Sober Summer: A Survival Guide
By Sarah Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC
For those trying to cut back on their drinking or for sober alcoholics, the summertime and the many celebrations that accompany it can be full of temptation. Many sober alcoholics will report that the warm weather, the outdoor bars, family gatherings, vacations, the beach, sporting events, etc. can bring back memories of “the good ole’ days.” However, the memory of alcoholics is much like Teflon: all of the negative experiences seem to slide away and they are left with a romanticized version of their drinking days. It is really important for sober alcoholics to stay connected to their recovery program, attend therapy, receive treatment for co-existing conditions (anxiety, depression, etc.) and work at re-programming their association with these triggering occasions. Recovery from alcoholism allows individuals to replace their drunken memories with new sober experiences. They begin to gain confidence in their social skills and to realize that their sober life is full of excitement and wonder—but now they can actually be in the moment and remember it.
For normal drinkers, this time of year may not pose a problem. But for problem drinkers, this may be a time when their drinking either stands out or they simply blend in with the crowd. Many alcoholics report that any occasion can be an excuse to drink and that it is easy to blame their belligerence on the event. Because social drinkers may drink more than usual during these summertime festivities, they may feel that they can “let go” and drink the way that they really want to drink without holding back. For those who may have tried to hide their drinking or drank privately at home before or after an event, this may be an opportunity to feel that they will fit in with these heavy drinking scenes. However, many still end up humiliating themselves drunk when others are drinking heavily and vow once again that they will never drink that much again. Those in denial of their friend or loved one’s problem may also blame the event or the “open bar” at the wedding as the reason the problem drinker drank too much. In fact, some feel that a wedding is not considered a quality wedding unless there is an open bar. The irony is that the more alcohol is served, the less the guests focus on the event and the more “forgettable” the occasion becomes.
In addition, we live in a technological age where computers and text messaging have become the norm in terms of communication. Therefore, it is concerning that when given the opportunity for face-to-face communication, many avoid the discomfort of talking socially to someone whom they don’t know by having a few drinks. Social events can be opportunities to connect with others, meet people, and to enjoy the moment, but when alcohol is placed in the equation those possibilities may be lost. The truth is that one way to gain confidence socially is to avoid drinking, sit with the discomfort and practice talking to a stranger.
1. Set limits in terms of the amount of time spent in heavy drinking environments.
2. Bring along a friend or other loved one to a social function for additional support.
3. Choose not to attend events that would increase chances you may drink.
4. Leave the event early.
5. Be sure to have transportation options that will allow you to leave the event early if necessary.
6. Have a friend who you can call for support during the event and take a “time out.”
7. Avoid spending time with “toxic” relationships.
8. Practice stress reduction techniques during this time of year (i.e., exercise, meditation, massage, etc.).
9. Spend time with your friends in activities that would not involve alcohol.
10. Be honest about your emotions with others.
11. Avoid “people pleasing,” as this involves trying to keep other people happy while neglecting your own needs.
12. Let go of other’s expectations and opinions. If you have a healthy relationship, then they will respect your personal choices.
13. Engage in summer activities that you enjoy that do not involve alcohol and invite friends along.