In popular culture, alcohol often plays a major role when celebrating Valentine’s Day. From Hallmark movies to Instagram posts, it is common to see a couple enjoying this holiday with a glass of champagne. However, there are many ways to enjoy a romantic evening with your partner without a single drop of bubbly. We spoke to Jesse Wright, a Recovery Coach at Mountainside, about his own experiences celebrating Valentine’s Day in sobriety and his suggestions for enjoying this day alcohol-free.
What advice would you give to a client or someone in recovery who’s looking to celebrate Valentine’s Day sober?
If my client isn’t in a relationship, I would say you don’t have to feel pressure to do anything. If you want to sit home in your pajamas, sip hot cocoa, do that. That’s ok. They shouldn’t feel pressure to celebrate just because others are. Participating in this holiday is not mandatory in any way.
As far as someone who’s in a long-term relationship and is new to sobriety, it’s important that they feel comfortable telling their partner, “Hey, look, this is what I feel comfortable doing” and “This is what I feel uncomfortable doing.” It could be a nice bonding experience for the two of them to plan a fun Valentine’s Day together that is not surrounded by alcohol. The reason I say plan something together is this could be the bonding experience in itself, instead of one partner feeling like it’s their responsibility to do something for the other. The more joined experiences that a couple can have, the better.
If it’s someone who is new to a relationship, my advice is to always be honest. Personally, I’m very open about my recovery. It’s something that I discuss on the first date usually because it’s that important to me. I’d rather know at the beginning of any interaction whether that’s going to be a deal-breaker or not. Communication is the foundation of every healthy relationship and having this conversation will help you determine if this is a partnership worth pursuing. That’s why it is important to be open and honest about what your expectations are, and what you feel comfortable with. You may find that this openness is what enhances a new relationship into feeling like, “Wow, this is someone I could really get serious with.” Or you may find, “That’s not the response I was looking for. I don’t feel supported, and maybe this is a relationship I don’t want to continue with down the road.”
For the general public, what are some ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day without alcohol?
My answer to this is always the same: just don’t drink. You can do everything without alcohol that you can do with it. You don’t need a glass of wine with dinner. You don’t need to go to a bar for a date. If you would prefer to do an activity like axe-throwing, that’s great. You probably shouldn’t mix axe-throwing with alcohol anyway! If you would prefer to do something a little less adventurous, you can go to the bowling alley and still have a fun time without ordering a pitcher of beer. There isn’t any limitation on what you can do just because you’re eliminating alcohol from it. The same way you celebrate Valentine’s Day with alcohol, if you enjoy the activity you have in mind, just take out the alcohol and see what happens.
I went on a date and we went mini-golfing. She asked me, “Do you mind if I have a drink?” I said, “No, I don’t mind at all.” We ended up getting there and she was like, “I feel at ease. I’m having fun. I don’t even feel like I want to drink!” You may be surprised when you actually get into an activity without using alcohol to have fun or make you feel comfortable – and realize that, “I don’t need it or even want it.” Whatever you had planned, do it without the alcohol.
Do you think people are able to connect on a deeper level if they’re sober?
Whenever you drink or use anything, it can manipulate the senses. After all, that’s why the term “beer goggles” exists. If you put something in your system that’s going to change your perception, all bets are off on what the outcome will be. When it comes to connecting with someone, it’s all about being comfortable with them. I know some people may feel a bit stiffer, that they can’t be themselves without alcohol, and I get it. I’ve been in that position where you’re anxious and don’t know what to say, but you can get over that. It just takes time and practice. I don’t think that alcohol is this great potentiator of chemistry that people think it is.
For someone who’s with their partner all the time in quarantine, how do you make Valentine’s Day fun?
I would first say practice gratitude. Keep in mind that others who don’t have someone feel [that absence] acutely on that day. So always take a step back and realize that if you’re with the person you truly care about, you are someone who should feel an immense sense of gratitude. My first Valentine’s Day after my last breakup was really hard, and it created this perspective in the future where I will always be able to look back to that day and say, “Wow, remember how hurt I was?” That will create an opportunity to say in the future to someone, “I’m so grateful to be here with you in this moment right now.”
After changing your outlook, try to do something different with your partner. There’s no shortage of things to do, especially if you’re in the New York metro area. If you feel like you want to do more as a couple, plan something together and make the planning part of the experience. That’s something that often gets overlooked when one part of the couple feels like they have to put something together for their partner, and a lot of times, it falls along gender roles. The more things you can do together, the greater the experience is.
But if you don’t feel like doing anything because you’re exhausted, don’t. Watch a movie at home. Cook a meal together. It doesn’t have to be this big thing.
Do you think there’s a specific trigger related to Valentine’s Day that could affect a person in recovery (i.e. seeing a Valentine’s Day commercial with a happy couple)?
I don’t think it’s too specific, but there are two things I think of that are really difficult. The first is struggling with feelings of loneliness. If you feel that sense of loneliness is accentuated during Valentine’s Day, reach out to your loved ones and see how they’re doing. Maybe this doesn’t apply as much during COVID, but even to arrange something with them and ask, “Would you want to grab a bite to eat?”
The second thing is that social media can be really devastating for people who aren’t in the right mindset. So, I recommend disconnecting from social media. You don’t need to see people celebrating, especially exes posting happy photos with their current partners. Put it away for a day, for a weekend, a week. There’s nothing to really miss about social media. There is still a way to connect with others while avoiding the loneliness and emotional triggers that can come with social media, which also has the potential to prevent a clean break [from an ex].
What is one thing you want people to know about celebrating Valentine’s Day sober?
That it can be just as fun and fulfilling as celebrating with alcohol. There are so many pictures of the couple with a nice bottle of champagne. This is a completely fabricated image. Valentine’s Day can be anything you want it to be, and the energy and importance of the day comes from the connection you have with the person you’re celebrating with – not from the experience, the alcohol, or the food.
You can have the best, most extraordinary, most unique plans, but if you don’t have a strong connection with the other person, it’s only going to feel hollow. But, if you have someone you connect with who loves you, you can spend the night at home in sweatpants, watching a silly movie, and you’re going to have a great time. All these images that are depicted to us – on TV, on ads – they’re meaningless and have nothing to do with the reality of how you should celebrate.
Thank you, Jesse, for talking to us about why alcohol isn’t needed to have an enjoyable Valentine’s Day experience!