If you’re in recovery from an alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD), one thing that can trip you up – especially early in recovery – is special events. Things like birthday parties, anniversaries, and graduations often not only include, but feature alcohol. The main event, such as a graduation ceremony itself, for instance, might not revolve around alcohol. But the receptions, the private get-togethers, and the after-parties almost always do.
Those parties present a real problem that people in recovery need to learn to handle quickly. They’re filled with what people in recovery call triggers, i.e. sights, sounds, and people that remind them of drinking or using drugs. Triggers can cause a flood of thoughts, feelings, and cravings that have a very real chance of leading to relapse.
The best way to avoid triggers – and this is going to sound circular – is to avoid them. Easy examples of things to avoid for someone in recovery from AUD include bars, parties, and the people with whom they used to drink.
Sometimes, though, the trigger-filled events are impossible to avoid. For instance, you want to go to your nephew’s college graduation party. Or you want to see your best friend play music at a venue where you know there’s lots of drinking.
Or, the boss at your new place of employment invites you to their annual 4th of July picnic, and – for the sake of your job and making a good impression – you really should go. And finally, maybe you just want to go to a 4th of July event, and you think you’re ready.
How do you handle it?
Here are our top tips. You can use these to help with any 4th of July event – not just a work picnic.
Five Tips for a Sober 4th of July
Connect with your sober community first.
Talk to your sponsor or recovery peers at your community support meetings about the upcoming event. They’ll share their best tips and techniques, some of which we’re sure you’ll see below. You can go to a meeting before the picnic to shore up your skills and prepare. You can go to a meeting after the picnic to debrief and talk through what you experienced. And during the meeting, you can step out and call your sponsor or a recovery peer if you need a sober support person to talk to.
Have a plan.
Reading articles like this is a great place to start getting ideas for your plan. The next best place is your therapist or counselor. The next best place after that is, as mentioned, your sober community. Talk through exactly what you might deal with, come up with concrete techniques to address the issues you anticipate, and make sure everything you plan is realistic and doable for you. Remember: you’re the one who needs to stay sober. If someone makes a suggestion you know won’t work for you, then there you go: thank them and move on to the next suggestions.
Don’t get the old band back together.
If you need to go to a work event – then you should go, with a good plan. If you need to go to a family event – then you should go, with a good plan. However, if you want to go back to that epic party your former drinking friends hold every year – the one everyone goes to that always has the best live music – we think you should not go to a party like that. Especially if you’re early in sobriety. Going to an event like that is asking for trouble. Trouble meaning relapse, which you want to avoid.
Say yes to family – with boundaries.
We advise checking in with your therapist, counselor, sponsor, or sober peers about this first, but reconnecting with your family is an important aspect of recovery. Events like the 4th of July can be perfect. Here’s why: they follow simple patterns, they have a fixed beginning and end, and you have more control and freedom than you would, for instance, sitting at the table at Thanksgiving. Getting up from the table mid-meal could be awkward, but slipping out the gate while everyone is focused on a yard game is easy. Also, this kind of family event is a good place to start acting on the boundaries you set for yourself and family members during treatment.
Focus on the people.
Connecting with kind, loving, supportive humans is crucial to recovery. This may be your first sober 4th of July. Which means this is probably the first time you’ve had a focus that’s not drinking. That means that this time, you can focus your attention on connecting with people and having interesting conversations. You can learn about them and share about yourself. Whether you share your sobriety status is up to you – but we suggest learning more about other people this year. Ask questions, find out new things, and who knows what might happen – you may just make a new friend, which is a gift that can last a lifetime.
Make it Yours
Real talk: if you connect with your recovery community, your sponsor, and/or your therapist/counselor, and they all tell you going to a 4th of July event is a bad idea – listen to them. You can find a diplomatic way out of invitations from work, family, or friends if you think the events put your sobriety at risk. Your goal is wake up on July 5th on track, sobriety intact. If your community advises you against going to the picnic in question, then do something else. Go to a 4th of July event that’s sponsored by and held for people in recovery: those are not hard to find. Start with the AA website, and go from there. This is also an opportunity to start a tradition of your own. Decide what you want out of this holiday, talk to your recovery peers, and have your own celebration. You’re wondering how to have a sober 4th, so you can bet others in your position are wondering the same thing – and would love to start a great new tradition with you.