Summer fun usually means long days, relaxing with friends and family. For a lot of people, relaxing on the beach, garden parties, pool parties and barbecues often involve ice cold alcoholic beverages. For those “on the wagon” the equation of fun and good times with alcohol can be uncomfortable to say the least. For many recovering alcoholics summer can be a very difficult time, especially when it comes to maintaining your sobriety. Not only is summer drinking dangerous because of the combination of physical and mental impairment with many summer activities; but it can also be particularly tempting when participating in fun, outdoor activities as you are constantly surrounded by social cues to drink. Sober individuals will benefit from having a summer sobriety plan to help them stay strong and maintain their alcohol abstinence through all the summer holidays, graduations, weddings, vacations and fair-weather outings. There are a variety of tips available online to help you create a sobriety plan but there are key elements necessary to be sure you can follow through effectively. There seems to be an obvious connection to seasonal drinking in the winter around family holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. The connections between the summer and drinking is often over-looked. Statistics show that while most people report alcohol use in winter months, the actual highest level of alcohol use is reported in the summer. While there are numerous factors affecting the collection and analysis of alcohol consumption data, some trends are very apparent. One of those is the increase in underage and binge-drinking in summer months.
Sober in the Summer
Knowing these trends in advance is one of the first steps toward being ready for summer. For some people, the only way to handle staying sober during the summer months is to avoid social outings all-together. The temptation of succumbing to alcohol use to help relax and enjoy time away from the stiffness and constraints of your normal routine can be very strong. Avoidance of social gatherings themselves, relaxation, fun, is not necessary to guarantee the avoidance of alcohol. Instead come up with a plan that includes the four key elements for staying sober on summer days; have an exit strategy, stay hydrated, keep your status to yourself, and don’t be afraid to turn down invitations. Even though we all know that alcohol is not necessary in order to have a good time, it doesn’t change the fact that the two are often connected. There will come a time when you are surrounded by others who are drinking while they are enjoying themselves. You can’t expect people to stay sober around you because you would prefer it. You can however have an exit strategy for when you begin to feel uncomfortable. If you drive yourself be sure to park where you won’t be blocked in, so that you can leave easily whenever you are ready to. If you carpool with someone else, give them a head’s up that you may be interested in leaving early. Have a phone number for a cab or an app for a ride service on you as well as cash for the fare. Be aware of what public transportation is in the immediate area of your outing and be prepared to use it. This isn’t to say that you will definitely feel uncomfortable and need to leave early, but knowing you have an exit strategy can go a long way toward helping you feel comfortable and relaxed in the meantime. Eating and drinking also go hand in hand with social activities. It is rare to arrive at a planned outing and not find food and beverages supplied by your host. A good host will always provide a variety of options.
As soon as you arrive grab yourself a non-alcoholic drink, especially something that will keep you hydrated in the summer sun, like water. Keep your drink in your hand or readily accessible to stave off the temptation of picking up an alcoholic drink. It also prevents others from trying to offer and even at times force a drink on you that may or may not contain alcohol. It puts you in control and keeps you in control, again contributing to a more comfortable and relaxed feeling. Remember that part of staying in control is choosing and making your own drink and so keeping your hands or an eye on your drink at social events involving alcohol is very important. Many a set-back story begins with “I picked up someone else’s drink by accident”. When alcohol is in fast supply you need to be sure that you don’t put yourself at risk for accidental consumption. In the unlikely event that a non-alcoholic beverage is not available you might want to stash a few of your favorite non-alcoholic beverages in a cooler in your car or backpack in advance. You never know, you may wind up turning your friends onto some new, refreshing non-alcoholic drink they will enjoy as well. Also, be prepared to ask for a non-alcoholic option. There is no reason it should be a big deal, hosts are aware that people are driving, or have other responsibilities that require them to stay sober. Anyone who might give you a hard time is probably someone you don’t want to spend too much extended time with anyway. Another good tip is to carry a water bottle with you. As people are becoming more and more health conscious the idea of good hydration has led to the commonplace activity of carrying around water bottles to ensure you stay healthy. It is very likely that not only will you not be alone, you may draw another person’s attention to how important and easy it can be to stay properly hydrated. There are so many options available in the stores and online today, your water bottle can run the gamut from completely unnoticeable to fashion statement. It also lends an air of eco-responsibility to your character.
