Ways to stay sober at family or friends’ gatherings
It’s 2 p.m. on a bright September Saturday, and Ellen Winston is getting ready to head to a baby shower. She’s eager to celebrate her friend’s pregnancy with her rainbow baby, and looking forward to seeing and spending time with people she hasn’t seen in a long time.
“I know the champagne will be calling my name,” says Ellen softly. “You’d think it’d be easier over time, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s really not.”
Ellen has been sober for two years.
As a person in recovery, you know managing addiction is challenging. It’s particularly difficult when you are trying to participate in activities or special events where you know there may be alcohol, or even drugs. When you’re in the midst of a treatment, especially an in-patient program, you are completely immersed in a transformation process, and you’re learning the skills and tools on how to engage with the world without using or drinking. But when you’re out there in the ‘real world’ – taking those new skills and applying them can be harder than you thought. We see hundreds of clients each year for addiction support. For many, doing research is the first step. Learn more about addiction and recovery from our Road to Recovery book now available for free. Get your copy HERE.
Staying sober when you’re at a family member or a friend’s house for a party or get-together isn’t something you can hope you’ll be able to do. You’ll need a relapse prevention plan in place, so you can avoid using or drinking in those tricky social situations.
Count on your support system
If you have a sober friend you always talk to or a trusted therapist, talk to them about your feelings. Those who have been in your shoes will know exactly how you’re feeling. They’ll be there to support you when you’re feeling overwhelmed, worried, or even when you seem to be feeling a little too confident. By having open and honest conversations about what you’re feeling, you will understand and be able to watch out for those triggers that might cause you to slip or relapse. You’ll also be able to walk yourself through a strategy for how to cope with and deal with those triggers. Your sober friends will also assist in holding you accountable and help you stay on your road to recovery.
A sober friend is also invaluable to have when you’re heading to a party where there may be alcohol. Those who don’t know you well and don’t know you’re in recovery may offer you a drink without a second thought, simply out of kindness or hospitality. You don’t need to disclose to anyone that you’re a recovering alcoholic, and usually, a simple, “No thanks, I’m driving,” is a perfectly fine answer. Most hosts will respect that. But if you have a particularly eager host in your hands, or you feel impolite turning them down, your sober friend will help you say no – or take the drink from your hand when you don’t seem to have the strength to do it yourself.
Have a list of answers ready
If your hosts don’t know you’re in recovery, they might offer you a drink out of courtesy. Before you find yourself in an awkward situation, have a list of answers ready that will protect your privacy and even steer them away from constantly asking you if you want a drink all night long.
“Sorry, I have an early meeting tomorrow.”
“I’m driving tonight.”
“I’m on antibiotics.”
“Thanks, but I’ve started a clean eating diet.”
“I’m prepping for a blood test and can’t drink.”
“I’m not feeling well.”
“Sorry, but drinking gives me a migraine.”
Of course, you can always tell the truth, and come right out and say, “I am a recovering alcoholic.”
When you’re at a party, serve yourself your own non-alcoholic drinks. The internet is full of great drink recipes that require no liquor. If you’re a nervous partygoer and feel as though you always need something in your hand to feel comfortable, always have a glass of water with you. You can even put a lemon on the rim so it looks like a drink – this might deter people from constantly asking if you want a drink.
Have an escape plan ready
If you’re feeling as if the party is getting too be too much, and your triggers are causing you discomfort, the best thing to do is get up and leave. You may be tempted to drink because you’re uncomfortable and you think a drink will relax you or make things better; you may be tempted to drink because your boss is drinking and you want to make a good impression; you may be drinking because the person you’re interested in is drinking and you want a reason to talk with them. Whatever the reason for your temptation, the best thing you can do for your health is to remove yourself from the party. Nothing is worth the risk of sliding back into relapse.
“For a long time, I would see people with a drink in their hands at a work party or something, and my natural reaction was to feel left out,” shares Ellen. “That lonely feeling was the first and most important sign to me I needed to execute my escape plan. I just know that about myself. So even now, when I feel even the smallest trigger, I get out. I always know to keep my coat near me and an excuse ready, and I’m out the door.”
Go to a meeting before or after the party
Attending a 12-step meeting before the party will help you feel more confident about your recovery, and will remind you of how far you’ve come. You’ll be surrounded with people who support your health, people who know firsthand the challenges you will face going to a party with alcohol present. Attending a meeting after the party will help keep you sober during the gathering – you’ll get to share your success story with your peers, and you’ll inspire others with that success story too.
The acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) is used by many experts and mental health professionals when helping someone recognize internal triggers. If you are feeling any of these things, be extra diligent of your recovery plan. Make sure you’re eating healthy foods and not letting yourself go hungry. Keep your feelings in check and try not to get to the point of anger or loneliness. If you’re tired, make sure you’re getting at least eight hours of rest every night, or even just letting yourself sit and rest at different points throughout the day so you can recharge.
For more information and assistance on ways to deal with gatherings with friends and family while in recovery, visit www.hopetherapyandwellness.com. We also invite you to fill out our confidential online form for a free 15-minute consultation with one of our therapists.
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