A report from Partnership for Drug Free Kids states there are 23.5 million Americans in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. That means roughly 8% of the U.S. population is getting their act together and living life on life’s terms… bravo! It also means there’s a chance the remaining 92% of the country will end up dating us …. This is where it gets tricky!
I read an article by Dr. David Sack, an authority on addictive behavior, and wanted to share the facts with you on dating an alcoholic or addict…. I’m in recovery and can tell you the facts don’t lie… we’re a complicated lot and will break your heart if you’re not careful… love is blind… it doesn’t have to be stupid!
A history of addiction doesn’t necessarily turn Mr./Mrs. Right into Mr./Mrs. Wrong. In fact, addicts who are solid in their recovery can make excellent partners. I like to think I’m one… We’ve waged a courageous battle, spending a great deal of time working to take care of and improve our lives. But before you put yourself in a position to fall for an addict, there are a few things you need to know:
1. Love does not conquer all.
For anyone considering dating an active addict, it is important to realize that love cannot conquer addiction. Addiction takes priority over everything – you, children, career, financial security, even one’s own freedom. Before diving into a relationship, find out if your prospective partner is actively using drugs or alcohol, or if they display addictive or compulsive patterns in other areas (e.g., gambling, work, sex, food or spending).
If you care about someone in active addiction, help them into treatment and hold off on turning a friendship into more until they’re grounded in their recovery. If they are in recovery, how long have they stayed sober? Are they actively working a program of recovery (e.g., participating in self-help support meetings, counseling or an aftercare program)?
Someone with less than a year sober should stay focused on their recovery program, not dating. This guideline is designed to protect the addict as well as the people they might date. In the earliest stages, most recovering addicts are trying to figure out who they are, what they want and how to be in a healthy relationship. Beyond the first year, the longer someone has maintained their sobriety the more secure you can feel that you’re choosing a partner who is healthy and whole.
2. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease.
An estimated 40 to 60 percent of addicts relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Since relapse is always a possibility, addicts and their partners need to stay alert to their triggers and be prepared to get help when warranted. If you’ve struggled with addiction yourself, be extra cautious – your use can trigger their relapse, and their relapse could spell ruin for both of you. Left unaddressed, relapse can set in motion a roller coaster of chaotic break-ups and reunification that in the long run only exacerbates the problem.
The threat of relapse need not deter you from dating someone firmly grounded in their recovery. It is simply a reality you should be aware of. By educating yourself about disease of addiction, you’ll know what to expect and when to ask for help.
3. Recovering addicts need support.
Being a loving partner to a recovering addict requires sensitivity and discretion. For example, you’ll likely need to avoid drinking or using drugs around your partner. If you go to parties or events where alcohol is being served, you may need to leave early or offer additional support.
Even if it’s inconvenient for you, you’ll need to make allowances for your partner to go to meetings or counseling sessions, particularly in stressful times, so that they can continue to prioritize their recovery. Short of a relapse, there still may be times when they fall into old habits, such as withdrawing from friends and family or telling lies. You’ll need to recognize these signs and get involved.
4. You can’t change the past.
Many recovering addicts have done things in the past that result in a criminal record, making it harder to get a job. They may have accrued significant debt, declared bankruptcy or had other financial problems. They may still be working out legal issues and trying to earn their way back into the lives of family and friends. Although these are not necessarily deal-breakers, you need to know that their problems can become your problems. If you can’t accept what was, you may not be the right person to accompany them through what is and what will be.
5. Know (and take care of) yourself.
You can’t change your partner or their past, but you can control yourself. In any relationship, setting and enforcing personal boundaries is an essential skill. When your own boundaries are firmly in place, you protect yourself from being taken down by your loved one’s illness.
There may come a point in the relationship when you need to ask some difficult questions: Why are you attracted to this person? Is it because of who they are and how they treat you, or do you have a history of being attracted to people you can rescue or fix? To avoid codependency, enabling and other problematic patterns, you may need to seek counseling of your own.
If a partner relapses, it can be difficult to know what lines to draw. You don’t want to give up on a person you love – after all, they must be in there somewhere – but if the relationship is making one or both of you sick despite your best efforts, it may be time to leave. No one can tell you when it’s time to call it quits except you.
