Dating Someone in Recovery

Dating Someone in Recovery


New book,”Girlfriend of Bill” offers tips to help those dating people in 12-step programs to understand how addiction recovery can affect the relationship.

Dating Sober

ammentorp / 123RF Photo

I made a vow to myself several years ago that I would “get out” more and practice my dating skills with more regularity. I joined a popular online dating service. I organized a singles group at my church. I ended up dating a wide variety of men, two of which were in 12-step recovery programs.

At times, it felt like I was venturing into an alternate universe. My second boyfriend in recovery threw me for a loop — some of his behavior was maddening and confusing to me. For instance, he seemed to have no concept of time, and would arrive late, early, or not at all for a date. I eventually came to realize that this behavior was related to addiction, but I didn’t know how or why.

I wanted more information on what I could do to help him — was this normal behavior for someone at this stage of recovery? How long would it last?

Girlfriend of Bill
“Girlfriend of Bill” by Karen Nagy offers practical tips for dating someone who is in an addiction recovery program.

Interestingly, I found no books on this subject for those of us outside the world of recovery looking in, especially for us singles dating someone in recovery.  So…I figured it was up to me to write a book to help others, and after four years of research, Girlfriend of Bill: 12 Things You Need to Know About Dating Someone in Recovery is being released in April by Hazelden Publishing. It is a primer of sorts to help anyone in a relationship with a recovering addict, and even those in recovery themselves, understand what recovery entails and which behaviors may still be “left over” from the addiction.

In the process of research, I learned a lot about what I could have, and shouldn’t have, done in my relationships.  Some important things I learned are:

Sobriety is just the beginning. The fact that someone is not drinking or using drugs anymore does not mean that they are “recovered.” People in recovery must work on all aspects of their lives, including the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual sides — so that addictive behavior does not continue to pop up.

Honesty and communication are super-important. People in recovery are being taught how to acknowledge their feelings rather than blunt them with substances — you too must be honest with your partner and learn how to communicate easily and openly.

People in recovery are still growing emotionally. There is a school of thought that the addict’s emotional growth stopped at whatever age they began to drink or use. You therefore may be dating someone who is emotionally still a teenager! Your awareness of this will be of great help to you and your partner. Take things slow, take time-outs, and remember the HALT rule: Never get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.

Everyone is different. People recover at different speeds. Patience is a virtue.

Dating someone who’s sober can be a lot of fun! It can be very freeing to know that your partner’s actions and words are not filtered through the haze of alcohol or drugs. They do not need a drink or a joint to figure out that they like you. Also benefiting your relationship is the variety of healthy activities you can enjoy if your partner is sober, especially sports, exercising and going to cultural and spiritual venues.

I learned so much during the period in which I dated my boyfriends in recovery. I learned even more after the relationships ended, during the process of my research. Some people have asked me if I’d do it over again — would I date someone in recovery knowing what I know now? Yes, indeed! But this time I’d do it with much more awareness of what recovery is about and a new-found respect for those in recovery programs.

Copyright © Karen Nagy / 2014 Singular Communications, LLC.

Karen Nagy

Karen Nagy is a college professor who teaches voice, music theatre and the history of popular music. Originally from western PA, she now lives in the Fort Lauderdale area and is a professional singer, actor and keyboard player for musicals throughout south Florida. Her passions are therapy dog work, sea turtle rescue, golf and the Steelers. 

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