Abstinence based Recovery isn’t something you just mark off a list with a big check mark— it’s a state of mind. It is with you all the time, which can be a blessing in disguise, because when you engage with the world while in recovery, you can do so with more awareness than you had before.
However, that engagement means it’s going to feel like life is challenging your recovery at times. The ways you tried to cope with life’s challenges in the past more than likely brought you to this moment. But what do you do when a loved one passes away, you feel like celebrating, or you just want to fit in?
In short, you need to have some tools at the ready for these trying times. Here are some ways to face these challenges with strength and confidence.
1. Realize you are not alone. Although you might have heard this phrase many times in motivational circles, move it out of theory and put it into practice. If you are at a wedding, look around for the people who are not drinking; you’ll see them. Spend more time at places where drinking isn’t a centerpiece of an activity, such as the theater or your favorite coffee shop. Beyond that, realize that on any given day, more than 700,000 Americans seek treatment for alcohol or drug addiction. You are on the other side of that, so if you stop and look around you, it won’t feel like everyone else is drinking while you’re left out. That is an illusion.
2. If need be, bring a wingman. If you feel uncomfortable about the presence of alcohol while attending a wedding or other social event, then bring someone with you who is comfortable remaining substance free. You can ask for support from others who know your story, and use your recovery to forge closer relationships through your vulnerability.
3. Create another “pre-game” ritual. For people active in their addiction, getting ready for a night out, a big event or an event they’d rather avoid means having a drink or getting high. However, there are other ways to get ready for an event, from luxurious bubble baths to a stint on the treadmill. Make a list of activities that you do for yourself, from a manicure to a quiet cup of tea, and choose one to be your new “pre-game” ritual. Then relish how good it makes you feel, and you’ll carry that with you to the event.
4. Before you go, choose a non-alcoholic beverage that you can order. If you’re meeting friends to celebrate or you want to toast the bride and groom, decide what you will order before the event so that there is no hesitation when you get there. Sparkling water with fruit or other carbonated beverages are good choices, and visualizing the order ahead of time will lesson the interaction’s mental weight.
5. Exercise more. This is more of a long-term decision, but musician James Taylor, who has been in recovery from an opiate addiction for more than 30 years, says that the best way to come back to yourself is to “sweat it out.” Exercise puts you in touch with your body, releases feel-good hormones, and creates long-term self-care rituals. Exercising regularly also helps manage anxiety so that when stressful events challenge us, they don’t feel as daunting.
6. Reframe your past behavior. Begin to see your past substance use for what it was: false celebration or false comfort. Was it really “celebrating” if you don’t remember what you said to the happy couple or how you got home? Was it really “comfort” if you woke up the next day with the same problems you had before, but with the addition of a hangover? When you start to reframe your memories of past actions, you begin to see that you are gaining something more than going without.
All of these tips can really help, but at the beginning of your recovery you may need to forgo certain triggering situations. As your recovery becomes the catalyst for your blossoming life, you might also begin to question why you feel an obligation to attend certain social events. The important thing is accepting that there will be challenges to your recovery and deciding to lean consciously into them instead of acting like they don’t exist. You have consciously chosen to live your best life, and that’s always worth celebrating.
About the Author
Robert Parkinson, MSW is Director of Client Care at Beach House Center for Recovery, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, Florida. Robert is also an Anger Management counselor and widely recognized in South Florida for the anger management program he created, with its strong spirituality component.