Dating a recovering addict can be complicated, but most relationships are. So long as you know what to watch out for, work to ensure you’re both getting your needs met in healthy ways and reach out for help if you get in over your head – in other words, take the precautions you’d take in any romantic relationship – a recovering addict can be an excellent friend and partner. I think I am…
“If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry… Walk on by, walk on by” – Dionne Warwick
There is nothing memorable about the corner of Franklin Avenue and Highland Avenue in Hollywood. It’s a miserable place where traffic is heavy and the midday sun unforgiving. The corner is simply ugly. It sits one block off the Walk of Fame and is home to the only gas station in the neighborhood. It’s a place you use to get someplace else… you’d have no reason to stay. Highland and Franklin has two towering structures that can be seen from a distance, the Lowes Hotel and a Methodist Church. The Lowes is a hot spot for travelers and “C” list celebrities… the kind that are on dance shows or Real Housewives of Anywhere… it ain’t Beverly Hills.
I’ve never seen anyone near the Methodist Church. The building is big and ugly with a giant tower attached to it, maybe once it housed a bell or clock to let the neighborhood know the Methodists were open for business. Today, it has the biggest faded billboard of an AIDS ribbon I’ve ever seen. I suspect it was installed 25 years ago when the world was still interested in the disease that killed over 750,000 gay men. Today, the sign seems faded and a symbol of the past. The church, the sign, AIDS are all things no longer in fashion, soon a developer will level the area for something important like an American Apparel Store or maybe a Target.
The things that stand out in my mind about Franklin and Highland are the unbearable heat, inoperable pedestrian crossing signs and the lady by the fence. For a year, I have cursed the corner on my way to hike Runyon Canyon. It delays my schedule and ruins my motivation to climb the mountain. Everything about Highland and Franklin irritates me. Damn traffic in L.A. will it ever lighten up? I know with certainty I will run in place waiting for a light that doesn’t change, and I will dart out into traffic and chance becoming a hit and run statistic. I also know that as I wait for my chance to cheat death… I will look for her across the lanes of traffic curled in a fetal position… still and lifeless.
She is the lady by the fence. She has been in the same spot for a year, curled beneath a bush next to a fence that protects the empty parking lot of the Methodist Church with the faded AIDS ribbon. Day and night she remains under the bush motionless… never facing traffic or the life on Hollywood Boulevard. Her world is the bush and the chain link fence that protects the empty parking lot. Once I saw gardeners trimming the bush with heavy equipment and she never moved. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How could she handle what was happening to her? My God, the noise… the heat… the filth… did rats crawl on her at night? But as always, the walking light turned green and I had a canyon to hike, so I left her there as I always do never thinking about her again. She was on the other side of the street and I wasn’t going there, someone would help her. The question was when was it going to happen?
An article in the LA Times stated that 13,000 people a month become homeless in Los Angeles… I think most of them are in Hollywood. I walk past a dozen every morning on my way to Starbucks… I smell the pee and step around them on the sidewalk. Homelessness is part of my daily routine on the boulevard of broken dreams. It’s where the dream malfunctions. I’ve learned not to make eye contact or engage in conversation with anyone or I end up walking home without a latte and pissed off. Maybe that’s why I felt such disregard for the lady under the bush… I never saw her face or made eye contact so we had no human connection. She was not my problem, and as long as I remained across the street I was safe.
Everything changed on Yom Kippur
I listened to a message from Rabbi Denise Eger regarding social injustice and I thought of the lady under the bush. Who was she? Was someone looking for her? How did she get there? Was she still breathing? I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
After services, I walked to the corner of Franklin and Highland and there she was… like one hundred times before she was in the same spot under the same bush in the same position. This time I crossed the street and knelt down next to her and asked if she was ok. I wasn’t prepared for her face, it was filthy as I knew it would be, but the color of her eyes were bright blue and alive. She’s a battered little woman in her 50’s, she doesn’t know her name or where her home is… so she stays under the bush where it is safe. She told me she was hungry and just wanted to go home. I wanted to hug her but we were both too afraid for that.
I left her with all the money I had to get food ($4.00), she said she would walk across to the gas station and eat… I know in my heart she would. She’s not an alcoholic or addict working a scam for her next high… I’m a recovering addict … I can spot others like me in a crowd. She’s simply lost in the world.
As I left, I told her I was going to call someone to help her and to not be afraid. She understood and I left her there alone and waiting. As I walked away I called 911 and reported a woman badly injured by a hit and run driver at Highland and Franklin in need of immediate attention. Yes, I lied to the dispatcher because rescue won’t come for the homeless… they don’t matter. I’d do it again!
This morning she’s gone… I don’t know if she will ever remember her name or where her home is or if someone will love and care for her… all I know is it took a year for me to take an action to help her. I’m ashamed of that….