Sober and looking for a date who understands

Dear Alice,

I am an ex-hardcore drug user — speed and cocaine to heroin — with 25 months of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. Now that I do not go out to clubs or party, I am finding difficulty in relationships.

Women do not understand why I do not drink. When they ask, I tell them where drugs and alcohol have gotten me in the past. This always seems to scare them off.

I feel guilty not telling them that I used to be an intravenous drug user, but when they ask about the tattoo on my arm that symbolizes a promise to myself never to inject again. I am honest about what it stands for. I never shared needles, I have been tested for AIDS/Hep-C and all of the tests have returned negative.

I am having difficulty finding someone that understands.

Dear Reader, 

First off, kudos to you for making this change in your life, as well as sticking to it for 25 months and counting. It’s also great to hear that you’re being honest about your past whenever asked about it, as honesty is key to establishing a healthy relationship with anyone. Unfortunately, people aren’t always going to be understanding of a person’s past. They can make assumptions that are influenced by stigma and may not be accurate. The good news, however, is that not every person you're interested in will rely on assumptions influenced by stigma when you decide to disclose your past substance use to them. While a few negative reactions early on in your recovery may have made it seem like more women will be “scared off,” that isn’t necessarily the case. When it comes to finding that connection, the places you go to meet people, as well as how disclose your past and describe your present, may ultimately help or hinder your romantic success. 

It may help to start with the location of where you meet future dates. If you’re looking for opportunities to meet potential partners — rather than meeting them at bars, for example — you may consider pursuing interests you have where substances aren’t involved, such as meeting for a coffee or lunch. These kinds of settings are a great and natural way for people to chat and get to know each other without having the pressures of drinking or engaging with other substances. You could also try and be around those with a shared interest, such as joining a class, team, or club. These settings usually don’t involve substances and could help you meet potential romantic matches. In addition, you could look into dating websites that are specifically for sober people seeking relationships, such as Love in Recovery. Moreover, if you decide to use a dating site that isn’t specific to dating while in recovery, you may want to indicate that you don't use alcohol or drugs on your profile. 

When you meet someone who you’re romantically interested in, and it comes time to share your story with them, there are a few strategies that you can use to help get the ball rolling. First, it may be helpful to acknowledge some of the stigma associated with substance use. In addition, you can share the positive progress you’ve made in your life, as this may help correct any misbeliefs held by those you’re interested in dating. When it feels like the right time to share your story with a romantic interest, you may want to ask yourself: 

  • How will I describe my past relationship with drugs in a way that is as honest as possible? Getting comfortable with how you’re going to share this information in advance may help you be more open about your experience. As difficult as it may be, being open and honest can build trust and intimacy with the person you are interested in dating. 
  • How will I react to follow-up questions or an emotional reaction? It could be helpful to consider how you will feel and respond if a person you’re potentially interested in reacts emotionally or asks questions relating to your drug use. 
  • How will I incorporate my plans for remaining sober into the conversation? Since your 25 months of sobriety are a key part of where you are in your journey, you may want to consider talking about your recovery plans to let your date know that your relationship with drugs is in the past and that your commitment to sober living is a positive and significant force in your life. Including your plan to stay sober — without minimizing any of your past experiences — gives your potential dating partners a fuller picture of who you really are. 

Many experts recommend being cautious when beginning to date in recovery, but others consider it a milestone of being ready for a new relationship without substance use. You may find it helpful to talk to a mental health professional about dating and preparing your strategy for describing your story. 

Dating can be stressful enough as it is without feeling obliged to combat negative stereotypes at the same time. By preparing an approach that is both honest about the past and confident about the future, you may find that there are people out there who are able to look beyond the book’s cover and want to read every page. 

Last updated Jun 11, 2021
Originally published Feb 06, 2009

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