Alcoholics Anonymous calls the months between Thanksgiving and New Year’s the “Bermuda Triangle,” a period that can make people more vulnerable to relapse. Unfortunately, the summer months present a similar challenge. The summer is typically a time to relax with friends and family, go to sporting events and barbeques. It starts with Memorial Day weekend, followed by graduation parties, vacations, the Fourth of July, and wraps up with Labor Day. At most of these events, alcohol is a mainstay - in plastic cups at a picnic table or with a fancy open bar at a cocktail party. For someone in early recovery, approaching these summer months can be daunting.
The good news is that there are many strategies to help you experience a memorable summer in recovery. In fact, many former patients report that their first summer in recovery was the best summer of their lives because they were truly present and able to appreciate everything the season had to offer. One woman even transformed what used to be a raucous alcohol-laden summer party at her house into an annual sober summer party – complete with music and other festivities.
A successful summer starts with prioritizing your self-care. It’s critical to nurture your whole self mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for a complete sense of wellness. If you approach potentially difficult times from a good place, then you’ve created a foundation to reduce the risk of relapse. Vulnerability to relapse increases when we neglect one or more of those areas of self-care and are confronted with a trigger.
Empower yourself by developing an action plan when facing stressful situations.
Here are five tips to help you create a memorable and sober summer:
1) Cultivate a support network. Before summer is in full swing, take stock of the people you spend time with. How do they align with and support your goals? Do you see them by your side five years from now? If the answer is yes, rely on that network. I recommend staying close with a sponsor and five other strong people who know your efforts in recovery. These should be people you’re comfortable enough with to be completely authentic. If you end up in a precarious situation, these are people you will instinctively want to reach out to for guidance and support. I also urge people to spread their network across all areas of their lives: A supportive friend at work, a family member at home, one in each social circle, and so on.
2) Practice being social. Some people in recovery struggle socially early on because, for the first time, they’re interacting without having alcohol or drugs as a crutch. Many people think that you need to completely remove yourself from every setting involving alcohol, but that’s not always the case. Being in a good space in your recovery, having support with you and a plan in place are key components to keeping your recovery intact. Avoidance leads to isolation, which can lead to loneliness and shame, putting you at a greater risk for relapse. In early recovery, the brain is still healing and undergoing post-acute withdrawal symptoms, so we recommend making very deliberate and conscious choices about what events to attend and who to spend time with. Socializing may be difficult to navigate at first, but it does get better. The effort results in authentic and rewarding relationships. I encourage people to be deliberate about the supportive friends and family you engage with socially until it becomes comfortable.
3) Stick to a schedule. It can be tough to sustain self-care every day without thinking things through ahead of time. I encourage people to sit down on Sunday, look at the upcoming week, and plan out each 24-hour period – when will you exercise? Meditate? Attend a meeting? Talk to a sponsor? When do you have fun, social time scheduled? Identify and evaluate the moments during the week you anticipate will bring stress and bookend those times with positive activities, being sure to set aside time to check in with your support system afterward. It’s vital to your recovery that you feel connected to yourself and others.
4) Be mindful of your time. Idle time promotes risk, especially when we’re busy all week and then suddenly are faced with an empty weekend. When we don’t plan, we can revert to old habits. Choose to spend time doing fun and healthy activities that are in alignment with your values. If you need a refresher, take time to write about your behaviors and how they fit into those values. A switch of social scenes may also be necessary, or at least, the addition of new activities with some sober friends that meet your new needs. A recreational sports league, club, or volunteering can all provide fun, accountability, and purpose.
5) Know what you’re drinking. There are summer events we want to participate in where alcohol is inevitable -- a wedding, for example. My advice is to always have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand, so you aren’t constantly being offered one. That drink should be something you really enjoy that compliments the atmosphere and palette – a refreshing club soda and lime when the drink being served is citrus, for example.
Summer can be an amazing opportunity to spend time with family and friends in an authentic and present way. We encourage you to soak up every sunset and every sunny day. Dip your toes in the ocean and remember that recovery is the best possible gift to yourself and your loved ones.