One of the most difficult challenges for people in early recovery can be attending social occasions. It is particularly hard if this is an event where alcohol is going to be available. There may be almost overwhelming temptation at such gatherings if people are not strong enough. It can feel incredibly uncomfortable to remain sober while everyone else seems to be getting intoxicated. The individual may find themselves overcome with cravings and feel on the verge of relapse.
The Need to Avoid Social Functions in Early Recovery
It is recommended that people in early recovery try to avoid events where there is going to be people drinking or using drugs. This is because the individual will be far more vulnerable to relapse during the early months of sobriety. It just makes practical sense to avoid anything that could make things more difficult. If people are in a situation where attendance is important then they need to prepare adequately for the event. It is likely to be a real challenge, and if people are not ready for it they could be in danger.
As people become more firmly established in their sobriety they are better able to handle social occasions. It is still good advice that they keep attendance at such events to a minimum. There is an old AA saying that if you sit in a barber chair long enough you will eventually get your hair cut. It does get easier to deal with these occasions, but it is best to never become too complacent about them.
There are recovering alcoholics who will never go to a bar or club no matter what the justification. This means that they never have to worry about succumbing to temptation while in these establishments. This decision to outlaw drinking establishments completely may work well for some, but for many people it will not be a practical solution. Most sober individuals will go to these places if they have a legitimate reason to be there such as:
* They have a business lunch
* There is an important social event taking place at one of these venues
* There is a restaurant there where friends or family would like to eat
There are other excuses for visiting a drinking establishment that would not be considered legitimate including:
* A desire to watch people getting drunk – getting intoxicated vicariously
* Going to a bar because the individual misses the atmosphere
* Wanting to spend time with old drinking buddies
* Going to a drinking establishment out of boredom or loneliness
There are some social functions that will be difficult to avoid. This can include family weddings and social obligations related to work. If people are faced with a situation where they have no real choice but to attend a function then there will be things they can do to make the situation less of a challenge such as:
* Bring along another sober friend. Ideally this should be somebody who is firmly established in their own recovery; otherwise both people could be putting their recovery at risk. Those who belong to AA may be lucky enough to have a sponsor who will be willing to accompany them.
* Leave the event early. It will be near the end of the event when people tend to be intoxicated. This is when the most serious drinking takes place. It is best to leave the party before people have reached this stage of inebriation. It tends to be a joyless experience for sober people anyway.
* Practice saying no to alcohol. This might sound like an unnecessary preparation, but it really can make a difference. There will always be people who seem to take it as a personal insult if everyone else is not drinking alcohol – this will often be somebody with their own drinking demons. They can be annoying and persistent, and it can take a bit of practice to be able to fend these people off. It is best to be prepared for them and role playing can be good for this. By practicing saying no it will be easier to do this at the actual event.
* Have a reason for not drinking. You may not want to tell everyone your life story. It can therefore be helpful if you have a reason for not drinking. You do not have to lie, but there is also no obligation that you divulge personal information. Such questioning can be put to rest with a simple, “I do not drink”.
* Bring along some recovery material. This does not mean that you have to walk around the party holding onto the AA Big Book like it was a life raft. We now live in an age of some wonderful technology that is ideal for using at social occasions. If you have a smart phone, such as the iPhone, you will be able to use one of the many recovery applications. If you have an MP3 player you might want to listen to some inspirational talks if you feeling vulnerable during the party.
* Those who belong to a fellowship may want to go to a meeting right before the event. This will give them the chance to voice any concerns and build their strength. It can also be a good idea to arrange to go to a meeting right after the event. This is particularly important if people are feeling a bit shaky afterwards.
* Be aware of other people who are not drinking. It is only when people stop drinking that they become aware of all the other sober individuals who attend these social functions. These are often people who never had a drink problem; they just do not like being intoxicated. It can be inspiring to see these people have a good time without the need of alcohol.
Attending a social occasion is a risk and for some people it will prove to be too much. Those who feel that they are in danger should:
* Leave the event immediately.
* Those people who have a sponsor should ring this person right away.
* Explain the situation to trusted friends or better still other people in recovery.
* There are a number of different alcoholic helplines that people can contact if they feel on the verge of relapse. There are also online recovery forums where they will find advice and support at any time of the day our night.
* Members of AA are advised to go to a meeting and share their concerns.
* Those individuals who are attending therapy sessions may want to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
* People who have just left rehab will usually have a counselor whom they can contact for advice.
* Reading addiction recovery material can help people refocus.
* Those who have been maintaining a recovery journal should go back and read this. It will remind them of how much they have achieved and how much they have to lose.
* The most important thing is not to pick up a drink no matter what.