What To Do When You Discover Your New Boyfriend Is Using Drugs

By Lauren Sawyer 06/23/17

Everything began to make sense: depression, silence, hyperactivity, lack of money, the seesaw of interest. I suddenly felt less crazy. But I felt sick to my stomach.

worried woman in counseling
A recovering addict has a difficult decision to make when she finds out her boyfriend has been using the very substances she's trying to leave behind.

Dating is hard. It feels harder doing it sober somehow. It is a process of acute awareness and relearning how to have a functional and healthy relationship. You have to re-learn what healthy boundaries work for you; you discover that the co-dependency train didn’t miss your stop after all and it is just as much a feature of your disease of addiction as everyone else’s. And you re-learn how to effectively communicate with your partner. New relationships require navigation: of meeting your needs while also meeting the needs of a new romantic endeavor—all the while feeling like a teenager again. They are not easy, which is why it is suggested you steer clear in your first year of recovery.

Imagine doing all that sobriety work, dating a number of frogs, and then finding a guy that made you feel different. Someone who got you. A guy that made you feel like you’ve never felt before: desired, interesting, funny, and sexy. I was radiant and I felt incredible. It was like it was too good to be true.

It was.

My experience of the relationship turned into a rollercoaster that speedily navigated the rise of desire and passion, and the lows of doubt, depression, anxiety, and changes in behavior. I began questioning myself. It felt like he was blowing hot and cold, but I wasn’t sure if this was my expectations being too high—was I expecting it to be great all the time? I didn't have an experience of a healthy relationship so I had nothing to compare it to. But I knew my instincts were telling me something was wrong and that this kind of relationship doesn’t work for me. My recovery is predicated upon balance and striving for a straightforward and flowing life, one which flows toward awareness, self-improvement, and growth. This was a rollercoaster.

After another turbulent exchange and cooling off period, I’m told the reason for the rollercoaster: my boyfriend had been taking hard drugs and omitted to tell me during four months of our relationship—despite knowing I was in long-term recovery.

My world came crashing down.

I was flummoxed and heartbroken. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen the signs of drug use.

Then came the unravelling.

How could I miss the signs? I am so stupid! He knew I was in recovery! How could he not tell me? Have I been around drugs? These were some of the questions I repeatedly asked myself.

My mind went into overdrive, unpacking everything over the past four months. Everything began to make sense: depression, silence, hyperactivity, lack of money, looking withdrawn, the seesaw of interest versus—what appeared as—apathy. I suddenly felt less crazy. But I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t eat and my head was in a spin.

It is important for me to acknowledge that he didn’t intentionally lie to me—I could see it must have been difficult to tell someone in established recovery that you have been using drugs—but he omitted a very important truth. A truth that could’ve jeopardized my recovery by putting me in a situation where drugs had been used. I was around drug-type behavior and drama that I had intentionally removed from my life when I found recovery. In my mind, omission is a form of dishonesty. A solid and long-lasting relationship cannot be founded upon dishonesty. Trust is paramount.

I was torn between what I knew about hard drug use—and its incompatibility in a relationship with someone in recovery—and losing someone I had developed strong feelings for. To some people this is a black and white decision: if you want to keep yourself safe and avoid a lot of drama, end the relationship. It wasn’t so straightforward for me--because of my feelings, because he had stopped, and because part of me saw some hope that it could work out.

Was I naïve? Possibly.

Before I made any decisions, I had to understand the nature and extent of the drug use. I gave him the opportunity to talk and I discovered it was sporadic and it had stopped two weeks prior—which seemed inconsistent with addiction. I knew that I couldn’t have a relationship with someone in active addiction, but I could potentially with someone who had stopped their sporadic drug use and had insight into their behavior.

I then checked in with my support network: my doctor, a drug worker, and friends with long-standing recovery. I explained the situation and asked for advice and support. I listened and considered their comments and concerns. I cannot underestimate the importance of my solid support network, but they cannot tell me what to do. With this information, I was able to make a more informed decision, with some objective perspectives from people who were not emotionally involved.

I next considered if this relationship is something I wanted—irrespective of what others thought what was right or wrong for me. I had to decide what felt right for me. Ultimately, I wanted to give things a go. For the purposes of sharing my experience, I made that decision because I had strong feelings for him, I saw a future, he had already stopped using drugs and I believed that, and I didn’t think he was a person struggling with addiction. I was also reminded of how many chances people have given me.

Having made that decision, I considered my boundaries: that I could not date someone who used drugs—that was incompatible with my recovery; that I need him to seek help and support for that drug use; and that my recovery, safety, and sanity comes before the relationship.

I explained these boundaries and that any reconciliation would take time. While I appreciated that his dishonesty was not intentional, his actions and omissions hurt me and I needed to heal. Trust would have to be rebuilt and that would be slow. With this new level of openness, I was able to keep expressing my feelings which strengthened the rebuilding of the relationship.

In terms of keeping my recovery strong, I made sure that I had all of the support and means of expression that I needed to sustain my recovery. I maintained meeting attendance, continued to speak to recovery friends frequently, journaled and checked in with myself, and looked after my mental and physical health. This came above everything else.

Choosing to stay hasn’t been easy. I have questioned my decision, doubted, and experienced heightened senses. I have been suspicious. But I realized that if I am truly to give this a go, I needed to draw a line under what has happened and give things a try wholeheartedly. A good friend of mine says to me that trust is not the absence of doubt. I don’t have to forget, but I can move on, with a wiser perspective. The truth is that no one can tell you what to do in this situation—only you can—but I can tell you that the most important decision for me was to keep my recovery safe, whatever I decided.

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