Dear Michele – Date an Addict

Dear Michele,
Just saw the movie “Thanks for Sharing” with Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, and Tim Robbins. Yes, it’s from 2012, shows you how far behind the times I am. It’s basically about a sex addict who starts dating again. My question is this: if someone tells you she is an addict, shouldn’t you run in the opposite direction? Or am I just being insensitive (I’ve been called worse)? Does this make me too picky?
Thanks,
Date An Addict?

Dear Date an addict,
There is no one simple answer. It’s unfair to assume all addicts are any one way, that would be discrimination. Addiction is a very painful disease, many times causing shame and terrible consequences for the addict. It’s important to listen, ask questions, and then decide for yourself if you want to explore a relationship with that person. And let’s not be the one to throw the first stone. We all have struggles, some are more private than others, but none of us are above the need to examine our lives and work on growth. So, if I had to give some guidelines, these would be it:

  1. Consider Time. How long has the person been abstaining? The question assumes that she is in recovery. Trying to date an active addict who is not seeking treatment is like suicide by proxy. It’s not good for your date, and it’s not good for you. There really isn’t a relationship, because the addict is more committed to his or her “substance” then any other relationship (which is part of the definition of an addict). But assuming she is in recovery, it’s important to know if she’s been sober for one day, one week, or one year. Most recovery programs ask for participants not to date for the first six months or year. Some programs consider relapse a part of recovery, so discussion of any relapse or triggers for relapse are very important.
  2. In the Know. How did you find out? Did your date tell you directly? If so, this is a great sign. Authenticity, being real about feelings, and avoiding the duck and cover mentality are parts of recovery. If you find out through a friend, or by picking up on other clues, then a discussion about why the person did not feel open enough to tell you is warranted. If you sense any deception, then moving forward with a relationship would not likely be fruitful until trust could be established.
  3. Talking about it. Can your date tell you what she needs in terms of support, what it means in terms of protecting her sobriety? You will need to have many conversations about expectations, so start now. Find out her, and your, comfort level about asking specifics around her behavior while she was an addict.

But, it’s not all about your date being a recovering addict. What do you bring to the picture? Can you be open and honest about your own struggles? Do you enjoy being a “rescuer?” Make sure that your blind spots aren’t playing into a potential dysfunctional dynamic. Can you support your date’s sobriety? This means, if she can’t drink, can you be sure that you don’t participate in activities together that revolve around drinking? It may mean that it would be best if you didn’t drink in front of her again. Same goes for a gambling addiction, food addiction, sex addiction, etc.

The upside is that many people that do the hard work to recover from addiction possess a depth and humility borne from preserving through very difficult circumstances. Most develop a relationship with a “higher power,” and for those that are Christian, they likely have a very active and meaningful spiritual life. This can be a huge strength for a relationship. Immediately “running” in the opposite direction is a bit insensitive, while at the same time you have every right to choose you who want to be in relationship with. I would suggest bringing such a decision to prayer, asking for discernment, and start practicing the art of good communication, a great tool for any relationship.

God Bless,

Michele Fleming, Ph.D.

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