Should I date an alcoholic?
Dear Rabbi Moss,
Some years ago, I met a guy and we became friends. This guy used to be an alcoholic. When I met him, he explained to me how he had been to Alcoholics Anonymous and was already sober for a couple of years. We then went our separate ways, keeping in touch here and there. A few weeks ago he messaged me, and enquired whether I was willing to give him a shot and date him. After much discussion, I told him I have to think about it and that recovered addicts is something I need to understand more. I thoroughly enjoy his company and think the package deal is amazing: he makes me laugh, he is smart, witty, committed to Judaism, kind, compassionate, thoughtful and knows what he wants for his future home and life. To be honest, I would have never known he was an addict had he not told me so. But I have a history of addiction in my own family, and always dreamed of moving away from that in my future family. So my question is, should I completely steer away from this, or should I give him a chance? Can I trust his recovery, or is once an addict always an addict? Would you recommend dating him, or should I just move on?
Scared of Addiction
Let me first commend your level-headedness, a quality that is exceedingly rare when it comes to relationships. You obviously have your head screwed on right and you are walking into this with your eyes wide open. So often people enter or avoid relationships without any clear thinking, just following their heart. That usually leads to messy situations. Your thought out approach will serve you well.
As Jews we believe in the power of Teshuvah - that people can really change. And those who do change, who pick themselves up and turn their lives around for the better, are among the most inspiring people in the world. While there are no guarantees of what the future holds, if someone is sincerely doing the internal work and getting the appropriate help, they truly can turn a new page in life and never look back.
From the sound of things, your friend has done some hard work and his addiction is under control at the moment. But you need to know more details about that. Is he still regularly attending AA or some other support group? Is he committed to an ongoing recovery program? Recovering addicts need that for life, whether daily or weekly or monthly. If he is getting appropriate support then he has every chance of staying sober. If not, then anything can happen.
Once you get a clearer picture of his recovery, and before you get emotionally involved, you need to think long and hard - are you up for this? Can you handle having alcoholism, even in its recovery, a part of your life after what you have seen in your own family? Every person has their story. Is this a story you can take on and make your own?
If the answer is no, you can't handle it, then that is fine. No need to feel guilty. It is a lot to carry, and maybe you have carried enough in your life. The last thing you want to do is replicate the dysfunction you have witnessed in your own family. You can't become his nurse or his therapist.
But if after hearing the facts and thinking it over you feel confident that he really has turned himself around and you can accept him for who he is, then give it a go. You may be lucky to have found one of those beautiful souls who has seen the darkness and conquered it. Take your time, get to know him well, and see where G-d leads you. May it be on the correct path.