Dating in AA is generally frowned upon, especially in early recovery. But it's gonna happen. Here's what to do when it does.
Dating in AA: Sarah and William
Sarah and William met in a Vermont addiction treatment center back in 2016. And they began dating almost immediately. Their friends and family were skeptical at first. After all, dating in AA is generally frowned upon. It's especially discouraged during early recovery. And since tradition recommends spending the first year of sobriety fully focusing on recovery, Sarah and William had to work twice as hard to ensure dating wouldn't derail their program.
Life didn't help. During their first year together two of Sarah’s friends died and the couple’s son passed away shortly after birth. Either of those developments would be enough to overwhelm anyone. For a couple navigating the challenges of early recovery, they could easily spark a relapse. But Sarah and William had AA. And Sarah said the 12-step traditions gave them the strength to make it through those dark nights.
"Looking back on it now, we realize how much the principles of AA had already been intertwined within our life the whole time," she said. "The program and the steps are an outline to prepare you for the good times, as well as the bad times. We're especially grateful to have had all of the unconditional love and support from our sober community during this trying time."
Sarah and William are now married. The couple also recently had another baby. And the tenets of AA have formed the very foundation upon which their family is built.
"Being in recovery together is a gift," said Sarah. "We are extremely blessed to live by the same values and to have a deeper understanding of one another."
Sarah doesn’t have to worry about explaining her sobriety to William. And William doesn't have to worry about explaining his sobriety to Sarah. Beyond that mutual understanding however, is mutual acceptance.
"I used to tell my family they just didn't understand," said Sarah. "My husband, though, get’s it. He loves me for exactly who I am. And that acceptance is invaluable."
It's safe to say Sarah and William wouldn't have survived dating in A.A. were they not both working a strong program. The key is that the couple continued to work a strong program, regardless of what life threw their way. And that faith and commitment was rewarded accordingly.
Dating in AA: Karen and Steve
Karen and Steve have been married for eleven years. They've also each been sober for more than two decades. They met in AA. They dated in AA. And they built their relationship in AA. In fact, being in recovery together significantly strengthened their relationship.
"We speak a common language," said Karen. "We have great empathy for each other’s struggles. And we have 12 steps tools to help with our marriage. We're especially reliant upon the 10th Step. And we try to question our behavior and make amends in real time wherever possible."
However, there also are added challenges to maintaining a marriage along with two recovery programs.
"For us, it always seems that someone is working on a personal issue," said Karen. "It seems there’s never a time when we both are contentedly sane."
Worse, because the couple are both active in AA and understand what the program expects, they can easily find find fault with one another’s efforts.
"For example, I may have feelings if he doesn’t have a sponsor or sponsee," said Karen. "And he in turn may not think I’m going to enough meetings."
Perhaps the most important lesson the couple has learned over the course of their marriage though is that each is responsible for his or her own sobriety. And that's important for all couples dating in AA.
"Remember to keep the focus on yourself and your own recovery,” Karen said. “Don’t take each other's inventory."
Karen and Steve also make sure that they’re going to meetings together and apart.
"While it’s often fun and productive to go to meetings together," said Keren. "It's also important to leave your partner space to go to some meetings on their own. This way they can feel free to share what they want, when they want, without risking offense."
When you’re in a relationship with another person in recovery, claims Karen, a little empathy goes a long way.
"Be patient with their issues,” Karen said. "It will be worth it."
"In fact, I can’t imagine being in a long-term relationship with someone not in recovery,” she adds. “Despite the challenges, we both have a deep sense of gratitude at being given a second chance in life. And that gratitude spills over into our appreciation for each other, as well as in our life together.”
Dating in AA: Making it Work
There's good reason why dating in AA is frowned upon, especially during early recovery. And there's a good reason why that advice has held for nearly a century. Recovery is tough enough without adding a relationship to the equation. And truly succeeding in sobriety requires unmitigated focus and commitment.
That's not to say relationships and recovery can't be balanced. Or that relationships can't become a healthy, helpful part of recovery. Everybody needs love. (Well, almost everybody anyway.) And those that find love generally make for happier, more formidable souls. Recovery not withstanding. But without a solid sober foundation, dating in AA can easily take on the characteristics of what we've run from. That is, a shaky, achy dependence upon someone else to do for us what we should be doing for ourselves.