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Recovering Addicts: Pariahs Of The Dating World
When I hit bottom as a 40-year-old, it was typical in some ways and not so typical in others. I had never been arrested. I wasn’t really homeless, and I had a little income; but I was using so much, my endocrine system was beginning to fail, and I was spiritually at the end of the road. I reached that magical place where people get to when they are ready to do anything it takes to reclaim their freedom and health.
Having been exposed to 12-step programs in my mid-thirties, I knew that they could be effective if followed zealously—and if anyone was ready to follow a program zealously, it was me. I was so tired of being who I was, and I knew that I had the potential to be so much more if I could just get a handle on things.
It was a slow climb back up. I got rid of my private apartment out in the middle of nowhere and rented a room in a boarding house in a more urban part of town where jobs and meetings were within walking distance. It was a very humbling period for me. Dating was totally out of the question, also. Not just because it was suggested by N.A. to stay out of romantic entanglements for the first year, but also because the rules of the boarding house forbade guests in the rooms, I had a lot of health issues I needed to work through and honestly, my brain was so addled, I had all I could do to deal with myself on a daily basis.
As I continued to work the program to the best of my ability, life improved. I met a woman. I got my own apartment again. I learned a trade that netted me three times as much income. I started a family. Things were pretty golden for a while. That is, until my relationship hit the rocks and I was back out on my own.
I still had all of the advantages I accrued from my new life as a sober, working person—but, the dating scene was not terribly kind. Initially, I ignored it. I decided that instead of using all of my energies to slam myself back into another relationship, I should do everything in my power to live out my lifelong dream of becoming a published author.
This is not an easy thing to do. You need to have a marketable idea. You need to put together an award-winning book proposal and a compelling query letter to send to agents. You need to grow a thick skin and brush off rejection as fast as it comes in. You need to get yourself back on the horse hundreds of times. That humility I learned when I first got into recovery came in really handy.
Eventually with superhuman persistence and perseverance, I signed with an agent and after lots of footwork, we found a publisher. I was jazzed to say the least. I felt as though I lifted myself up into a realm I only once dreamed about. For a little while, I just kind of soaked in the fact that I was a different person. An author. Now, I reasoned, I’d like to find a partner again.
Having accomplished what I felt was the near impossible, I thought this was going to be a breeze. I’m not some working-class schlub anymore. I am a guy with a real book deal from a real publisher. I came to find out after a couple dozen dates that, in reality, I am a man in recovery first. This is what my definition is in the dating world. Or, at least, what most of the women I was going out with were focused on.
It was disheartening. I think when we surround ourselves with other people in recovery, we forget how the rest of society views us. There’s a certain hierarchy in our culture and if you’ve got a good job, eight or nine years of solid recovery and a nice car, you are seen as an example of the program’s success. Out in the so-called real world, there’s no distinguishing features between any of us. We are, sadly, just seen by many as “people in recovery.”
Finally, after about twenty disappointing dates, I deleted my profile on the dating sites and decided to concentrate on the promotion and success of my upcoming book. I am also designing a workshop based on my ideas for various recovery conventions, writing articles and speaking publicly whenever possible. Bitterness has no place in recovery, and, besides that, 12-step programs spend a lot of time trying to teach us that our higher power has a plan for us, and it is in our best interest to accept life on life’s terms and move forward. And so, this is what I am doing.
I will admit though, there are times that I am a little wistful about the lack of romance and intimacy. I can’t help feeling like I am stuck in some kind of social limbo. I am not unhealthy enough to be dating the people I used to date, and society can sometimes make it very difficult to rejoin the others.
As addicts in recovery, we are faced with navigating a lot of uncomfortable truths and this, unfortunately, is just one more in a seemingly endless stream of them. To reframe this in a positive light, it is also another thing that builds the sort of resilience that also sets us apart from the normies. It becomes a characteristic that leads us to great successes—like signing our first book deals—and overcoming what others might find impossible.
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