The holidays only just ended, and a lot of us are still recovering from the constant stream of visitors, family obligations, and holiday parties. December certainly presents the most concentrated stretch of social challenges, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the months are exempt. Parties and other gatherings happen year-round, and one of the biggest, most booze-soaked occasions—Superbowl Sunday—is just around the corner.

For those in early recovery, these events can be more stressful or awkward than fun, especially if you’re with people who don’t know that you’re sober. The good news is that these situations get easier and easier as your recovery gets stronger. But there’s no denying that fielding those initial “Why aren’t you drinking?” questions isn’t anyone’s favorite activity.

With over 200 combined years of sobriety, Serenity’s recovery experts have made it through this uncomfortable phase and developed some go-to strategies for navigating any social situation. Whether it’s the Superbowl, a party, or a big group dinner, the tips below can help anyone in early recovery make it through the awkwardness and start having fun again.

Remember that not everybody needs to know that you’re in recovery, and that not everyone who knows you’re in recovery needs to know exactly why. Just because your sober friend told her entire extended family, you don’t need to do the same. Everyone is different in who they tell, and what’s most important is that you know your audience and do what feels safe for you. For instance, if you don’t want to share your recovery with anyone in your work life, that’s perfectly fine. There’s no shame in brushing off a question from a coworker about why you’re not drinking at the office holiday party. Listen to your gut.

You’re under no obligation to give a thorough, or even truthful answer, to everyone who asks. If you don’t feel safe sharing your recovery with somebody, be ready with a couple simple and—most importantly—conversation-ending responses. Everyone’s situation will require different answers, but some great go-to’s are:

I’m not feeling well.
I’m driving.
It just doesn’t sit well with me.
I have an allergy.
I’m just not drinking tonight.
Anything along those lines is usually enough to stem the questions. If someone pushes, just repeat yourself; you don’t owe any further explanation. Also, if anyone takes a particular interest in your drinking—or lack thereof—and won’t let it go, it’s probably a sign that they have concerns about their own substance use.

There’s no situation you can’t handle with a little planning. Ask yourself some basic questions to get started:

What will I do before the event? What will I do after?
What will I do during the event? Who will I talk to?
What will I drink? Do I need to bring anything?
Who can I call if I need to reach out?
What is my “out” if I want to leave?
Be specific with your answers, and try to really envision yourself going through each of these steps (visualization has been shown to help people follow through with goals). An example plan might look something like this:

Before the party, I’ll attend a meeting nearby. At the event, I’ll catch up with Luke and Addie and try to mingle with some new people. I’ll drink seltzer that I’ll bring. Ben knows that I’ll call him if I need to. Meeting mom for dinner afterward, and if I need to leave early, I can say that she moved our reservation.

Don’t feel the need to write it out or get too elaborate, just make your plan as thorough as you need to feel ready to handle anything.

That said, you know that old saying about “the best laid plans…” Sometimes things just won’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped, no matter how foolproof your plan. But a powerful tool for making it through any social situation is an ability to just roll with things, no matter how uncomfortable you feel.

Maybe a drunken old friend won’t stop handing you shots, or you’re feeling completely isolated despite being surrounded by people, or all your old triggers are present. Sometimes in these moments, the best thing to do is acknowledge that it sucks, that you can’t do anything about it, and that that’s okay. It’ll pass. You’ll survive. Accept the unpleasantness for what it is, accept your ability to handle it, and ride it out.

As a member of the Serenity team pointed out, these are also great opportunities to be of service. Excuse yourself from the room to go do the dishes or take out an overflowing trash can—not only will you redirect your focus and extract yourself from the situation, everyone else will also be grateful for your initiative and selflessness.

The ultimate truth about handling these social situations and prying questions is this: Nobody cares. Really. If you don’t believe us, take a look around the room at any party and notice what everyone is doing: they’re trying to impress someone they want to network with, or freaking out because only two people liked their last Instagram, or trying to figure out if their ex has gained weight—they’re doing anything but worrying about you and whether or not you have a drink in your hand.

It’s one of the most freeing realizations of life, and especially of recovery. It might seem extreme, but trust us here. Nobody cares.

Being sober is not the end of your social life. It’s the beginning of a new social life, one that’s even richer, more rewarding, and often more fun than you’ve experienced before. The first year can be particularly rough, but with the strategies above, you’ll be able to make it through. We did, and trust us—what’s on the other side is pretty great.

Come in for a free consultation, meet our staff and get a tour of our living facilities. We are here to also help refer you to the best in the industry based on your individual needs.
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