I broke up with my on-again-off-again boyfriend of nine years the day I quit drugs.
I had already been off alcohol for eight years. But this was a big step. And there was another man waiting in the wings. Who, two weeks later, was nowhere to be found.
I was lonely. I was wounded. I needed a hug, ya’ll. And this clearly is not a recipe for appropriate dating. I could not have told you what a boundary was to save my life. To say nothing of the idea that I might have some standards.
There was a map my heart had been following up until that day, but I had no idea what it looked like, or what kind of vehicle I was in, and I was most certainly not in the drivers’ seat. If I had gone out and started dating that day, I would have only repeated the same mistakes.
So when would I be ready to date again? The answer was, and is, as personal for me as it is for any individual.
And yet, no matter what kind of healing journey we are on—whether we are recovering from substance use disorder, grief, trauma, disordered eating, cancer, gambling, sex addiction, codependency—the answer is the same.
I will be ready when I have done the work.
What do I mean by that? I mean that irregardless of our chosen path in recovery, being on that path means that we choose to reexamine our lives from a new perspective and evaluate the story we have been telling ourselves about who we are.
We may do some reading and writing. We may do some talking with a trusted advisor, sponsor, therapist, or friend. We may do some soul searching. We may do some meditating or chanting or dancing or vision boarding. But we take time to know ourselves in a new way. We dive deep. We challenge the status quo. And we know that during this time, we are vulnerable. Our attachment wounds are open and easily triggered.
What I mean is that we have a way of being in the world and in relationships that is established in early childhood, and may also take into account adverse childhood experiences and relational trauma. Those patterns create the roadmap by which we navigate relationships. If not examined, we are most often cruising across that map set on auto pilot. This gives us little choice about how we feel, think and behave in relationships.
We can operate from this unconscious place, or we can choose to make the unconscious conscious and take back our power. We can rewrite the map, build the safe vehicle, and put ourselves in the drivers’ seat.
This is the work.
When we have done a sufficient amount of work, we may want to consider dating again. We may still feel vulnerable. We may balk at the idea. And that’s normal. But shutting ourselves off from love is mistaking anorexia for recovery. Isolating ourselves is not the answer. Instead, we get the help we need and we summon the courage to face ourselves.
Here are some questions to ask before getting back into dating:
- Do we have a plan for how we will date and some general standards and boundaries?
- Do we have a support system in place for when we feel triggered?
- Do we know what we are looking for?
- Do we feel stable in our primary recovery or are we looking to fill the space left behind by the absence of that coping strategy?
- Do we trust ourselves to take care of ourselves?
When we can answer these questions with a yes, we might be ready to start dating again.
If you need some help with this work, download my FREE eWorkbook “The One Thing You Need to Stop Doing Right Now If You Want Healthy Relationships (And What to Replace It With)” today and start moving toward the love you deserve.
I was single for thirteen years in recovery until finally I got serious about the work I needed to do in this area. There is no reason anyone should have to wait that long. This is why I do the work I do.