I left rehab on a Friday night a few years ago and the first thing I did was join some friends at some day-time rooftop club in the city that Saturday afternoon. I didn’t feel good. I was uncomfortable and all I was focusing on was the alcohol being consumed. I wasn’t ready and I learned it the hard way; I was in my head for a few weeks thereafter.
The lesson I learnt is to give myself some time and re-assess my goals and relationships with certain people. The people that cared were, and still are, very supportive and worth educating. My closest friends were curious, and I explained to them why drinking or using was not an option for me anymore. Most of them got it. That doesn’t mean that they have an unhealthy relationship with substances, and I’ve had to learn to deal with the fact that I am different. Alcohol and drugs will be present at times.
I’ve had to put in place some sort of rulebook and recipe of what works for me. I like to mingle and socialize with people, but I need genuine connection and an activity such as eating a meal, good music, or playing games. Dinners at restaurants or friends' homes are my go-to because the focus is not solely on drinking.
The bottom line is once the focus is only on getting wasted, I no longer belong. Thankfully, as I get more time under my belt, I become more comfortable facing a multitude of scenarios. I can’t count the number of times I simply walked, drove or Ubered my way home without notice. It’s totally ok to neither explain yourself nor let anyone know why you are leaving. I recommend to just leave and go to what is a safe space for you.
When it comes to being out with friends who are drinking and using, I truly take it a minute at a time. I might vibe to the music for a while or have an uplifting conversation, but the next second I could feel triggered out of nowhere. It's important to be self-aware and acknowledge those feelings. This is often a good time to step out for a breather and call a friend in recovery or sponsor. Sometimes these moments pass as quickly as they come, but some do persist, and that’s your time to exit.
I’ve been able to have the most fun when surrounded with the right people. I think it’s important to develop a radar for people that respect your abstinence and stick with them for your social outings.
I’ve had more difficulty in Europe, especially France, than I have in the US with this. Some cultures don’t have the same level of understanding of addiction that we have. Some people will keep pushing even after you’ve explained. I’ve had lots of people ask me what would happen if I were to have a glass of wine, and I like to play a little with my answers. Tell them you’ll turn into a mermaid or that you’ll try to hook-up with their partner and the conversation should end relatively quickly.
I’m a strong believer of “learning by doing,” and the more experience you have navigating your social life in recovery, the better you’ll get. You'll have to adjust and adapt as these scenarios arise and you’ll ultimately make your way towards what works perfectly for you. I’m still figuring it out and it keeps getting better.
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