choice. I believe it really is a risk and you have to ask yourself if it makes sense for you. I also believe that it is essential to trust the guidance of your mentors in recovery.
The Hot Topic of Dating
Why is dating during recovery such a hot topic? I believe it is because we all know that there is nothing like romantic relationships to bring up our deepest wounds. Many people have fallen subject to losing their abstinence due to trying to cope with all the emotions that can come from dating. Despite how fulfilling and pleasurable relationships can be, they can also bring forward feelings of fear, hurt, being unlovable, and even feelings of powerlessness. We all want to be loved, understood, accepted, and nourished by those we love. And when that fails to happen, it usually triggers our unconscious belief systems about our own self-worth. It brings up all our “stuff” and it can be very overwhelming, very painful, and it can overpower our rational thinking.
While I believe this is actually an opportunity to see what we need to look at in order to heal and have a more empowered and peaceful relationship with ourselves, it is far from an easy process. It can bring us to a temporary state of forgetting all that is amazing about who we are. We may let other people’s words and actions dictate how we feel about ourselves. And it may even trigger some people to not care anymore about their recovery.
If you are someone who has a foundation of recovery in place, and feel that you can begin dating again, the question becomes how to do so in a way that feels safe. Here are some tips that I have put together in order to get you thinking about what might be needed during this critical time:
- Be open and upfront about your recovery
- Date people who support your recovery
- Do not date people who are engaged in addictive behaviors themselves
- Maintain your commitments to yourself and your recovery before all else
- Ask yourself if this person is good for you in recovery and other areas of your life.
I realize these may seem obvious, but you might be surprised at how many people find themselves justifying or overriding some of these guidelines. Attraction is a powerful force and human beings tend to do things that are not smart because of its magnetic pull. I don’t believe anyone is exempt from this. It’s normal. It’s human. And it can create chaos.
Define Your Dating Boundaries
Another very important consideration is what your boundaries are before you start dating again. Boundaries cannot be defined by anyone on the outside. If we don’t define for ourselves what we feel is acceptable, then we are essentially saying that someone else gets to choose for us. We have to be clear on what feels right and what is not allowed in our lives and in our relationships.
So how do you go about defining your boundaries? I invite you to consider the following questions to get a better sense:
- What do I need in order to feel respected by someone I am dating?
- What do I need in order to feel supported and safe in a relationship?
- What ways of communicating and acting is completely unacceptable to me?
- Where can I fool myself into excusing someone’s behavior when I know it’s not in my best interest?
These are just a few key questions to ask yourself so that you can become clear on what you need in relationship. There is room for deeper inquiry. The key is to be continuously honest with yourself. There is no arrival in dating or romance, as it is an on-going process of growth and evolution.
Show Up For Yourself First
Being in the dating world, or even in a relationship, requires that we show up for ourselves first. This is not taught in our society. In fact, it is often thought of as being selfish. We are taught to put others before ourselves, or at the very least put the needs of the relationship before our own. While I understand this concept, I believe it can be incredibly unhealthy. If we bypass our own basic needs and emotions, we are not doing our partner or the relationship any favors. In fact, we are weakening the relationship by malnourishing one-half of it, our half! If both parties are able to honor themselves, they can show up whole, and the relationship is automatically in a healthier, stronger place.
I realize this is an ideal. We are all somewhat clumsy in romance. There are few who are not triggered or who don’t fumble. Dating and relationships are a big topic in the world and in recovery for a reason. So, I invite you to consider the simple guidelines offered in this article, as well as to take the time to get clear on defining your most basic boundaries in relationship. The more clear you are, the more likely you will support yourself in a healthy and nourishing way.
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