5 Reasons to Date in Your First Year of Sobriety

By Audrey Fox 10/04/16

You can do whatever you want, insofar as you are willing to accept the consequences of your actions.

A couple embracing.

There are many rules in 12-step recovery that are never fully or satisfactorily explained. One frequently debated suggestion is to not date in your first year of recovery. What I would like to examine, instead, is precisely why you should:

1. The bulk of arguments with your sponsor are going to center upon abiding by this rule: dating within your first year (and blatantly) may spare you a great deal of sponsorial headache. Nowhere in the Big Book does it mention abstaining from romantic or sexual relationships. To the contrary, I’d imagine the Big Book’s target audience at the time of initial publication condoned, or at least turned a blind eye to, addiction transference in the form of sexual relations. And, per the yenta hen in my first home group, alcoholics typically “suffer other addictions.” So why not you, too? Suffer your other addictions! You know you’re going to anyway—why add the sturm und drang of appeasing your sponsor by pretending you won’t? #Feminism #OrSomethingLessTrendyButMoreAccurate

2. So you’re dating like you knew you would be: there’s a futility and distinctively alcoholic hallmark in verbally people-pleasing, despite contrary intention. Otherwise, if you can’t accept your role within any negative outcome, you should surrender stake in the viability of your personal decision-making. This is to say, then, that if you know you’re going to date, own it. Take responsibility for your intention. It’ll spare you the headache and silliness of behaving like a teenager. Your sponsor is not your incidental parent—stop with this silly childhood reversion. Time to adult. 

3. What’s childish are your active alcoholic attitudes. You’re a grown-up. You are allowed to enter into consensual relationships. You are allowed to do whatever you want within the confines of the law. Scratch that—you can do whatever you want, insofar as you are willing to accept the consequences of your actions. Aligned with this notion is the consideration that, while you’re in your first year (and dating as you knew you would be) you will experience hurt. Maybe jealousy. Even utter heartbreak. But here’s the deal—you can’t drink over it. Off the table. Non-option. If you’re not able to accept that for any reason, then you are probably going to get drunk. But if you can accept that, acknowledge its invariable presence in that which concerns matters of the heart—or at least, matters of physical want—then proceed. 

4. You may meet your worst enemy. During your first year of sobriety—and honestly, whenever you’re out in the world—and dating, you will meet your least favorite person ever. You could find the Stormtrooper to your Luke, or the Heather C. to your pre-shoplifting Veronica. Considering the typical hyper-emotionalism of your first year and the likely consideration that you are now the arbiter of archetypal moral conduct, you will likely be offended by a number of once-typical characteristics and behaviors, convinced that you now have invaluable insight into the way things should be. And maybe you do! Maybe. But maybe you’re also just a hypersensitive alcoholic who needs to calm the hell down. You’re not a vigilante drunk avenger! You won’t balance and amend each and every perceived injustice in your first 30 days! Slow your roll. You’ve been doing this fearless and honest shtick for a whole month and the world’s been this way since—well, since whenever, per whether you ascribe to evolutionism or creationism. (Though if this is really in question, we should have a talk about something called “science,” but we’ll save that for your one-year anniversary.) 

5. You may meet your best friend. I dated in my first year. I was 18, she was 26. I had 6 months, she had 60 days. By those terms, we both robbed the cradle. I kept running into her everywhere I went. Neither of us belonged on the Upper East Side but that’s where we found ourselves, and one another. We played house awhile, neither knowing how it would end, but knowing that it inevitably would. We didn’t talk for months. Neither of us drank. Now she’s my best friend. We’ve been buds through wins and losses, deaths, promotions, breakups—the full gamut of existence defined. We’ve both been adult enough to not use the other as a scapegoat or excuse. We knew that emotional pain, separation, disappointment, and endings were a part of adulthood. That’s just the daily hazard of living fully. If you can’t accept the likelihood of this, do not date. In fact, do not form any type of emotional attachment of any kind, as the slightest disappointment is likely to riddle you with absolute despair, self-righteous but misguided senses of betrayal and un-right-able wrong. Maybe just drink coffee and hit the gym, call your sponsor, and heed all of their suggestions. 

To recap: your need to buck what’s suggested to you is not only further confirmation of your status as a newly sober recovering alcoholic—it’s damning proof of your emotionally stunted nature, frequently touted as equal to the age at which you began drinking. You’re showing all of your cards! Fix your face! If you want to carry on denying this, then you’d better affect a solid front. If you can’t, or if by some miracle you are contrarily open to doing the opposite of what you would like, I would strongly suggest full adherence to your sponsor’s advice. You’ll be spared a world of pain and avoidable disappointment. Maybe this go at sobriety is the blessing you’ve been fox-hole-praying for. You know—that prayer you say when things blow up and you promise to stop drinking, but never actually do. Except, now you actually could. Now you are being presented with the resources and support to make the necessary changes to reach past your basest alcoholic self. Any moment at which you are presented with a viable solution to the root cause of your pain is objectively worth your due consideration. Look—a frame beyond those concerns preoccupying your immediate attention and impulsive desires—that space holds your chance at wild joy. 

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