Couple dating

In the aftermath of a drug or alcohol addiction, people often lose a sense of who they are. After making many personal, social, and environmental changes, they may not recognize themselves in the mirror. This makes dating during the first few months of recovery difficult. How can a person talk about themselves during a first date if they aren’t even sure who they are?

Sobriety itself can also be an unfortunate barrier sitting between a person in recovery and a potential partner who hasn’t had previous issues with drugs or alcohol. That’s why dating during recovery requires finesse – it’s certainly not impossible, but it requires give and take from both people. This article will explore the best way to bring up your sobriety on a first date.

Make It Clear From The Get-Go

As awkward as it might be, you should probably bring up your sobriety during the “planning phase” of your first date. Unfortunately for some people, sobriety is a deal-breaker – they might love happy hour a bit too much, and that’s ok. They aren’t the person you’d want to be dating anyway.

Being upfront about your lifestyle is a crucial first filter when it comes to finding a potential partner. Many people have certain dietary restrictions, religious restrictions, or personal preferences that keep them from eating certain things, drinking certain things, and doing certain things. When taken at face value, being sober is no different than any of these other restrictions.

Also, people respect directness and tend to dislike indecisiveness. Make it clear that you are sober, that you live a sober lifestyle, and that it’s not a negotiable topic. If the person you are dating tries to belittle or disparage your lifestyle choice, then they aren’t the person for you.

Don’t Be Apologetic – It’s Your Life

Another important thing to remember is that it’s your life. You are dating because you’d like to share it with someone, not offer it to them. Avoid being apologetic about your sobriety. It’s your lifestyle after all, and if the person is a worthy partner, they will respect it.

If you find yourself feeling the need to apologize for not ordering a drink with dinner or making excuses for refusing a glass of wine, ask yourself, “why am I being pressured into drinking?” Perhaps your date is merely following the modern etiquette that defines and polices social interaction. This brings us to our next point:

Understand the Larger Social Forces At Play

As any functioning adult knows, drinking is heavily entrenched in the decorum of social life, and this facet of our culture probably isn’t changing any time soon. Many people turn to alcohol (or other substances) on a first date because it literally depresses the nervous system, lowers inhibitions, and generally makes it easier to endure the social and psychological pressures of meeting someone new.

It also doesn’t help our case that we are inundated constantly with images of people enjoying drinks after work. Through our multimedia landscape – TV, movies, music, and social media – we are led to conflate ‘weekend’ with ‘drunk’. If you ask someone what a first date is supposed to look like, they’d probably answer, “dinner and drinks”. This has less to do with dating and much more to do with our cultural norms.

By understanding the larger social forces at play, it’s easier to anticipate potential reactions to the news that you are living in recovery. Having this in mind doesn’t excuse rude behavior or awkwardness from your date, but it can help put it into context if such behaviors occur.

Awkwardness is OK

Breaking news! Reality hardly ever matches the fantasies we conjure up in our heads. We might imagine ourselves walking into our first date with an oh-so-smooth, calm, cool, and collected demeanor. But, in actuality, we trip over our own feet and stumble right before the awkward greeting.

In essence, dating is – well – awkward. It’s even more awkward to try and pretend that it isn’t. If you go into the date embracing the fact that some topics might bring out a little awkwardness, you won’t be derailed when things get a bit awkward… (and they will). Generally, people can sense pretense. Just be your genuine, awkward, and sober self.

Pick a Different Type of First Date

Though ‘dinner and drinks’ occupies the number one seat when it comes to types of first dates people imagine, it is hardly the only type of date you can have. There are plenty of alternatives to the classic dinner-and-a-movie style of dating. An environment that doesn’t subtly – or not so subtly – suggest alcohol use is a better place to bring up your sobriety.

What’s A Good Sober First Date Option?

For example, a great first date option – and probably cheapest – is going for a walk in a park. Not only is this option free, but it provides ample opportunity to talk and get to know one another. There are plenty of studies that show physical activity with another person – even physical activity as mundane as walking – produces bonding chemicals in the brain. Plus, this is a great opportunity to bring up your sobriety if you haven’t already.

You Can’t Catch Fish If You Aren’t Fishing

Dating is hard no matter who is attempting it. Though rejection is discouraging, the only way you can meet someone is by putting yourself out there. One thing to remember is that every person out there on the dating scene has a uniquely personal life story.

For some, sobriety is part of that story. For others, disability, a shellfish allergy, or student loans are part of it. We are more than the sum of our parts and sobriety is just one facet of your beautiful self.

The goal of dating is to find someone to share your life’s story with – it isn’t to shape your life’s story to fit someone else’s.
This article was written by Jenn Walker, a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast, and avid beachgoer living unapologetically in recovery. She writes for Maryville Treatment Centers, an addiction recovery center specializing in medication-assisted treatment in New Jersey.


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