Dating a recovering addict: Asking for trouble?


by Cyn Collins

Dear Cyn,

I’m a bisexual woman in her mid-20s, and I’ve recently made the very difficult decision to end a multi-month relationship with my boyfriend–a relationship that I felt was emotionally abusive. Now, I’m finding myself attracted to a female musician. We met the other night and flirted, but since then I’ve learned through friends that just a year ago, this woman kicked a very serious heroin addiction. She seems to be in good health now…but am I setting myself up for another bad situation? Or should I take the plunge?

Caught Between Rock and a Hard Place

Dear CBR,

By the time you get this letter, you probably have moved on to (or even moved onto) someone else already. But here’s what I say: Good thing you ended the multi-month relationship before it became multi-year, and far more difficult to extricate yourself, believe me. Because if you “felt” it was emotionally abusive, it was. Now you’re ready to play again, perhaps start something that could evolve into another multi-month relationship. You’re young, there will be at least a few of these to come for you.

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You must know, heroin is a tricky addiction that doesn’t really ever end. One bad turn and she could fall again. And you won’t know it, at least not immediately, because addicts can be very secretive about such things. You mention some promising things—your friends noted she kicked the habit, a very difficult thing to do, requiring huge strength and will, admirable qualities in anyone. Also, she seems to be in good health. Invite her to coffee and have “the talk.” The usual, about STDs and safe sex, where you’re coming from—including feeling damaged from the recent emotionally abusive relationship—and of course, bring up what you heard from your friends. Tell her you are attracted, but concerned. Hopefully your candor will help her feel comfortable about opening up to you. Is she in treatment? How long has it been since she kicked the habit, and has she dabbled with any drugs since? If she seems either a) glib and flippant or b) evasive and quiet and won’t look you in the eye—that’s bad news. If she’s straightforward and frank about her problem, go forward but tread lightly. You’ve just been in a damaging relationship. Be good to yourself, and try not to get too deeply emotionally attached for at least a few months. Meanwhile, go to parties with her, meet her friends, see if her environment seems healthy or not so healthy. See how she handles stress, anger, bad times…you can only learn about someone gradually, and it’s best not to let yourself fall head over heels until you’re fully informed. If she doesn’t seem as healthy as she did the night you flirted with each other, it’s time to move on to other, more positive relationships. While a few months may feel like aeons to you, trust me, they will be but a blip a few years later, and there’s no rush to be in a serious relationship now. Take care of yourself first, and the rest will follow.

I have a question for you. You only mention two relationships—one past and one potential—but it sounds to me as though you are attracted to bad boys and girls. Is it possible you have issues with your own self-esteem? Leaving the mean guy shows promise, but there is potential to get caught up in another painful quagmire dragging you down. At least you know how to and when to get yourself up out of it. Be prepared to do the same here, and perhaps arrange a back-up plan—it never hurts to see a relationship counselor, even by yourself, for guidance when you are in relationships that can chip away at your positive sense of self, so slyly you’re unaware of it until it’s too late.

But for now, it’s just flirting, and it could turn into something wonderful over time. So don’t plunge, but dip your digits in the pool and test the waters. Flirt, have a fleeting (or not so fleeting) fling, and have fun.


P.S. I know at least two musician/drug counselors who are former addicts and are still rocking out regularly, but no longer shooting or snorting. If you’d like to talk to them about what to expect and do with your rockin’ girl and her tilt-a-whirl world, I’m happy to share their numbers.

Published on 12/18/08. Photo ©2008 by Harry Johnson.