It’s Your Decision
Just because you have chosen to abstain from alcohol it doesn’t mean it is anyone else’s business. While you can of course feel free to share as much or as little as you like, it is not necessary to explain your choices. A social event is not a meeting and not a counseling session. Not only can you not expect the same kind of understanding and support for your choice to abstain from alcohol that you might find at a meeting or in therapy; you may actually be confronted by the fact that most people don’t care at all. A social event is not the place to look for accolades or pats on the head for maintaining your sobriety, regardless of what that sobriety might mean to you and your life. You may even find some people more hesitant to socialize with you as your sobriety might actually make them feel uncomfortable. Some might expect you to bring everyone down and ruin their good time. A big reason why most twelve step programs end in “anonymous” is because the process is not meant for general public consumption. Alcoholics Anonymous maintains that anonymity is their spiritual foundation because it reminds members that principles need to come before personality when it comes to staying sober. The organization maintains that there needs to be an aspect of humility to recovery. You should often find that you are not the only person abstaining at social events but if you find that you are often the only sober person in the room, you may want to seriously rethink who you are socializing with. No one needs to know whether your choice to abstain is because you are in recovery any more than they need to know the intimate details of your sex life. Keeping your anonymity and not allowing your drinking choices to be put on center stage can only add to that comfortable and relaxing social environment you are looking for.
No one wants to be a social hermit and stay home from every event because there might be a remote possibility that there is alcohol present or that they might feel tempted. At the same time, you must keep in mind what your sobriety means to you. If your sobriety is not more important than your current social status perhaps you are not ready to be in recovery just yet. You should not be afraid to turn down some invitations, especially those that are highly associated with alcohol consumption. School and church events, kids’ birthday parties and teenagers’ graduations are probably fairly safe environments for recovering alcoholics. While barbecues, family reunions and work picnics might be a little tougher, it should be obvious that it is a good idea to turn down invitations to “booze cruises” or “kegs and eggs” events. Know your hosts, know your options, have a back-up plan, and when in doubt, stay home. You also have the option of planning and hosting your own non-alcoholic events. As the party planner/host you can provide a variety of refreshing virgin drinks for your guests. You might even plan some physically and mentally challenging games or activities that would discourage alcohol use in general. The association between alcohol and fun is made through experience and can be broken the same way. As human we are conditioned to associate behaviors with consequences. We need to have more experiences for people that not only allow them to relax and have fun without alcohol but that do so in a way that challenges previous associations. Summer fun does not have to mean social hibernation for those in recovery. While it can no doubt be a difficult, uncomfortable and very tempting time you can stay in control and maintain your sobriety despite the pressures to do otherwise. Don’t be a hermit. Go out, have a good time. See your friends. But, have that summer sobriety plan in place. Remember those four essential elements and anyone can have a fun, exciting, sober social life.
- Have an exit strategy, don’t wait until you get to a party and feel it out to decide you want to leave early only to learn your car is blocked in or the person you came with doesn’t want to leave and there are no public or private transportation options available to you.
- Stay hydrated, keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hands at all times (when not in your hands- keep it in your eyeline) to avoid temptation or accidental alcohol ingestion.
- Stay anonymous; don’t worry about defending your drinking choices or expecting others to respect them. Your sobriety is yours and yours alone, no one else needs to know in order for you to have an enjoyable time.
- And lastly, don’t ever be afraid to turn down an invitation. Missing a party or two is not the end of your social life. Be judicious when choosing which events to attend and which are better off skipped. Be sure to make an appearance at events that are low-risk for alcohol consumption and be inconspicuously otherwise engaged when it comes to events that are high-risk.
Remembering these four things will help you stay safe, sober and in control in the summer months to come.