I felt really disrespected. It felt like a slap in the face when people were drinking around me, and I was trying to stay sober.
When you get into recovery, it’s like you are doing everything for the first time. This includes being around others who are drinking at bars, parties, and events. And it might be uncomfortable because you haven’t been in these situations without drinking. You may start to wonder: How can I still be a part of everything without feeling left out?
The truth is that figuring out your normal isn’t easy. But it’s better than drinking to fit in and risking your recovery. Others aren’t always going to understand, but your recovery and healing are important. It’s OK to put yourself and your recovery first. Finding your “normal” in recovery can take years.
This is a tricky thing in early sobriety. I have an anxiety disorder, so I feel my alcohol use is related to that. This is very risky and slippery behavior…
Putting yourself first
There were so many people I had to “leave behind” in the beginning of my recovery. The beauty of recovery is that as you walk your walk, many of those you’ve “left behind” are watching and may eventually join you in recovery. Even in my mental health journey, I often have to remind myself, “me first!”
Sometimes people feel like they are abandoning their family, friends, and loved ones when they begin their recovery journey. And this part of the process is difficult. It’s ok to miss these people and grieve the loss of these relationships.
But if putting yourself in a healthy place means walking away from others, then that’s OK too. This will change who is in your life. Unfortunately, not everyone will support you or respect your sobriety. So you might find yourself redefining your friendships, relationships, and boundaries. Accepting that putting yourself first will change who you surround yourself with is an important part of recovery.
Removing yourself from the environment
I live on a campus where it is very normalized to party, but my normal is to stay away from those spaces and stay home.
If it feels uncomfortable to be around friends, family, or drinking people sober, then it’s OK to remove yourself from those environments. For example, it’s OK to leave a party if you feel anxious or if you feel that you are risking your recovery. Here are some strategies you can use if you need to leave or are looking for new environments:
- Feel your feelings. You may feel anxious, ashamed, or less than because you can’t drink at first. But you may also feel relieved that you don’t have to participate. This is all normal to feel. Using your coping strategies will help you work through these feelings. Learning to address through your feelings will take time, but it’s crucial to healing. And therapy helps with this as well.
- Have a plan. Don’t just go by yourself. Stick with friends in recovery. Don’t go around people who are drinking for a while, and have an exit strategy for leaving if things become too overwhelming. For example, you can keep a soft drink or water in your hand so you don’t pick up a drink by mistake, so if someone asks if you need a drink, you already have one
- Choose a new sober environment with friends. Bars, parties, and social gatherings are not the only places where people have fun. Consider hanging out with friends in recovery or from meetings. You can also suggest activities that don’t include drinking, like physical activities, crafting, video games, and other hobbies. Other activities may include getting out in nature, bowling, ax throwing, etc. You can find sober places and events online or using apps like MeetUp.
In the beginning of your recovery, you have to be mindful of what you interact with. You are learning how to deal with a chronic illness. It’s important to accept that there is no normal that is better or worse. And remember it’s OK to leave social events—you don’t have to stay, be the last one to leave, or the life of the party.
Give yourself permission to need support
Give yourself permission to need support in this situation. You’re not alone, and there’s support for you. You don’t have to be around people who are using and drinking when you are trying not to. Give yourself permission to leave the environment if you feel pressured to drink. Give yourself permission to find and build connections with others who are going through the same thing. And there are many recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and others that you can associate yourself with so you don’t have to be alone. You cannot recover alone. Accepting support is a HUGE part of recovery.