A Comprehensive Guide to Summer Sobriety
Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…
But is it? If you read into this classic song a little further, Ella Fitzgerald’s sultry crooning contains an undercurrent of melancholia. Summer isn’t always a happy-go-lucky time – at least not one that warms all people equally – and this is certainly applicable to many who are beginning their sober journey. In fact, summer may present a series of obstacles to be survived, never mind enjoyed. There are family barbecues, friends’ barbecues, and work barbecues. (So many barbecues!) There are camping trips, beach trips, and road trips. There are long flights, crowded airports, and packed tourist attractions. And the holidays – oh, the holidays! Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day…
If your brain is spinning at the mere idea of summer, you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people have confronted the warmest months of the year and felt despair. Faced with the symbols of the American summer – the keg, the cooler, and the red solo cup – they’ve asked: “How am I going to stay sober?” The good news is that these same people were not only able to survive summer, they were also able to learn how to celebrate the season in sobriety. If that seems impossible – fear not! We’re here to tell you how.
6 Ways to Celebrate Summer in Sobriety:
- Prepare an Escape Plan: Sobriety doesn’t necessitate missing out; it just means having an exit strategy in place. If you are going to a gathering where you expect to feel stressed or tempted (or a combination of both), bring your own car and park in an area where you can easily leave. If you are feeling uncomfortable, graciously excuse yourself. You don’t need to lie or provide a lengthy explanation – simply say: “Thank you so much for having me, but it’s time for me to leave”. Be polite but firm. If it helps you feel more relaxed, have a private conversation with the host before the event and discuss the importance of protecting your sobriety. If you don’t want to disclose that you’re sober, set a time limit and inform the host you will only be able to stay for an hour.
- Immerse Yourself in Sober Friendship: I probably sound like a broken record, but creating a sober support network is one of the most important elements of recovery maintenance. In your first year (or more), you may not feel safe at parties or other events where alcohol is served. This is not only okay, it’s also normal. It takes time to learn sober social skills and to rebuild confidence. Hanging around a group of understanding, likeminded people will help you learn how to trust and also to practice new skills. As appealing as it might sound to hide in your living room with the shades down, isolation is a one-way ticket to relapse.
- Find Alternative Ways to Socialize: Once you’ve found your sober legs, you may be ready to start branching out and re-connecting with some of your friends and family. However, you may not want to jump back in to your parents’ booze-soaked Memorial Day party or your high school pal’s 4th of July beer blowout. This is also okay. When people care about you, they will be open to meeting you in a safe environment. It’s the connection that matters…not the setting. Perhaps you can meet for coffee, dinner, or a hike? Unfortunately, sobriety can reveal the true colors of those closest to you. You may discover that some people were looking for a drinking buddy rather than a genuine relationship. On the bright side, you will also learn who is truly in your corner.
- Stay Busy: In early sobriety, it’s important to get out of your head. Your brain is healing and, during this time, your decision-making capabilities will still be shaky. Staying busy will make you less susceptible to mental pitfalls. One of the benefits of summer is that there is always something to do – and sobriety doesn’t mean living a boring life! There are plenty of ways to experience an adrenaline rush without drugs and alcohol. Go to the fair, boardwalk, or theme park and ride all the scariest rides. Since you’re no longer hemorrhaging money on drugs and alcohol, you may be able to afford experiences that were once out of budget. Rent an off-road vehicle and explore off the beaten path. Try parasailing or white water rafting. If it’s legal in your state (and town), invite your friends over for a bonfire and fireworks display. Alternately, take a vacation from work, grab a sober buddy, and go on a themed road trip, i.e. “Visit the Best State Parks in New England,” or “Eat at the Best Pizza Parlors in the United States”. Road trips are the epitome of adventure – and you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving!
- Mocktails: In my family, I rarely feel left out. On Memorial Day weekend, my sister-in-law makes me a beautiful nonalcoholic drink, garnishes and all. On family dinner nights, my brother-in-law supplies Shirley Temples. If I’m at an event featuring bar service, someone kindly brings me a cranberry juice with seltzer and lime. I don’t even have to look at a bartender. These mocktails provide fortification against (most) unwanted questions from those who aren’t in my immediate circle. While I am unspeakably grateful that my family accepts and supports my sobriety, I am also painfully aware that many of my sober peers do not enjoy the same luxuries. If this is the case for you, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Just because you’re sober, doesn’t mean you must spend the rest of your life banished to the kiddie table. The myth that alcohol is necessary to qualify for adulthood is a lie perpetuated by society. You are an adult. You can bring your own nonalcoholic drinks and ask the host for the same glass everyone else is using. At first glance, the red solo cup may appear to be your nemesis, but it can actually be your ally. Mocktail or cocktail? Who can tell? Sometimes you just need to ask for what you need. People don’t know how to help unless you tell them. While there are many strategies you can employ to blend in and avoid awkward conversation, be aware of your triggers. Certain flavors – like lime or mint, for example – could provoke unwanted cravings. The shape of certain glasses can also be destabilizing. Know your triggers and set up a system that works for you.
- Throw Your Own Party: Sometimes it’s helpful to start out on familiar ground. Your house….your rules! If you don’t have a home that’s conducive to entertaining, reserve a spot at the beach, park, or lake. You can specify that it’s a chem-free event, and choose the guests, the food, the drinks, and the activities. Best of all, it’s a great opportunity to show your loved ones that alcohol isn’t a necessary ingredient for fun. If your group is busy swimming, floating, paddling, boating, grilling, bonfire-ing, dancing, card-dealing, board-gaming, sports-playing, laughing, and living, no one will miss the booze! If a guest is unable to have fun without alcohol, it’s a reflection of who they are – not who you are.
There will undoubtably be occasions when you have to decline an invitation in the interest of your sobriety. It’s okay to say “no”. Each sacrifice gifts you with an opportunity to create an incredible sober memory. Living sober not only means remembering your summer nights, but also noticing the beauty of each one. When was the last time you stopped to appreciate the flowers or the stars in the sky? When you are absorbed in the activity of drinking, your world shrinks, darkens, and eventually collapses. Some people believe that substance use is the only way to give life “magic”. They couldn’t be more mistaken. Sobriety allows you to be present for the profound beauty of all things – big and small.
If you suspect that you may have a drug or alcohol problem, please call (888) 649-1149 or contact us here. We can help you stay sober.
Autumn Khavari is the Process Recovery Center’s in-house writer. She received an education in Substance Abuse Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.