How can you have fun while sober? How can you be social, laugh, and be at events where others are drinking? These questions seem impossible to tackle when you first enter recovery. But these are also some of the most pressing issues for people who are thinking about whether or not sobriety can work for them. When drinking and using drugs is all we know, moving through the world without them can seem daunting. The truth is you may feel uncomfortable for a while, but eventually you will learn the skills to socialize without drinking, how to avoid triggers and cravings, and how to relax and have fun.
Social events can be full of triggers – people, places, or things that make you think of drinking or using. How can you navigate these situations and not be overwhelmed? Here are some tips.
1. Learn your triggers
The first key to avoiding triggers and being comfortable in social situations is to learn what your triggers are. Triggers are different for everyone and can range from certain people you used to party with, certain bars, clubs, or places where you used to drink or use, smells that remind you of certain substances, songs that remind you of using, certain flavors, or even holidays that make you think of your drug of choice. For me, I don’t like drinking apple or cranberry flavored drinks and sparkling water because it reminds me of vodka. I also don’t drink kombucha because it tastes like alcohol to me. It might take some time moving through your life to find out what feels bad and what feels good to you. Maybe you feel comfortable returning to certain cities and places because you’re sober now. Unfortunately, triggers are mostly a trial and error type thing. You’ll have to stay aware of what causes you to think about drinking or using and then mark those down as triggers.
2. Make an action plan
Once you are familiar with your triggers you can make a plan to avoid them and deal with them, if necessary. One common misconception is that all triggers can be avoided at all times, but this is just not true. Even at 4 years sober, I am constantly finding new triggers that I never knew existed. It’s possible you could be blindsided by a trigger at any time. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan in place to keep your sobriety safe if this happens. When you’re out at a social gathering, it’s important to always have a safe way to leave, whether you’re driving your own car, have money for a taxi, or an Uber. If you feel uncomfortable you should always be able to leave. Know what type of non-alcoholic drinks are available and if you feel comfortable carrying one around, then do that. If bars and clubs don’t feel safe, make sure there is a reason you’re going – to see a friend, to celebrate an occasion and go specifically for that reason. If you feel like your sobriety is in danger, have a support system you can call and talk to about it and go somewhere you feel safe and can regroup.
3. Take a survey of how you feel ahead of time
As most of us know, there are always ups and downs in life and especially in recovery. If you’re getting ready to go to a social event make sure you are prepared – take a survey of how you feel ahead of time. Are you tired? Rest up before going. Are you hungry? Make sure you fill your belly before you head out. Do you know how you’re getting there and getting home? Is your action plan in place? Are you having a hard day? Do you feel sad or mad? Is it necessary that you attend this event, or is your night better spent taking care of yourself at home? These are the questions you should be asking yourself when you’re getting ready to go out and be social as a sober person.
4. Reaffirm your beliefs and new lifestyle
Feeling and experiencing triggers can be painful and uncomfortable. Triggers can make us want to retreat, stay in our houses and never be social. But sobriety is supposed to bring us to a new life, a new awakening, and make us ultimately feel comfortable in our own skin. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by triggers, or thoughts about using and drinking, it’s a good idea to reaffirm your beliefs about recovery. Why did you begin with sober journey? In what ways has sobriety made your life better? Is it your number one priority? Most triggers, feelings of discomfort, and even feelings of sadness, grief, and anger are temporary. In the moment they can be painful, but they aren’t worth drinking over. Be comfortable in your sobriety, your new lifestyle as a sober person, and stand firm in your belief that sober is a better way to live. If you commit to sobriety, it will commit to you, and socializing in a world where society drinks will slowly become easier.
Socializing can be a difficult thing. When you get sober you might not enjoy socializing as much as you did when you drank, or your relationship with socializing can evolve. My advice is to become familiar with your triggers, learn to avoid them and overcome them, and live a happy, sober life in the process.