When you quit drinking, lots of unexpected little things come up. During treatment, you tend to focus on the big things first. You learn to manage your emotions and recognize your triggers. You spend time learning about the science of addiction, and you may even be able to pinpoint exactly when and why you developed an addiction.
When you leave treatment, you know enough get yourself through the first few weeks of sobriety sane and healthy.
But sometimes it’s the little things that trip you up.
This post is about one of those little things.
When you leave rehab, something curious happens. You start to have a bunch of firsts. We should actually call them sober firsts: the first time you’ve gone to see a band sober, the first time you’ve slept in your new bed sober, the first time you’ve gone to work sober, the first time you’ve planned a Friday night that doesn’t revolve around alcohol.
You’ve done all those things before, of course. When you quit drinking, though, it’s like they’ve never happened. You’re a little bit like a newborn. It all feels a little unreal. Familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Everything is the same – but you’re different.
This post is about one of those little things that’s related to one of those big things that stays the same for everyone else, but is going to be a totally new experience for you. It’s going to be a sober first. It’s an event that everyone makes a big deal about.
And it’s nearly impossible to avoid.
Every family has their own version. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call it the 4th of July Backyard Barbecue.
Burgers, hot dogs, potato salad. Fireworks. Yard games. Chilling by the pool. Snacking on chips and guac. Scarfing down some red, white, and blue cake like a true patriot.
There’s all that – and beer.
There’s literally beer everywhere at summer barbecues in the U.S., even if it’s not the 4th of July.
To survive these summer events with your sobriety intact, the first thing to remember is that not everyone knows your story. In fact, most people probably don’t know all the details. They don’t know you’ve been in treatment – they probably didn’t know you had a drinking problem in the first place. What this means is they don’t know how important it is for you to get through the day without drinking.
Okay, sure: the best way to avoid the beer is to not avoid the cookout altogether
That won’t work if it’s a family tradition, though.
Sometimes you have to go these things.
And everyone knows that despite the fact the legal drinking age is twenty one, even the most responsible families let their teenagers have the occasional beer. 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 beer in a red plastic cup since you were 14.
So, you have to go.
And there will be beer.
Plus that uncle.
It’s up to you not to drink. No one else can not drink for you.
Ready for our tip?
Here it is: don’t accidentally end up with that red plastic cup in your hand.
Yes – accidentally.
Here’s what happens: you’re at the food table, destroying your Aunt Clarissa’s habanero salsa. You’re taking huge chips full of the stuff. You plan to finish it off before anyone sees it, because it really is that good. So, you do it. You devour the salsa, toss little paper plate in the trash, and boom.
You turn around, brush the crumbs off your face, and before you know it, someone comes by and hands puts one of those red cups in your hand.
And guess what it’s filled with?
It’s a tough moment.
Suddenly everything has changed. One minute, you’re fine. Sober as a saint, minding your own business, eating snacks. Then, in an instant – triggers everywhere. There you stand, beer in hand. Partiers all around you, laughing drunkenly. You flash back to all the moments from before you quit. You stare at the cup, frozen.
All you need to do is place the cup on the table and walk away.
But you hesitate.
How To Avoid The Red Cup Moment
This is a simple trick we learned a long time ago from an old-timer at an AA meeting. One thing old-timers know: sometimes it’s the simple things that trip you up. We said it at the beginning of this post, and we’ll say it a third time:
Sometimes the simple things trip you up.
Thankfully, this simple thing has a simple fix:
When you’re at a social event early in sobriety where you know there’ll be alcohol,
always keep a drink in your hand.
Not an alcoholic beverage – obviously.
It can be a soda can, a bottle of water, one of those red plastic cups (filled with soda), or a juice box. Anything works. It doesn’t even have to have anything in it. It can be empty, or it can be a cup of ice. Trust us on this one: for the duration of a party, that drink can be like a little security blanket.
Because when you’re already holding a drink:
- People won’t randomly put one 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 anything.
- You won’t feel like the only one standing around without a drink in their hand.
- You’ll 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.
Summer is almost here.
Barbecue season is coming.
Your family 4th of July party is happening this year – and you want to go?
Are you ready?
You can navigate the part safely this year.
We know you can.
Try this idea: 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.