Celebrating While Sober: How to Attend Parties in Sobriety
Achieving sobriety is worthy of celebration and reaching a point in your life where you can confidently choose not to drink is something you should feel great pride in. That feeling of pride at finally making it can feel shaken, though, when the idea of parties comes up. Company picnics, family get-togethers, holiday parties – these are all part of life, and many happy memories are made at events like those. Though it may be difficult, there are steps you can take to help you navigate parties so you not only maintain your sobriety but also regain some of the joy of celebrations.
1. Know You’re Not Alone
Parties can be stressful for everyone. Remember that your recovery-specific anxiety will not stick out like a sore thumb among the partygoers. Many people feel anxious at parties for any number of reasons including anxiety about the holidays, social anxiety, relationships to food and people who will be there. Everyone has their own stuff they are working through, and you don’t need to feel like an outlier because you, too, are working through things.
2. Plan for Everything
Anything can become more manageable if you have a plan. Find out details about the party ahead of time. The more you know about what will be being served, who will be there and what is going to happen, the more confident you can feel about what you have to navigate. If there are areas of the party or people in attendance that might trigger your desire to drink, give yourself permission to avoid them. Your sobriety is more important than social graces, and the people who are truly on your team will understand that.
3. Prepare to See Others Drink
Although it is possible you will be surrounded by people who are aware of your recovery and respectfully choose not to drink around you, that’s not always the case. Prepare to be around others drinking by making a short list of reasons you have worked so hard to be sober. Commit them to memory or even a note on your phone, and when you see others drinking, recite your list to yourself. “I am sober for my son. I am sober so I can keep the job I love. I am sober so I can live a long and healthy life.” Whatever your motivations, connecting with them when you are tempted by others’ drinking is a great tool to help keep you on track.
4. Know Your Triggers
There are two kinds of triggers: internal and external. Internal triggers stem from within you and are typically things like anxiety, boredom and sadness. These can be powerful because they reside inside you. Anyone in recovery, though, has some experience with managing these, so use the tricks and tools you would to deal with internal triggers outside of a party setting when you are at the party.
External triggers are a different animal. Because they happen outside of you, you don’t have any control over them. Sounds like glasses clinking or bottles opening might be external triggers for you. Do your best to stay away from areas of the party where obvious triggers like these are likely to interrupt your good time. If they do get to you, remember your motivation for a sober life and step away from the situation for a few moments to get your head in a good place before going back.
5. Be Flexible About Arriving and Leaving
The most difficult times in parties are at the beginning when people are just arriving and toward the end when activities are finishing up. These times can cause social anxiety in anyone. Be comfortable arriving later than you typically would to avoid any awkwardness that might prompt you to want to drink and consider leaving early if things are uncomfortable for you. As a recovering alcoholic, simply attending parties where there may be alcohol can be a Herculean feat, so don’t be too hard on yourself for not coming as early or staying as late as you previously would have.
6. Have a Trusted Companion
Bring a friend or loved one who can help you navigate the social waters. Social situations are made infinitely easier when you have someone at your side you know you can trust. They can help manage tricky conversations or divert attention if things get tense for you.
Talk beforehand with your companion about what things you are most comfortable with and what might be difficult for you. Discuss ways that the two of you might handle situations like someone offering you drinks, asking about your alcoholism or otherwise triggering you. What does or does not trigger will be different for everyone, so explore what does or does not work for you and how you and your companion might deal with those things.
7. Have a Lifeline
Have somebody available for you to text or call when needed during the party. It may feel rude to be on your phone during a party but being able to show up at all for your family, friends or company is valuable. Don’t underestimate the appreciation they feel for you being able to be a sober part of their lives. If you feel compelled to spend the entire time on your phone, though, it may be best to leave since it is clearly not a truly comfortable situation for you. Pack it up this time and try again at another time when you are feeling more comfortable.
8. Bring Your Own Drinks
One of the simplest solutions to not being asked if you want a drink is to bring your own non-alcoholic drink to imbibe. Consider bringing something special you will enjoy, like a soda you don’t usually get or a punch without alcohol you only make on special occasions. Not only is this practical, it helps ease your mind about what you will be drinking while giving you something to look forward to.
If you’re close to the host and can arrange with them to keep your drinks refrigerated or warm during the party, do so. You could even offer to make or bring enough for other party guests to enjoy. If not, you can use a temperature-controlling tumbler or keep a cooler in the car for your beverages.
9. Know Your Exits
It’s possible that you will need to step out for a few minutes or even leave. Know the exits you can use to get out of the action of the party and allow yourself to step away for a few minutes when and if you need to. There is no shame in this; even those who are not recovering alcoholics can become overwhelmed by the movement and demands of parties. Take the time that you need to regroup and come back refreshed.
10. Don’t Get Discouraged
It’s possible that you will have to leave earlier than planned because it is too much to be around at this point in your recovery. That is entirely normal and entirely okay. Give yourself grace with situations like this where there is a high potential for triggers. Sobriety is an ongoing choice you are making, and if something is causing you to want to give that up, it is the smart choice to step away from it for a time.
You can try again at another point when you feel ready, perhaps building up to bigger parties by starting with smaller group activities around people you trust. Or practice simple party-going by attending larger parties where there is not alcohol, allowing you to readjust to the idea of what parties can mean and do for you.
Building a life that feels comfortable to you in sobriety is important. Celebrating with family, friends and coworkers should get to be a part of that life. Practice positive coping mechanisms until you become more and more comfortable around alcohol, and allow yourself to find joy in the gathering of loved ones and pride in being able to stay sober in tempting times.