When you first quit drinking, there are a lot of unexpected little things that come up. Rehab and treatment tend to focus on the big things first. You work on coping skills to identify and handle your triggers, recognize and manage your emotions, and get yourself through the first few weeks of sobriety sane and healthy.
But sometimes it’s the little things that can trip you up.
That’s what this post is about.
One of those little things.
When you get out of treatment, you’ll find out that your life is about to be filled with sober firsts: the first time you’ve slept in your own bed sober, the first time you’ve gone to see a band sober, the first time you’ve thought about what to do on a Friday night that doesn’t involve alcohol.
You’ve done all those things before, of course, but when you quit drinking, it’s as if you’ve never done any of them before. It all feels a little unreal: familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Everything is the same, but you’re different.
This summer – every summer, for that matter – there’s an event that everyone makes a big deal about. It’s nearly impossible to avoid. Every family has their own take on it, but for sake of simplicity, we’ll call it the 4th of July Backyard Barbecue.
Burgers, hot dogs, potato salad. Fireworks, games of cornhole, maybe hanging out at the pool. Chips and dip. Red, white, and blue cake.
Remember, not everyone knows you’ve been through rehab. Not everyone knows what you’re going through. Not everyone knows how important it is that you get through the day without drinking. Sure, the best way to avoid the beer is to not go to the cookout.
But what if it’s a family event?
Sometimes you have to go. And yes – if you’re a teenager, you’re still under the drinking age. All judgment aside, it’s common knowledge that even the most responsible families let their teenagers have a beer in situations like this. Especially if you’re an older teen, especially if you’ve been away at college for a year, and especially if you have an uncle who’s been secretly sliding you a brew in a red plastic cup since you were 14.
Here’s our tip: don’t accidentally end up with that cup in your hand.
That’s right. Here’s how it can happen: you’re standing there by the buffet table, happily devouring your favorite bowl of salsa. You’re double-dipping chips like a rebel. You finish, toss your little paper plate in the trash, and before you know it, some comes by and hands you one of those red cups filled with…you guessed it.
That can be a tough moment. Suddenly you’re in a trigger-rich environment. Beer in hand. Partygoers laughing. You flash back to all the moments from before. Before you quit. The cup is cold in your hand. You stand and stare at it, knowing all you need to do is place the cup on the table and walk away.
But you hesitate.
How To Avoid That Moment
This is a ridiculously simple trick we learned a long time ago from an old-timer at an AA meeting. But remember – simple little things that can trip you up. And sometimes what you need for simple things is a simple fix.
Like this one:
When you’re at any kind of social event early in sobriety, especially one that revolves around alcohol – as you’ll quickly realize so many do – always keep a drink in your hand.
Obviously not an alcoholic beverage. It can be a soda can, a bottle of water, one of those red plastic cups, or even a juice box. Anything will work. It can even be empty. It can be a cup of ice. For the duration of a party, it can be like a little security blanket.
When you’re already holding a beverage, here’s what happens:
- People won’t randomly put a beverage in your hand.
- When someone asks if you need something, you just hold up the cup and say “No, I’m good.”
- You won’t have to explain why you don’t want a beer.
- You won’t feel like the only one standing around without a drink in their hand.
- You can use the cup in your hand – or soda can or whatever – as a tangible reminder of the most important thing about the day: staying sober.
4th of July is coming up.
Are you ready?
Give this idea a try: it works.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.