On Sobriety, Recovery and the Art of Not Dating

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I read this piece at Solo in the 2nd City’s “Home (Alone) For The Holidays,” on Dec 11, 2012, at Beauty Bar, Chicago. Below is my intro and the piece in its entirety.

“Soooo, I’m a lesbian—although, you should know my membership to the Mo Club is in danger of lapsing due to inactivity. But, I’m excited about being here tonight. Thanks to Carly and Melinda for the invitation. This is a big week for me. Just hit my 18th month of sobriety yesterday actually. To mark this occasion, and relate it to the Home Alone For The Holidays reading tonight, I wanted to talk about my dating experiences before and after sobriety.”

This will be only my second holiday season without drugs and alcohol. I started smoking marijuana when I was thirteen. Drinking at fifteen. Ate tons of mushrooms and LSD and E, did K and GHB –basically, as a baby dyke I was nurtured during my teenage years by an electric alphabet soup of drugs. But eventually, I grew older and ended up with a very grown-up, very tired and boring, alcohol and cocaine problem. So, at the age of 30—refusing to believe any other number than 30 is the new 30, because that’s the equivalent of saying ‘lying is the new truth’—I decided to get some professional help for my addiction.

My treatment included outpatient rehab, individual counseling and weekly support group attendance—and when I say ‘support group’ it’s not AA, because AA weirds me out. Instead of 12 steps, my group has four steps. In a world of 12 steppers—and half steppers—yes, I’m a proud quarter stepper. In any case, I remember thinking, going into treatment, about how much better my life would be once I could completely rid myself of my addictions. I thought: “If only I could stop getting so fucked up all the time, I could be more productive. I could better focus on my studies. I could go up a flight of stairs without coughing up a lung. I could go down a flight of stairs without falling down. I could find genuine beauty and peace without having to buy substances that just trick me into seeing that where it doesn’t exist. More importantly, I could be a normal person and have normal romantic relationships with normal women. How novel!”

Early on in my sobriety, my therapists (yes, therapists, plural) and my support group buddies, advised me to avoid dating for six to twelve months while I pursued my recovery. I was told that I would need time to myself, to sort myself out. Sure, some people had partners that helped them through recovery but more often, relationships, even when not primarily negative, were taxing and pulled your focus away from sobriety.

At first, I took this advice to avoid dating to heart, and was comforted by it in fact. At that point in my early recovery, my shitty, alcohol-infused dates and such were still top-of-mind. I wanted to distance myself from them. The last official date I went on prior to my start of sobriety was with a woman I met on the internet. She seemed nice enough on screen. She was funny, smart, educated, according to her profile, we shared the same political and religious beliefs. And based on her profile picture, featuring a round sweaty face and bloated paw-like appendage holding a Miller Lite bottle, we shared some important hobbies, too: namely, overeating and drinking to excess. So, after a little fun back and forth online, we decided to meet for dinner and a couple drinks. A pretty basic date.

It was a cold evening in January. I arrived at the restaurant to find her drenched in sweat. I stuck to her when we hugged hello. I didn’t know why she was covered in sweat: she didn’t say and I didn’t ask. I thought it would be rude to ask, so instead I decided to scan the room for the waiter and quickly ordered the first drink of what would prove to be not enough.

This woman I had thought was so smart and funny in earlier email exchanges had nothing really interesting to say in person and I found myself doing all the heavy lifting during the conversation. No seriously, the beer stein was super heavy and lifting it up after every inane thing she said quickly wore me out. Throughout the date, she maintained one of the strangest facial expressions I have ever seen on a person—and mind you, I am a student of psychology. I’m a social psychologist in training, and have watched hundreds of hours of recorded interviews in research labs in which, under the tutelage of highly trained professors, I’ve observed and analyzed countless facial expressions. That being said, her shit was just weird. Her affect was flat but her eyes were unnaturally wide. Her facial expression looked like a cross between being bored and terrified. Also, she kept yawning. I found it hard to not take that personally. I mean, I’m fucking funny. Shit.

“Oh, sorry about the yawning,” she explained ” I’ve been up since 11 am.”

It was 6 pm.

