No Relationships Your First Year Sober: Silly Rule or Great Suggestion?

Chris Boutte
Feb 5, 2016 · 7 min read

When we first get sober, we have dozens of suggestions thrown our way, and a lot of them seem silly. They tell us to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. They tell us to get a sponsor to walk us through the steps. They tell us not to make any major decisions our first year of sobriety. The one that seems to stick out the most is when people tell us not to get into any relationships our first year of sobriety. If you’re like me, some of these suggestions seem silly, and it was hard for me to take suggestions from others in early sobriety, but the one about relationships carries quite a bit of weight.

I want to share with you all some of my experience as well as my point of view on the subject. I’ll start by letting you know this, when I asked my sponsor about not dating my first year of sobriety, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Well, it doesn’t say that anywhere in the Big Book.” So, my sponsor who is a Big Book thumper was telling me that although people suggest it, there’s nothing in the program of recovery that’s outlined in the Big Book that says otherwise. Still, I didn’t get into a relationship until my second year of sobriety.

My History with Relationships

Ever since freshman year of high school, I always had a girlfriend. Most of my relationships lasted quite a while too, but many of them weren’t healthy at all. I was attracted to a specific type of girl, and they were the type who I felt needed saving. Before I was sober, my mother the psychologist told me why I keep repeating the same pattern of women I date, and it made a lot of sense, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

My mom was an alcoholic most of my life, and I could never “save” her. She explained to me that I search for women who I think need saving because subconsciously I want to do what I could never do for her. Along with this, I also was attracted to women with my mom’s chaotic personality. I was used to chaos, so finding a woman who was too laid back or conservative wasn’t what I was used to, so it didn’t feel comfortable to me.

Even though this made perfect sense, I was still in my addiction and was largely incapable of making any type of logical decisions in different aspects of my life. I kept finding women who I could cling to, but they were completely wrong for me. I also had abandonment issues and the need to feel loved and wanted, so I’d stay in these relationships for far too long, and the results would often fuel my addiction even more. I was unable to realize that I was causing my own problems.

Was I using Women to Fill the Void?

In early sobriety, when our head begins to clear, we start to realize that we were playing the cover-up game with drugs and alcohol. We had this void within us that we couldn’t explain, so we’d try to fill it with drugs and alcohol. All of my loneliness, insecurities and sadness could be suppressed with my abuse of mind-altering substances, but they eventually stopped working.

As with my moment of clarity about drugs and alcohol, I had to sit back and think about what else I was using to fill this void, and the answer was women. I realized that I had issues with being alone. Dating someone made me feel loved, wanted and cared for. If I wasn’t dating someone, I felt extremely alone and sad. I had no clue how to be content being single.

I then realized that I wasn’t only dependent to drugs and alcohol, but I was dependent to relationships, and that was a scary thought. If my addiction showed me anything it was that I suffered from a spiritual malady. I was restless, irritable and discontent in life, so I used drugs and alcohol to cover up these feelings, and I was also doing it in relationships.

It started to make sense to me that if I wanted to be happy, joyous and free like the Big Book talks about, I can’t be dependent to these types of things. My happiness can’t be reliant upon whether I’m in a relationship or not because that increases the chances of me getting into another toxic relationship. If I were to get into a bad relationship and fall head-over-heels in love like I always do, it may be a quick path to relapse, which could potentially kill me.

I Started Learning more About my Defects of Character

Something that was made very apparent to me is that us addicts are extremely selfish, self-centered and self seeking. In AA and NA, I learned that drugs and alcohol were only symptoms of my disease. I still had a lot to work on with myself if I were going to be of use to anyone else. Realizing this, how was I supposed to be a good partner to someone when I still have all of these defects of characters?

As I started reading the Big Book, working with a sponsor and doing some steps, I learned a lot more about myself. I learned about the issues I had with abandonment and my need to feel loved and wanted. I saw how I had a lot of selfish, self-centered and self-seeking tendencies. I realized that I sometimes have impossible expectations for people, places and things, which lead me to being hurt.

For me, one of the most important things I learned was that I had no clue what a healthy relationship actually was. Early sobriety is all about learning how to live like a normal person, and I had no clue how to do that, so it’d be unfair to drag someone into that situation with me. I stayed in California for my first year of sobriety because I knew I couldn’t be a good father to my son, a good friend to my friends or anything else until I worked on myself, so it would be insane for me to think that I could be a good boyfriend to anyone until I grew more as a person. (This is discussed more in depth in my book HOPE.)

The Dangers of Being in a Relationship Your First Year

Now, this is based on my personal observations throughout over three years of sobriety as well as time as an Alumni Coordinator working with newly sober addicts. I see a lot of rehab romances, and I see just as many relapses. I see people who are jumping into these serious relationships, but they don’t have the foundation of recovery that it takes to weather the breakup if it happens.

But hey, I totally get it. When we’re in our active addiction, we feel so alone and so different. When we get sober and start meeting people, it’s incredible to find someone who “gets us”, but this can lead us down a dangerous path. Just because we find someone attractive who is an addict trying to recover as well doesn’t mean that they’re our soul mate.

That may seem a little harsh, but all I’m asking is for you to take a look at the big picture. For every defect of character that we have when we come into early sobriety, our potential partner with the similar clean time has just as many defects or more. We haven’t learned how to deal with life on life’s terms in early recovery yet, so this puts us in an extremely vulnerable situation in early sobriety.

I’m the kind of addict who would drink and use to dangerous extents if someone even made me slightly angry. How am I supposed to guarantee myself that I won’t relapse when I experience the heartbreak of relapse?

Throughout my time in recovery, I have seen a variety of different situations. I’ve seen couples in the first year who break up, and one relapses but the other doesn’t. I’ve seen couples go out and relapse together in their first year. I’ve seen a really close friend of mine who had over a year sober date someone with two months sober, and he ended up relapsing when she broke it off a few months later.

I’ll be honest with you though. I also just visited a friend who just celebrated four years sober. He’s been with the same girl he met during his first year of sobriety, and they’re now married and still sober. I’m a statistical type of guy though, and this is the only relationship out of the hundred or so that I’ve seen work out like that.

Not getting into a relationship during your first year of sobriety is only a suggestion, and nobody can force you to stay single. My hope is that this article provided you with a little clarity on the suggestion. I hope that before you jump into that serious relationship that you can take a step back and ask if it will put your sobriety at risk. For many of us, this is a life or death situation, which is why our sobriety always has to come first.

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Chris Boutte

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