Navigating Parties, Celebrations and Events Sober
Tips for Alcohol-Free Celebrating at Weddings, Work Events, Vacation, Reunions and More
By Brian McAlister
It’s difficult for people to imagine a major life event without alcohol. This is especially true for those in the first year of sobriety, when every event sober is a new – and often daunting – experience. This can include weddings, work events, vacations, reunions and more. That first year of sobriety is boot camp.
Planning is key to staying sober at an event where alcohol is flowing. Over the years, I have developed a number of strategies. I come to the party prepared, I have an action plan. I have also learned that sobriety is far more fun than I ever imagined it could be.
STAY IN THE PRESENT
“You mean I can’t have a drink at my daughter’s wedding?” As a recovery expert, this is the kind of question I am asked all the time.
“When is your daughter’s wedding?” It’s important to make a plan. Your daughter’s wedding should be a joyous occasion. You don’t want to view a wedding – or a birthday celebration, a holiday gathering, a family reunion – as a hurdle that must be overcome, as a hardship. Keeping a close watch on your physical emotional and spiritual condition before attending an event will help you remain focused and present on any occasion
“My daughter is three years old.”
It seems funny to someone who is not new to sobriety, yet worrying about a future event can derail an addict in recovery.
It’s also helpful to remember, it’s your daughter’s wedding. Ideally, no one should pay much attention to you. Unless you step on the bride’s toes during the first dance. Unless that first drink becomes 10 drinks.
My son got married earlier this year. When he was a toddler, I was drinking and drugging every day. I thought I was the life of the party. I invited all kinds of people to the house, and we drank beer and did drugs until the wee hours of the morning. When my son was 10 years old, when I was so consumed by the disease of addiction that I wanted to die, I crawled into rehab.
At my son’s wedding, I was filled with joy for him and his new wife. I was able to stand with my son, witness him say his vows, participate in his happiness, share his hope for the future. I was grateful that I had flipped the script on my family’s story. I know, and my son knows, that if I hadn’t gone to rehab, if I hadn’t guarded my sobriety every day, I would be dead.
The importance of staying in the present cannot be overstated. The key to staying sober is to guard your sobriety. I’ve been 28 years sober, and I guard my sobriety jealously. Sobriety is the greatest miracle. I guard it every day.
IMAGINE YOURSELF SOBER
For the newly sober, the physical changes alone can be overwhelming. Your body is getting accustomed to life without drugs and alcohol, and cravings are likely still intense. Your sleep schedule has changed, your diet has changed, you see a different face in the mirror each morning.
But the emotional and spiritual changes can also be overwhelming. A major life event – or even a casual dinner party – can heighten all those anxieties. Those who are newly sober have a fear of missing out, they are anxious about being around others who are drinking, they have no concrete idea how to celebrate without drugs or alcohol. Suddenly a joyous celebration instead becomes a perfect storm. Holidays are particularly fraught.
Guarding your sobriety begins with changing your focus. Addicts often feel sorry for themselves. Addicts like to brood, nurse a grudge. I know this personally because it’s exactly how I used to behave. Resentment is dangerous, and a little resentment goes a long way. A little resentment can spoil an entire day or life.
DEVELOP AN ACTION PLAN
None of this is easy. Resentment and anger lead to relapse. Resentment and anger are difficult emotions to control, and they often show up unannounced. I’ve learned it’s best to be prepared.
I meditate. I pray. I stay connected to my sober network. I take advice. I have a plan. I have learned that addiction is a disease of mind, body and spirit, a disease with physical, spiritual and emotional components.
Emotions come from left field. Therefore, to guard my sobriety, to prepare for those major life events, when emotions run high, I have learned to address the physical and spiritual components in advance.
First, take care of your physical needs. Get plenty of sleep, eat well and exercise. Self-love is critical. When your defenses are down, you feel sorry for yourself and make bad decisions.
- Assess the environment and control as many aspects as possible. Arrive late and leave early. Always have a glass of club soda in your hand so no one is compelled to offer you something stronger. Know that it’s OK to walk out – it’s far better to offend the host temporarily than it is to lose your sobriety. And remember that you’re far from alone. In fact, in many places today it’s cool to be sober. The consumer market considers you a trend-setter, and some of the hottest new bars in New York City are alcohol-free.
- Arm yourself with fortitude. Go to a meeting in advance of an event and plan to attend a meeting immediately afterward. Alert your sponsor or your sober friends; have them on call. Relapse is a real danger, as Mike Walsh, who relapsed following a Fourth of July party, can attest. Today, Walsh remains sober and knows the importance of being prepared. On a cruise to the Bahamas, he carried his smartphone at all times, to assure that support through Freedom 365 was at his fingertips. As Walsh said, just knowing it was there made all the difference.
- Visualize the experience in advance. Walk yourself through the day, working through a number of scenarios so you you’ll know exactly wat to say when your brother-in-law offers you a drink, “just this once.” Expect your friends and family to say or do something offensive, stupid or awkward, and expect them to treat you as they did before you were sober. They have some growing to do as well. I like this advice from Self magazine: “I simply say, ‘I don’t drink,’ and leave it at that. If people press that response, I’ll either stare at them and hold an uncomfortable silence (this is enjoyable at some point), or just change the subject.”
- Don’t feel sorry for yourself. This is easy enough to say, difficult to do. Trust me, your attitude will change over time. At a certain point, alcohol will seem frivolous. “Watching other people rack up a line of tequila shots on the bar just doesn’t appeal anymore.” That’s a quote published recently in VICE media – it’s a sentiment I’ve heard consistently over the years.
People who are newly sober think that without alcohol, they’ll never have fun again. But as I’ve learned, sitting on a bar stool drooling on myself is not fun. Watching my son get married? Now that was fun.
Brian McAlister’s sober date is August 2, 1990. He is now the President and CEO of the Full Recovery Wellness Center and Freedom 365 Virtual Recovery System™. He is also the best-selling author of Full Recovery, The Recovering Person’s Guide to Unleashing Your Inner Power. Brian recently created Freedom 365 to put a full year of 24/7, secure, and private addiction recovery support in the palm of your hand, anywhere, and on any device. His mission is to help others have access to the life-changing and life-saving tools of recovery that he uses every day – even after 28 years in sobriety. Why? Because currently only 4% of people in America who need addiction recovery support get it. Find out more here.
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