I thought about offering her some of the cocaine I had brought with me but I was afraid it would make her more talkative and she would just prattle on even more. Sensing both my waning interest, and her own inability to hold a decent conversation, she started to overshare with me; telling me shocking, secret things, asking inappropriate questions, in the hopes that would create a sense of intimacy where there clearly wasn’t one.

“Sometimes I have threesomes with my two female roommates,” she blurted out while the waiter was clearing the table.

“Well, good for you” I replied.

“Have you ever had a threesome?” she continued.

“No, I can’t say that I have.” Swig, swig.

She was relentless with her follow up questions. She asked, “Are you a gold star lesbian?”

I never heard that one before, “Uh, gold star?”

She broke it down, “Yes, gold star. A gold star lesbian is a lesbian who’s never slept with a man. Have you ever had sex with a man?”

“So, there’s a ranking system now? What the hell…” I was turned off by her very bold line of questioning regarding my sexual history. There was nothing cute or flirtatious about her broaching this conversation topic. Rather, I felt as if she were administering an LGBT health survey to me. We were already in Andersonville, taking a health survey in a bar wouldn’t have seemed that out of the ordinary.

Seeing me down my fourth beer in about 40 minutes, she said, “You know, once I drank so much I shit my pants. Has that ever happened to you?”


“No, that has never happened to me. I have never shat myself while drunk…or any other time outside of when I was a baby in diapers” I clarified.

The look of disgust on my face was not enough for her to stop talking. She proceeded to tell me about the one time she shat on herself after drinking too much—and then she told me about the three other times she shat on herself while drinking too much. She described in graphic detail, sitting in shit, feeling the shit in her pants, on one occasion, waking up with shit everywhere in her bed…

Instead of just getting up and walking away, I let her go on while I drew up a proper exit strategy. While she nervously yammered on, I focused on my own thoughts. Thoughts like: WHO THE HELL TALKS ABOUT SHIT LIKE THIS ON A FIRST DATE? DOES SHE WANT TO SEND ME AWAY RUNNING AND SCREAMING? WHAT KIND OF TACTIC IS THAT FOR LETTING SOMEONE KNOW YOU’RE NOT FEELING HER? WHATEVER HAPPENED TO JUST CUTTING A DATE SHORT AND TELLING SOMEONE YOU’RE NOT INTERESTED? WHAT KINDA SICK GAME IS THIS? IS IT A GAME? IF not, why would she think this is acceptable? Is she into scat play? UGH, Is this her way of telling me? Wait, am I judging her too harshly? I mean, I’ve done lots of fucked up things while drunk. Shitting my pants is probably the ONLY fucked up thing I haven’t done while drunk. OH MY GOD, does this mean then, that in a way, we complete each other? Maybe I should see where this is going…

I eventually came to my senses and I interrupted her shit tales as I realized she had no intention of changing the topic on her own, “Look, I need to head out,” I said. I threw my napkin down and called for the check. All of a sudden every woman who ever talked about her ex on a first date didn’t look so bad. Being hung up on someone from your past is normal. Shitting yourself, and bragging about it, not so much.

Getting up from the table, both of us heading to the door, she said “I had fun tonight, can I call you again?”

“No!” I firmly replied. “Let’s not…”

She asked, “Was it the shit talk?” She seemed concerned.

“Yes, that was the point of no return when I knew I would definitely not be seeing you again. Sorry.” I left her with some advice, though: “Next time, don’t talk about that with anyone on a first date. Actually, I would say don’t talk about that with anyone. Period. Maybe you should mention it to your doctor though, failure to remain continent could signal a bigger problem—especially for a young woman. You should check that out.”

And so went that shitty date—the last official date I went on while actively drinking.

But, after I had a few months of sobriety, I started to feel like maybe I should get back out there and try dating again. Maybe the six month to a year ban on dating wasn’t in my best interest. Maybe it was more of a suggestion. My sobriety buddies told me that if I wanted to get back out there, I needed to avoid dating anyone who drinks. With this in mind, I approached a woman I met in one of my support groups. We exchanged numbers and yes, some texts of a sexual nature were exchanged.

