Dr. Geri-Lynn Utter, PsyD. - Staying sober during special occasions

With the party season having come and gone, it’s a good time to think about all the special occasions awaiting in 2022. How can you navigate them when you’re newly sober? It can be a minefield when you’re in recovery.

All around us, people are putting on their best and heading out to restaurants, parties, bars… and just about anywhere else that serves alcohol. Covid-19 restrictions allowing, it seems there’s always a celebration of some sort, from birthdays to weddings. Alcohol often goes hand in hand with socializing, so when you’re not drinking it’s easy to feel like the odd one out.

It’s also much harder to stay sober when you’re surrounded by alcohol and people are offering you drinks. This can trigger all sorts of emotions, including the anxiety that can come with going out and about, or worrying about seeming boring. It can feel like you need to have a list of excuses ready to go when people ask if you’re driving, again.

With all of this in mind, Dr. Geri-Lynn Utter, PsyD. (Clinical Psychologist and Medical Science Liaison for Orexo US, Inc.) shares her top tips for getting through the special occasions you might be invited to attend this year while staying sober:

Be kind to yourself – sometimes we put ourselves under pressure to act a certain way because we feel that’s what people expect of us. Try to remember why you decided to stop drinking alcohol – your physical and mental health, ability to form new relationships and mend those that are important to you, to get your life back. Getting sober for someone else is not long-lasting. For your sobriety to withstand any kind of adversity, you have to love yourself enough and get sober for yourself if you expect it to weather the storms of life 😊.

Remember that no one can force you to go somewhere you don’t want to go, or to stay someplace if you don’t feel comfortable. You do have a choice. Actually take a few moments to practice saying, “No!” I know this may feel or seem confrontational; however, it is perfectly acceptable to decline an invitation in a polite way. Also, keep in mind, politely declining an invitation is all that is required of you. When folks are nervous or experience any kind of guilt they tend to talk more and provide extravagant excuses as to why they are not able to attend a gathering in which alcohol is being served. I am here to remind you, that it is perfectly acceptable to politely decline an invitation and move about your day without feeling bad. Remember, your sobriety comes first and those who love you will support you and understand.

Prepare your toolbox – if you decide you do want to go along, it can help to think about ways to handle any challenges that you might face. First and foremost, ask yourself what’s likely to make you want to reach for a drink, like hanging out by the bar. Instead, create some physical distance between you and the bartender to avoid getting into a situation you might find difficult. If your favorite soft drink or latte is something you might not be able to get hold of wherever you’re going, take your own drinks with you.

Simply attending the party early and leaving early, before everyone starts throwing down their libations at a startlingly quick speed, may be best.  Make an appearance and dip out early. Maybe catch a meeting or hang out with some other sober friends.

If there are things that make you feel good, whether it’s a special photo, your favorite scent, or a sobriety chip, keep them with you. Even if you don’t need them, you’ll know you’ve come prepared.

People power – it can really help to talk things over with someone you trust. Staying connected with people who make you feel positive and proud of the new, sober you will make all the difference to your continued success.

If you’re going with someone you trust, make a plan together for how they can support you in a challenging situation. If you’re not going to have anyone with you, think about all the people you could call on, whether that’s family, friends, a sponsor, or your therapist. Ask them ahead of time if you can give them a ring for some support.

Once you’re there, taking a break and stepping outside, going for a walk, or taking a short drive can give you space and time to think.

There are also lots of online groups and support networks with people on the same path to recovery as you. It can be helpful to share with people who are going through similar experiences throughout the holiday season.  Maintaining a group of people who positively support your sobriety 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week can make all the difference. Working on your recovery is constant. Because working on your recovery means that you are working on and loving yourself.

Do it your way – there’s no one right way to navigate a special occasion, so the best advice I can give is do what feels right for you. Everyone’s recovery journey is unique to them. Surround yourself with people who encourage you and make you feel good about the new you.

And finally, have fun! Cherish being sober through 2022 and finding new ways to enjoy yourself this year.

"Navigating special occasions can be a minefield when you’re in recovery"


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