From casual cookouts to graduations, weddings, and other special occasions, our summer calendars are always bursting with social plans. And while these parties promise plenty of warm-weather fun, they can also be stressful for people in recovery.
There’s an increased focus on drinking, even during the daytime. Maybe there’s family stress or strain. And of course, there are plenty of nosy questions from well-meaning party-goers about why you’re not cracking a beer, too. Sometimes, a summer event can feel less like a celebration and more like a minefield.
But you can protect your wellness while still making the most of your summer schedule. The key is to be open to new ideas, and to be creative in your solutions. Here are some tips for navigating the summer party scene while maintaining your recovery.
Get the scoop. A week or so before the event, reach out to the host and ask for details. How many people will be there? Who’s coming? What should I wear? What’s the food and drink situation going to be? The more you know in advance, the better you can prepare yourself to navigate the situation, and the less you have to worry about being thrown off by a surprise.
Put your hand up. Your recovery doesn’t have to be an elephant in the room—if you reach out and ask for little support, you’ll often find others are eager to help. If you feel comfortable with the host, talk to them directly. If not, ask other friends and family attending the event to be a little extra sensitive to your needs. Asking for what you need is not selfish, and the people who really care for you will be eager to support you through this.
Have an exit strategy. Before you even arrive, think about when and how you’ll leave. Will you stay till cake? Do you want to make sure you’re gone before Uncle Tim breaks out the brandy? Who do you want to say goodbye to before heading out? Every party is different, so be sure to think it through each time. But remember, this plan isn’t set in stone. if you’re feeling uncomfortable for any reason, at any time, you can always leave when you need to. Protect your health before you worry about manners.
Talk to your support system. Communication is key to maintaining all that you have worked so hard for. Throughout this party season, plan to check in with recovery coaches, counselors, therapists, sponsors, or other supportive folks in your recovery life. Call for a quick chat, meet up for coffee—whatever your schedule allows.
Plan your before and after. If you have an event coming up that you know will be especially challenging, make a detailed plan for what you’ll do before the event, and what you’ll do after. This gives your day structure that doesn’t revolve around the event itself. Maybe before the party, you meet up with a supportive friend for an extra boost of face-to-face support. Then after, you might treat yourself to a long walk on your favorite nature trail.
Bring a buddy. You don’t have to go it alone. Most causal parties encourage guests to bring friends along. If it’s a more formal occasion, ask the host for a plus-one. Having a supportive friend by your side, someone who’s clued into your unique circumstances and your recovery journey, can be a great way to feel more relaxed and prepared to enjoy yourself.
Shift the focus away from drinking. Make the celebration more about activities than alcohol. Bring along corn hole, horseshoes, even a deck of cards. Suggest a tour of the garden, or a walk down to a nearby landmark, like a town center or a beach. Corral your friends and family toward these activities. This will give everyone something neutral to focus energy on.
Take a breath before reacting. Remember, your first thought isn’t always your best thought. Don’t react to uncomfortable questions with your first thought or emotion. Allow yourself a moment to process it all first. And remember you don’t need to answer questions or discuss things you’re not comfortable with.
Mocktails, anyone? Often, someone who’s not drinking at a social event gets stuck with a warm diet soda from the kiddie cooler. But you can take charge of making the non-alcoholic refreshments far more fun. This recipe for lemon barley water is always a huge hit at my summer parties—even among people who drink! If you’re up for a mixology challenge, check out Shatterproof’s custom, alcohol-free craft cocktail recipes.
Maintain your routine—but don’t expect perfection. All summer long, keep up your morning walks, your coffee breaks, your meditation or fitness schedule. Whatever you do to support your recovery, try to find time to fit these activities in, even as your calendar swells with social obligations. But, be kind to yourself if things start to slip. Remember, it’s easy to get off-track at this time of year. Know that if you do, it’s not the end of the world. You can jump back in any time. Just stay honest, and keep your support system updated on your plans and progress.
Anne Lopez is the Director of Shatterproof's Family Program. She is also a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and a woman in long-term recovery.