Loving Your Home Group—Hard
People say you shouldn't date or sleep around in early sobriety. I did, and it was awesome.
It was hot, the height of summer, and I was sitting on the steps outside my regular Sunday-evening AA meeting in Nashville. I had maybe two years sober. The slender woman sitting next to me was wearing a loose yellow sundress. She leaned forward and her dress fell forward and I could see her pert, bare breasts. She saw that I could see.
“You want to?” I said, my mouth getting hot.
“Mm-hmm,” she purred. And we went inside the cool, empty church and into the women’s bathroom and fucked each other.
Every day wasn’t like that, of course. (And the girl in the dress was not a stranger, but rather a recent ex.) But, contrary to what a lot of people advise when getting into the program, I dated and slept around—a lot—in early sobriety. And I liked it.
After eight years of increasingly heavy drinking and drug use, flirting and desire and sex felt fresher and more alive than they had in years.
I had discussed dating with my first sponsor. He said that he couldn’t really in good conscience tell me not to date in my first year, as he had met and starting seeing his future wife in both their first 90 days. But he did say that, if a relationship went south, I had to be prepared to put in the necessary extra work to maintain my sobriety.
That made sense. And, in any case, I wasn’t willing to knock off dating for a year. I’d already felt like I was hanging up my spurs by “coming in” to AA, and I didn’t want to hang up my cock, either.
So, although women weren’t quite the first thing I noticed at my first AA meeting, it wasn’t long before I realized that there were a lot of stone foxes in the room. It got to where I’d have to screw my eyes shut during the speaker’s qualification, in order not to get tractor-beamed into fixating on whichever red-lipped flavor of the week.
Maybe I was a dog, but I wasn’t a misogynist or a predator. I took care not to fool around with those who had less than a year sober or who weren’t interested in dating. But a couple of my regular meetings were big, social affairs in a hip, young neighborhood. The one on Friday particularly lent itself to flirting and sexual tension. The women were just as horny as the men, and only slightly less overt about it.
The first girl I dated in the program later became a good friend. She had straw-blond hair and freckles, and when I leaned in to kiss her over the gate into the meeting, I felt a flash of the euphoria I’d felt when I was 17 and had never yet had a drink, driving home from kissing my high school girlfriend for the first time.
After eight years of increasingly heavy drinking and drug use, flirting and desire and sex felt fresher and more alive than they had in years. Not long after I got a year clean, I remember lying on my bed on a fragrant spring Saturday afternoon and listening to the jubilant Feist song “Feel It All,” my heart pumping over a newfound redhead, and feeling like I really was feeling it all, for the first time in a while.
After the straw-blond artist and the redhead editor there was the blond runner. The husky-voiced bartender. The tattooed criminal defender. The heavily breasted political operative. The cascadingly tressed environmentalist. The luminescently pale, blue-eyed, raven-haired grant writer. And countless other false starts, crushes, and fleeting infatuations.
There was another Friday night when, after the meeting, the taut-bodied, green-eyed woman I’d been seeing was traipsing away, arm in arm with a girlfriend, when a fortune teller offered to predict her future.
“I know what’s in my future,” my girl said, shooting me a smoldering look. Later, on my bed, I stripped a gold bikini off of her and told her to put her ass in the air. She fairly melted.
There were sober dances and house parties. I looked good. I was drinking gallons of sparkling water and was leaner than I’d been in years. It felt amazing—unaltered by substances, and surfing a wave of excitement—to look a woman in the eyes and flirt brazenly.
I felt kind of like a badass. And it felt good to know that I could still transgress, could still have an edge and talk to women, turn them on, make their mouths water—all without assistance from substances.
I copped a bit of a reputation. But it wasn’t necessarily a bad one. None of my dalliances ended particularly badly, and those that did got better quickly. I chalked it up to both concerned parties working a program, and not throwing any alcoholic gasoline on the fire as the relationship broke up or trailed off.
Yet there were times when I felt uncomfortable in the meeting. I’d look around and there would be four or five women I’d dated or fucked within a 30-foot radius, and the anxiety of a potential confrontation would make my stomach turn flips. I would screw my eyes shut again, as the speaker spoke—this time for a different reason.
When I joined AA I was in my mid-20s, and I wanted desperately not to be done, for the party not to be over, for this not to be the end of fun.
When the scene got too hot, I would lay low for a while, date outside the rooms or not at all. I’d sit on my sponsor’s couch and bitch and moan about my love life. After things settled down, or when some new girl caught my eye, I’d turn the jets back on.
All this time I was working the steps, doing service, and talking to and sponsoring (male) newcomers. When my sponsees asked me about dating, in the rooms or otherwise, I’d tell them what my first sponsor had told me. It seemed like eminently reasonable advice then, and it still does now.
As with all behaviors that are predicated on excitement and adrenaline, though, this one, too, burned itself out. As I went on in the program, I started to cool down and, well, to just get sick of it. Talking to women started to feel like something I was just doing out of habit. In that way, it felt kind of like how the end of my drinking did.
But just like you will occasionally hear people in the rooms express gratitude for drinking and drugs, noting that substances “saved them” from themselves, I feel the same way about all the catting around I did. When I joined AA I was in my mid-20s, and I wanted desperately not to be done, for the party not to be over, for this not to be the end of fun.
It wasn’t. Yet my idea of fun was changing.
I wanted to meet someone permanent. I went on one date, my last lone date in the rooms, with an artist who was practically non-verbal while we were out. We were so clearly not a match that it was almost physically painful.
Not long after, I met the woman I am with today, who happens to be a “normie,” and not a sober (or otherwise) alcoholic. I felt the same lust for her that I did with the other women; but in this case, when that first flush faded, something else—something solid and something good—remained, and in fact deepened.
We’ve had our difficulties, to be sure, but our relationship continues to develop, in subtle yet exciting ways. I think this is the way that life and love are meant to go.
And to be honest, it’s been a relief to be “retired” from dating in AA. Of course there are still beautiful women to look at and remark upon with my AA buddies—all paired-up long-term now, each of us—but I no longer feel the compulsion to chat them up.
Instead, I can stand by and smile at the “kids" in the program as they flirt and preen and wear slutty things and sleep with each other’s flings and share about it in same-sex meetings and with their sponsors and at fellowship, over coffee and cigarettes—all while stone-cold sober, trudging the road of happy destiny.
William Adams is a Nashville-based writer and AA member.