As Valentine’s Day draws near, society will inundate us with images of happy couples strolling along the beach or enjoying a fireside rendezvous. But are you ready for such intimacy or is your recovery a higher priority? Navigating the complexities of dating in recovery while avoiding the pitfalls of addiction can be intense, so here are a few key points to keep in mind while you’re searching your heart.

DATING CAN BE CONSUMING

Some individuals in recovery have the tendency to replace one addiction with another. This can take the form of prescription pills, newly legalized substances like marijuana, dating, or a particularly intense relationship. Drugs and alcohol often consume the user’s time; this can lead to a “rock bottom” moment in which you suddenly realize how much you’ve been missing while under the influence. Be sure you don’t try and “make up for lost time” by diving hastily into a romantic entanglement that fills the void left by your recently jettisoned addiction.

FOCUS ON YOURSELF

There can be many root causes of addiction: genetics, abuse, family history, geographical dynamics, or a combination of several of these factors. You may find your fate is controlled by others like a parent or spouse, and the ability to extricate yourself from a pattern of bad behavior seems inescapable. But now you’re taking control of your life by choosing sobriety. Good for you! But that’s the key: it’s good for YOU. It’s not about anybody else.

Recovery is a time to take stock of your past mistakes, harness your present strength, and forge a future filled with positivity. This process can’t revolve around another person, no matter how much you love him or her. Be selfish for a change and bolster your own sense of worth before relying on a romantic partner to validate you. After all, you can’t really try dating or loving someone else until you love yourself (a cliché worth repeating).

SO, WHEN ARE YOU READY TO LOOK FOR LOVE?

Conventional wisdom calculates that recovering addicts should wait a year before entering the dating pool. This number may seem arbitrary, but it’s a general guide that gives you an idea of how much work you have to do before looking outward for love.

First, you need to weather the physical storm of shaking your substance of choice. Your body may undergo a myriad of changes when you replace binge drinking with a healthier diet or kick a narcotic that curbed your appetite for food altogether. How does your self-image change when the person in the mirror suddenly looks different? It’s an important matter to consider.

Once you’ve come to terms with your physical transformations, you still have the psychological ramifications of sobriety to embrace. Are you mentally strong enough to endure a possible bout of heartbreak, or will a romantic setback trigger the urge for a relapse? Only you are equipped to answer these questions, so take a good look within before seeking without.

OK, IT’S TIME TO START DATING… ADVENTURE AHOY!

When you are finally ready to explore “the scene”, you should consider exactly what that scene entails. Cruising bars is no longer part of your lifestyle, so where else do singles mingle these days? It becomes a larger question of how you want to spend your time now that you own your sobriety; you’re no longer beholden to hangovers and excuses. Live life to the fullest!

Many successful paths to recovery involve taking up healthy hobbies like hiking, gaming, or generally striking out into new directions. Embrace your newfound freedom from addiction and attack the day! You may just find your ideal romantic partner along the way…

OPEN YOUR HEART, BUT KEEP A CLEAR MIND

As you hit your sober stride, you may feel invincible. Go ahead and take a victory lap; you’ve earned it. But be careful not to ignore the patterns and temptations that led to your addiction in the first place. While you may be getting stronger and more confident, your partner might be battling the same demons you just vanquished. Addictive personalities attract, and no matter how much you may want to ignore it, your lover might be hiding his or her substance abuse problem. Look for the warning signs and be the advocate you wish you had while you were identifying your addiction issues.

Love is, perhaps, the most complex of all human interactions. When our souls entwine, our lives intermingle. When you enter into a relationship, you are inviting another person to explore your world… a world that features the phantom of recent addiction. You shouldn’t deny your truths, but you also shouldn’t allow them to define you forever. A supportive partner will accept you for who you are and help forge a better future as a team.

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