During the last text conversation we had, I mentioned that my back was killing me—and no, that wasn’t meant to be sexy. I was just complaining after a long day of working at my computer. She replied that if I let her come over, she knew some tricks to make me feel better. The body of her message, proceeded by three winking emoticons, read that she was good with her hands and she could work out the knots in my back. When I playfully replied asking her what else she could work out with her hands, she texted back and said “for $50, I’ll go wherever you need me to go.”

I froze. During our support meetings, I remembered her talking about doing sex work in the past. I thought to myself: Is this what I think it is? Is this woman actually trying to sell me a fingerbang? I had no script for this situation. What do I do? What do I say? I didn’t know. So, I said nothing. And we haven’t texted or talked or otherwise interacted to this day.

The sad part was that the real reason I didn’t take her up on her offer was because $50 seemed kinda steep for that service. Maybe if there was some sort of rewards card or loyalty program… MAYBE. Like buy four get the fifth free. Five finger discount. But I didn’t have that kind of money to waste on get rubbed off. She had me wrong, I’m broke. And I had her wrong, too: She wasn’t interested in me, she was looking for clients.

There were a few more missed connections with other people around that same time I chose to lift the dating ban but shortly after that, I decided to just stop looking altogether. Fuck dating. I’m done. And that’s where I am now.

My sobriety has led me to a new found respect for alcohol, actually. Alcohol helps dull the pain of embarrassment, the realization that these connections I imagined with these women were really just that: imagined. Of course, instead of reaching for a strong, memory-altering salve, I could reexamine my approach to relationships and I could learn to think differently about my love life—but who has time for that shit? Drugs and alcohol provide immediate relief to the hurt of hearing “let’s just be friends” or “BITCH, stop calling me!” Getting high helps soothe you while navigating the ups and downs of the disappointing dating game, including the ups and downs of being mistaken for a John (or in my case, a Jane) and listening to someone you thought you were interested in talk about defecating on herself.

My sobriety buddies warned me that if I violated the ban on dating before I was ready, I might be pushed into a relapse. Instead, I’ve just been pushed into never wanting to date again.

I’m okay with that.

Originally published on SoDamnTired. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

About the author: J. N. Reyna is a queer Chicana born and raised in Chicago. She is a writer and researcher currently working toward obtaining her doctorate in social psychology. Broadly, her academic research interests include the self, social identity, and consumer psychology. To stay current with her daily musings, you can find her on Twitter @reynabot and at her blog, http://www.SoDamnTired.com.

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  1. Soso good. I’m in school for social work/to be an AODA counselor and WE NEVER TALK ABOUT QUEER WOMEN. If anyone ever mentions the LGBT community, it’s to talk about gay men using club drugs (so 90’s).

    This is going in my own little personal file of resources that hopefully I can share with the other queermos I meet in my field. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. :D I am also in recovery and have dealt with the strangeness that is trying not to date when first getting clean. And I only came out after I got clean so I always worry about not being able to meet people who aren’t frequently drinking at least. Thanks for your post!

  3. I honestly have to say that this article brings me some comfort when I put it in the context of my last relationship with a girl who had problems with alcohol. My ex struggled with PTSD that she acquired from childhood and military deployments, the alcohol issues were a side-effect of that. After a few years of her “issues” getting progressively worse, we finally broke it off last summer. I beat up on myself a lot, thinking I could help fix her, but the reality was that I couldn’t. And she wouldn’t get better while I was still around doing everything for her. This article really provides helpful perspective that reminds me that she was sick and couldn’t be a good partner for me. No matter how much we tried.

    Well, she ended up hooking up with a new girl last I heard. But I guess that just goes to show me how willing she was to get her shit together.

    Sometimes, if you have shit to deal with, it needs to be taken care of by yourself.

    • Yes! I have been on both sides of this fence. Alcoholics often are looking for someone to complete them, or “fill their empty hole” (no pun intended), once the alcohol is removed. They have to learn how to feel complete on their own without using someone or something. Good job for getting out of it!

  4. Your shitty date made me laugh so hard I almost coughed up a lung. I loved your honesty and your humour made me smile. Thanks for sharing.

