If you’re in recovery, chances are you know what it’s like to be the life of the party. Or, at least you thought you did anyway. Many of us, in the depths of our addiction, were the first ones to arrive at the party and the very last ones to leave.
Addiction can fool the best of us into thinking that we’re the most fun, exciting, and daring people to show up at any birthday soirée, holiday event, or office get-together. The truth is, we probably made fools of ourselves (or worse!) and caused those around us stress or embarrassment. Often, we were unreliable, unstable, and unpredictable. Sometimes, we were even liabilities to the places and people who hosted us.
As we ease back into the world of socializing in sobriety, it can be a BIG adjustment.
First, we have to completely re-envision ourselves in certain social situations where friends, family, and co-workers may be responsibly enjoying alcohol. Frankly, we have to decide if it’s smart for us to be around it at all. It isn’t just a matter of our comfort — it’s a matter of our safety.
This week’s question addresses the fear that so many of us had/have in early sobriety: Our first party in sobriety.
While it can be difficult to navigate new, social situations in sobriety, it shouldn’t be something that scares us. One of the amazing gifts of sobriety is becoming available to our friends and loved ones so we can celebrate and share special moments without letting our addictions run the show.
Q: I am newly sober. My best friend is having a birthday party in a few weeks. A lot of my friends will be there and a few of my family members too. It’s at a bar. I’m feeling good about being sober and I really want to go. But, this will be my first time back in a bar. I’m nervous. What should I do? I really don’t want to relapse.
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Dear Party Animal,
You’ve got a great question. Party-going in early sobriety is a completely valid reason to be nervous. And, you’re not alone in being hesitant to head back into a bar, especially when you feel like you just walked out of one!
I think all of us have fretted about socializing around alcohol during early sobriety. And, rightly so. There’s a lot that can come up when we find ourselves in situations that used to fuel our addictions: Seeing old friends with whom we used to drink. Being surrounded by booze. Feeling like the odd person out in a group that’s drinking. Being asked by friends or family why we’re not drinking. And, sometimes we even get coaxed by others who want us to drink with them.
Your concerns are all valid and should not be taken lightly. That being said, it IS possible to go to social events where you know there will be lots of drinking and remain sober with confidence.
The key to partying around alcohol is: Being Prepared.
In 12-Step Recovery, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous makes a great point: There isn’t any reason to be nervous about being at a bar, or anywhere you might find alcohol, so long as you have a good reason for being there. In your case, it’s your best friend’s birthday. A close friend’s birthday is a reason for celebration! So, you have a good reason for going to the bar. Now, you need a game plan.
Since you’re headed to a place that it’s likely you’ll be tempted, it helps to plan out your night, play-by-play. This gives your evening structure and helps you to make choices that support your newfound sobriety, even if you feel uncomfortable.
Planning ahead that can take some of the uncertainty and anxiety out of your evening. Here are a few things to think about before heading out:
Know How You’re Getting There & Know How You’re Getting Home
Don’t leave leave transportation to chance, it can be a big factor in your evening. Make plans to get to the event and to get back home. If it’s your first time going out in sobriety, it’s essential that you, and you alone, are responsible for your transportation. If you start feeling shaky and want to leave the party, you don’t want to have to rely on a ride from someone else (especially if they’ve been drinking!). Don’t offer to give someone else a ride home either. This way, if you do want to leave the party early, you haven’t put yourself in a position where you are responsible for someone else. Focus on celebrating with your friend and your sobriety — nothing else.
Know What You’re Ordering At The Bar
If you’re going into a bar where you are surrounded by temptations, order your non-alcoholic beverage with confidence. Know what kind of soda you want. Know if you want a lemon or a lime. Know if you want ice or not. My point is, don’t leave ANY room for chance or hesitation. When you’re at the bar, be brief. Get your beverage and make your way back to your friends and family. Don’t invite temptation. When it comes to the bar: Get your drink quickly. Get your drink confidently. Get back to the reason you’re really there: To celebrate your friend.
If You Feel Uncomfortable, Leave
Bottom line is, your first trip back to the bar can be intimidating, overwhelming, and disconcerting. If you’re starting to feel unstable, upset, or uneasy — Leave. Your friends and family will understand. And, even if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. Your sobriety should always be your first priority. Don’t apologize to anyone for making yourself comfortable or protecting your sobriety.
Remember, you are in control. And, if you feel like you can’t be in control, reconsider going to the party. If you are feeling confident, then make a specific plan and stick to it. You’ll be just fine if you remember your valid reasons for attending. And, no matter what happens, know that you can leave the party whenever you choose.
I hope you have a great time, Party Animal. Because being available for loved ones and having a blast while living sober is really what it’s all about.
I think we can all cheers to that!