Friday, July 8, 2011

Would you date an alcoholic?

I get a few emails and admit that sometimes it takes me a while to answer them.  Since retiring, I haven't been as vigilant on checking email as I used to.  It would seem that now I would have the time--LOL--but funny how I seem to fritter away time doing all kinds of things and still stay up until midnight.

Anyway, in an email post, a fellow wrote to ask my thoughts on dating an alcoholic.  First some background,  I haven't "dated" in years.  As a matter of fact, when I first met my wife,  it was at a party, and she was drunk.  Our attempts at dating ended up being non-dates.  We worked as graduate students in the same building, saw each other every day,  so we would just hook up and go do something together.  We attended a lot of graduate student parties where there was a lot of drinking.  By the end of the evening, she would usually be drunk, and I would watch over her.  Some of the greatest times that we had were when we got away from the party scene and went camping on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Like Lois experienced with Bill W. when they would hit the road on the motorcycle, getting away from the parties and having a geographic cure were times of peace and normalcy.

When I look back on those crazy years, I see so many red flags.  But I was in love and that does strange things.  Also, I was already co-dependent so I thought that I could change things, protect her, make her happy, and so on.  Our relationship has had a lot of ups and downs.  But since we both have been in recovery programs, things have been much better.  I love her and know that she loves me.  Are things perfect? No.  We are both sick people getting well.  There is not much use pretending otherwise.

So when asked whether I would date or be in a relationship with an alcoholic, I have to say that I would not.  I once heard someone say that they would  no more start dating a practicing alcoholic or even someone in their first five years any more then they would have unprotected sex with a rabid streetwalker that was foaming at the mouth.  Funny, I didn't think of any of that at the time C. and I met.

I am attracted to alcoholics because the ones I know are intelligent, funny, spontaneous, and loving. Sober alcoholics who have worked the steps, have a sponsor that they use, have a heightened level of accountability and spirituality. But I also am aware that the alcoholic and I think differently in many ways.  Maybe we each are broken in places that still need fixing.  And eventually those broken parts grind against each other.

My experience would be to take it easy and go all relationships.  If you meet someone who sparks something within, take a breath and listen. You may hear something that is really important, like "I got drunk at...." or "I got arrested at..." or  "I hate so and so because blah..blah..." or "I like to party..." or "I'm new in sobriety..." or "I can handle my drinking ."  These would have me signalling frantically for the waiter to bring me the check.  And admittedly, the scariest statement made to an alcoholic might be "I don't know what's wrong with me.  I just pick jerks and assholes. I am like an asshole magnet.  I think my chooser is broken."  Flashing lights, danger alarms, and the Augah sound of a diving submarine should signal to run for the door.  But so often, we choose to ignore what we are told directly because the rules don't apply to us:  "She will change for me",  "I'm different" or "Love can conquer all".  Really?, what you see is what you get.

But there are some exceptions to the rule out there.  There are people who we meet who get their act together, we get our act together and things work out.  But the big "rule" that seems to be truth with few, if any, exceptions is we pick our mirror.   So if you want to date an alcoholic, then proceed with caution and be aware that you might be like "Forrest Gump" when he opens that box of chocolates.  You don't know what you may get--it could be a box of crazy mixed up nuts and not some smooth center.  It takes practice and a lot of being centered to get the picker tuned up and "stick with the winners".

I've written before that I wish everyone would work the 12 steps. It provides a level of accountability and insight that is so important.  Those who simply go to meetings and say that they are recovered may actually do great harm. The best relationship to have is first is with yourself, the one in which you have your own best interests at heart, where you trust yourself and won't compromise yourself when you see a red flag or a boundary that is broken. 

Trust yourself, listen to your flags, triggers, intuition, feelings and issues.  With awareness, loving kindness and forgiveness, you can change what no longer supports your beliefs about life.  Sacrificing yourself for someone else is not love and it's not healthy.  Accept your limits, know them and state your boundaries.  If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is still a duck regardless of how dynamic and charming it is.

Dating someone in recovery can be boiled down to this: The Odds are Good, But the Goods are Odd ~~Anonymous


  1. And the bottom line truth is- no matter who you date, they will not be that same person in twenty years.
    No way, no matter what the circumstances.

  2. "Box of Chocolates" I like, Syd. So long as every piece is ALL CHOCOLATE. Wait? Is that perfection? PERFECTION CONFECTION!!


  3. ha, i like that last line...yeah i would have a hard time doing this...

  4. I'm really glad you are one of the wise people I surround myself with. Thanks for echoing something I am obviously in need of hearing:

    "The best relationship to have is first is with yourself, the one in which you have your own best interests at heart, where you trust yourself and won't compromise yourself when you see a red flag or a boundary that is broken."

  5. It's like I say in dealing's not what you get, it's what you do with what you get.

  6. Well stated, and true. And I like what Ms. Moon said.

  7. Being around alcoholics from the time I was born did not keep me from being in relationships with alcoholics. In some instances, I had made it clear that I was not interested in getting to know someone on drugs or an alcoholic. When told they were neither I spent time with them and got to know them until the truth showed they had lied in the beginning. When I first met my hubby I would not have wanted to be around him if he just smoked cigarettes. I had been around so many things I did not care for; I was not going to do that anymore.