  5. That truly sounds like a horrible date. Why why WHY would someone keep talking about something like that?

    But thank you for sharing. It was hilarious, despite the seemingly heavy subject matter.

  6. Thanks for your brutal honesty! I commend you for putting this out there. I don’t know how long ago this was written but hang in there and I’m sure things will continue to improve for you, I know they have for me! I wish there was a little more optimism or like a glimmer of hope in this for people are really struggling with whether or not they are ready to get sober, but I understand this article is just about one aspect of your life & sobriety and cant possibly cover everything. I hope that people know there is life after sobriety and they will find that special someone and the more adjusted you get to sobriety the less it seems a burden and more a casual thing. I haven’t found that being sober has hindered my dating life at all because of the types of friends I surround myself with, and I have realized that the number one thing that determines how being openly an alcoholic in dating or new friendships affect me is my level of comfort. If I act like its not big deal then neither do the other people, there are plenty of queer computer nerds, writing nerds, etc or people out there who just don’t drink because it’s not their thing. The better I feel about my entire life, the easier it is for me to mention this as “this sobriety thing I happen to do because it’s a health problem otherwise.” There are also a million different events and camps across the U.S. you can go to meet other queer sober women to date. Good luck :)

  7. Oh lord, dyingggggg reading about that woman talking about shitting herself. But serious question here, from someone (me obviously) who has a substance abuse issue: “My sobriety buddies told me that if I wanted to get back out there, I needed to avoid dating anyone who drinks.”

    This is SO hard for me. Dated someone who didn’t drink or do drugs, which was awesome for me, until we broke up and I got black out drunk, of course, and then threatened them. Now we’re talking again and they’ve been very understanding about the problems I’m dealing with… but apart from this boi, I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t drink. Am kind of dating some one new and told them I have a substance abuse issue already, but… ugh… I don’t know. It’s hard.

    • Perhaps you can simply ask your date not to drink when you are with them? That way you can search for someone who can accommodate your needs.

    • hi…I was an alcoholic for 10 years and cocaine for 4. I struggled with dating when I got clean because I thought I had to date only sober people. The only sober people I could find were either on the edge (and we just tipped each other over) or very religious (not my thing) or had never been into drinking or drugs and so couldnt really understand what the hell I had been doing for 10 years. I can only speak for my experience, but I would say: avoid people who are newly in recovery. You feed each others problems. Find someone who only drinks occasionally and never had a problem with it – someone who defines themselves in other ways. A geek, or a mountain hiker :) And get yourself to the point where you are so delighted to be free of alcohol that being with them when they drink doesnt bother you at all. That may sound like a fairy-tale situation to you but I promise it is possible….I NEVER crave a drink now. And when I see other people drink I just think how lucky I am to be free…this book got me to this point, and saved my life, no joke:


      good luck, be happy

  8. I love this. I laughed and also completely related to this article. I am not in recovery, but am approaching the big 30 and decided to stop drinking and doing drugs. I have found that it’s a big change and I appreciate the brutal honest of this article.

  9. Man, I don’t understand why all the comments are applauding this article. Like, what the fuck?

    “And based on her profile picture, featuring a round sweaty face and bloated paw-like appendage holding a Miller Lite bottle, we shared some important hobbies, too: namely, overeating and drinking to excess.”

    I don’t see brutal honesty as much as I see assholery. And fyi, you’re not funny.

  10. This is so great. Thank you for posting it. I worked as a substance abuse counselor and we hounded people with the “no dating for a year” rule. There’s a reason for it. Unfortunately, not many people listen.
    I wish we had more brutal and honest discussions about alcohol and drug use and abuse because it is so very wide in our community. I dated someone who was sober from her drug of choice but not in recovery and what do you know, that shit ended badly. Even though I knew she wasn’t ready to date and I wasn’t ready to accept how serious the issue was, I still went forth with it because GIRLS and LOVE and all of that. But we all learn, sooner or later.

    Also, bad date stories are the best.

  11. Thanks Reyna. There was a rawness and a humour to your writing I really appreciated. I admire your drive for staying sober and your ability to see the funny side of a long tough journey. Good luck!

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