This is part 3 of 4 in The Temper’s Sober Dating Guide, a series to help guide you through the dating world while in recovery. First, we talked about how to find a date and then gave you some great non-alcohol date ideas. Come back next week for more!

For all the sneaking around, excuse making, manipulating, and overcompensating I did when I was actively drinking, I’m sure making up for it now by being extremely honest with people about my NOT drinking.

Maybe it’s because it’s still so new to me, it feels shiny and exciting to say that I’m sober. I’m increasingly proud of myself as each month goes by. What’s funny is that it comes up at inopportune times. For instance, my car insurance agent made a joke about not drinking and driving and, before I know it, “I’m an alcoholic so that’s not an issue” comes out of my mouth. New co-workers offer me tequila and a bong rip after I got some disappointing personal news and “I’m 10 months sober” slides out of my mouth when I wasn’t planning to tell my co-workers, because of boundaries. Maybe this disclosure is a new form of attention seeking… because I certainly do relish in the immediate verbal reactions and shock I see on people’s faces.

For all the sneaking around, excuse making, manipulating, and overcompensating I did when I was actively drinking, I’m sure making up for it now by being extremely honest with people about my NOT drinking.

For now, I know I need to be upfront about my not drinking from the very beginning — before a first date — because I need to protect myself from people like me. If I say I don’t drink before there’s even a date planned, the heavy drinker will run the other way (I certainly would have). I even put the carefully-thought-out phrase “sober but you don’t have to be” on my online dating profiles, but that isn’t necessary. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

I realize not everyone desires to be as upfront as me, so here’s a roadmap for telling a date you’re sober, with some guidance from experts.

Stage One: How Long Have You Been Sober?

For those of us not “grandfathered in” to a relationship before getting sober, it’s usually recommended to be single for a year before dating. This advice is truly advice, not a requirement, and perhaps even unrealistic. I know many people who dated immediately and are still sober.

For me, I felt so disconnected from my body, who I was, and what I wanted that heeding this advice was a huge relief. I was able to focus on myself without acknowledging the pang of desire for attention or sex to distract or fill an emotional hole. I started seeing people for who they really are without having ulterior motives to get drunk enough to stumble into bed. Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, says, “Recovery is such a profound experience and re-invention. We’re called to reinvent ourselves and because we reinvent ourselves it takes some time to be on solid footing to know what dating looks like, or should look like.”

Stage Two: Stop and Pause

Are you really ready? Are you’re making progress accepting and loving who you are at this moment? Are you looking for sex or scheduling dates because it feels “bad” or as a distraction for the seeming mundanity of early sobriety? No judgement here, because I still crave ways “I can be bad” in sobriety but I also know that that kind of pleasure doesn’t last and usually makes me feel guilty afterward (I’m a recovering Catholic, too).

But re-entry into dating is subjective. “Addiction makes us lose our own sense of self… we need time to be free of that self-destructive relationship with our mood alterer for a while so that we don’t use a relationship as a mood alterer,” says Tian Dayton, author, and PhD Senior Fellow at The Meadows. Talk to a sober mentor, sponsor, or someone you trust about dating and meditate on it. At the very least, avoid the types of people you used to go out with while drinking or using.

Stage Three: Proceed With Caution

OK, you’re good to go. You’ve made a date with someone who seems genuinely interested in you and you’ve made plans. If you don’t want to disclose your sobriety status yet, then don’t! As a sober mentor of mine, Sarit Rogers, says, “Keep it lean.”

You don’t need to tell anyone anything on a first date. You are there to feel each other out. If you’re going to a restaurant or place where alcohol is offered, you can always get there early and order something non-alcoholic. You can also say you don’t feel like drinking, can’t for health reasons, or my personal favorite — best said at a party or somewhere where drinks are flowing heavily — “I’ve had enough.”

Dayton says she doesn’t know what the appropriate point is to tell your date you’re sober, “I wouldn’t wait too long myself because someone could feel deceived if they fall for you and then you tell them after they have become attached.” For you, the discloser, Dayton recommends telling the person, “Thoughtfully, when you are in a stable balanced place and when you can tolerate what their reaction might be without either losing yourself or becoming defensive and controlling.”

Stage Four: Check in With Yourself Regularly

So you’ve been on a few dates, everything’s going great, and you might have even had sex at this point. Usually just as a relationship is getting real, I start future tripping and eventually self-sabotage before I get my heart broken first. But I don’t need to do that anymore and neither do you.

In her book, The Soulful Journey of Recovery, Dayton says beautifully that “”he here and now is our only real point of power. What we feel in the moment, see in the moment and appreciate in the moment acts like fertilizer for growing more of it. Attention is like watering the stuff of life, it grows more of whatever is watered.”

Like with recovery, take relationships one day at a time. It’s less likely to get paranoid or create reasons to self-sabotage. As the relationship progresses, make sure to maintain your individuality, see your friends, exercise, and continue to engage in whatever makes up your recovery. Don’t stop loving yourself.

Ultimately, when to tell the person you are dating (whether casually or seriously) that you are sober is a deeply personal choice. Yes, it might feel a little bit like “coming outin that you are revealing a deep and vulnerable part of yourself with this person. At the end of the day, your best bet is to make sure that you are dating those that you can trust and not falling back into old habits. If you find yourself in a bad dating situation, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and go back to the beginning of your sobriety and that year-long dating break that many of us don’t exactly adhere to.

Make sure that you are also not keeping secrets about whether or not you’re dating from your recovery support system—whether that’s friends, family, or a recovery group. If you do decide to tell your date, whether before a first date or after you’ve progressed to a more intimate relationship, that you are sober you will need your support people around in the off chance things go badly. Hopefully they won’t but, of course, no relationship is worth risking your hard-earned sobriety.

In our last week, we’ll tackle the difficult topic of first-time sex in sobriety. In the meantime, get brave and tell your date that you’re sober… when you’re ready.