  8. Great post!! Very thought provoking!

  9. When I meet someone and I have a instant attraction it usually turns out they are alcoholic or recovering alcoholic. I think is because they seem familiar to me.

    It is hard to break away from what feels like home. These days I tread light and not jump in head first. This is progress for me.

    I also think like attracts like. Back to the saying not a dimes worth of difference between us and them. No guarantees no matter who it is.

  10. My daughter died of alcoholism two years ago. I met my boyfriend a week to the day of her wake.

    He is a sober alcoholic, now 21 years. He is the only alcoholic other than my daughter I know.

    As strange as it sounds I think it (alcoholism) brought us together and he knows if he takes even one drink I am out of the door. I won't hang around because I won't go through this again.

  11. Everyone brings family of origin issues to relationships. The way we were treated in our family has a lot to do with who we choose as a partner.

    Everyone I knew drank to "party", I didn't even know what real alcoholism was. Most of us have to learn the hard way. Like you, I stuck it out, and have a very happy marriage now.

    But I know now my husband was a heavy drinker, not an alcoholic. When I took the kids and left, he quit drinking immediately. No program, no treatment. An alcoholic cannot stop that easily.

    Do you think C may have been a problem drinker instead of an alcoholic. Not trying to minimize the heartache, just curious about your thoughts.

  12. I wouldn't date an alcoholic. Of course, I did, and I married him, but I didn't know he was an alcoholic. Everyone around him knew, but nobody said anything to me. I always saw the good person he was. Even when drinking. But, the difficulty of living with an alcoholic is something I would not invite. Thanks for sharing Syd.

  13. I married one... it hasn't been easy but then again, I am one too lol. We're making it work a day at a time.

  14. great post as always Syd. I know lots of people who wont date even recovering alcoholics. I disagree with that because where is the guarantee that I meet and date a non alcoholic person, that person wont someday become alcoholic?

    Be well.

  15. I will be spending the day with a whole bunch of dynamic and charming ducks. I try not to quack to loud though..LOL
    Love that line Syd.
    I want to retire too damnit!!!

  16. Fantastic post.Encourages a lot to think about this.As a recovering codependent who has been sober also for nearly 16 years,I have learned that everyone has issues.Be it alcoholism,enabling,perfectionism,controlling,etc.Those all come into a relationship at some point.There is something someone needs to face.
    An actively drinking alcoholic is not a good choice for a date if you are looking for something long term and secure.But if you meet a recovering alcoholic who has past a two year sobriety mark,then I say take your time and see how it goes.Because after all of my years recovering,I have grown.And so to can anyone.

    Each person is different.Just have to be honest - no rose colored glasses and pay mind to how soon the drama comes around.
    If its obvious it won't work,walk away.

    Great discussion.

    I love everyone's comments here too.

  17. I am on my second marriage to an alcoholic, this one has been sober for 25 years, but only in recovery for about 3. It's a hard row to hoe, and I have felt dispirited many times. The only thing that saves my sanity is Al-Anon.

  18. Interesting thread of comments... as a girlfriend of an alcoholic who has been sober 21 years and a mother of an alcoholic who died 2 years ago - I would hate to see an alcoholic who has been sober for a long time to have their recovery held against them in a potential relationship.

    That said, I wouldn't date an active alcoholic nor one still new to recovery.

    What "new to recovery" means is not for me to define...but I would put quite a bit of time in there for my own protection.

  19. I tell my single sponsees who are contemplating a relationship that a person's behaviour will tell you who they are far more honestly and effectively than their words will.

    My partner is in recovery as well. We got together there, but it was never really either of our intentions. We had both dated other crazy unstable people before we became friends. All I really knew was that I liked being with him, and that I didn't feel like I was in the front seat of a roller coaster when we went out. I felt safe. And I still do. Love him with all my heart.
    We work separate recoveries, and have homegroups in different areas. Early on, when we were both still in the same area, we had people try to meddle with us.
    If something were to happen, I don't know that I'd get involved with anyone in the rooms. Definitely not with someone still using, or still really new.

  20. I too married someone who I didn't realise was an alcoholic. I've just spent the afternoon by his hospital bed as he goes through detox after a relapse which came after 4 months of sobriety. If I'd known what my future was going to hold, I think I would have warned myself away from him.

    But then I would have missed out on some of the amazing times we've had together, and I wouldn't have the love of my life.

    It's a really tough choice.

  21. I would date someone who had been sober and in recovery for some period of time (> 2 yrs).

    An active drinker? I hope I would stay far away. Such a person may deserve compassion, help and respet, but a romantic relationship is not a charity. A person in active addiction needs a sponsor, a clergy person, a counsellor, or all of these, NOT a girl/boyfriend.

    Of course, it isn't always easy to tell who is an alcoholic and its's harder to leave a relationship than to avoid starting one. And you never know where life will take you, but knowing what I know now I would try hard to avoid the active addicts!


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