I can still remember the first time I walked into a bar to meet some co-workers after I stopped drinking/using. We had made the plan to meet at a bar the day before and I thought about it all night, didn’t sleep very well, and thought about it all day at work. I was so nervous walking across the parking lot, I was shaking. I remember opening the door into the bar, and smelling all those familiar smells of stale cigarettes and spilled beer, hearing the crack of the billiard balls and the canned music.
As I stepped into the bar, I felt a rush of desire: booze, booze, drugs, sex, dancing, laughter – the promise of all kinds of possibilities. It didn’t matter that those possibilities came with a lot of bad choices and hard personal consequences. In that first minute, I had a physical body rush of anticipation that was tough to deal with. I almost ran right back out of the bar, afraid I would go straight to the bar and order a shot without thinking.
That day, I did manage to get ahold of myself and join my friends, picking up a coke from the bar on my way to their table. But I didn’t stay long, finding it just too hard to be that close to temptation. In fact, it was a very long time before I could casually go to a bar to meet friends. And to this day I don’t go to bars very often, and I always mentally prepare before I open that bar room door or walk into a party.
So what do I do to prepare? First, I remind myself ahead of time that there will be drinking/drugging. This may sound silly, but it has been an essential step for me. When I first sobered up, I needed to focus on being ready to see people drinking or smoking pot, so I wouldn’t be shocked and trigger the desire to drink. Now, almost because I spend so much of my time without any alcohol around, I can be surprised by the presence of a lot of alcohol … and feel a bit unsteady in my sobriety. That is why, for me, it is always so important to think about the fact that people will be using and get ready for it.
I also make sure I have an exit plan. I have learned that it is not good for me to stay at a party where people are getting quite high/drunk. Now that I have more sobriety, I can easily enjoy a gathering of friends or a dance where people are drinking socially. (This was not possible in my early days of sobriety; I just had to stay away.) If people start to get drunk or fairly high, I simply leave. I can have fun, and just leave when it feels like there is too much alcohol or drugs. It has been really important to listen/feel my own reaction, and get out of there as soon as I start to feel uncomfortable.
I can still get the rush of the alcoholic/drug addict if I am surprised by drinking or even if people start talking about drinking and drugging. It reminds me that I have to keep working on my sobriety, to keep preparing for exposure to drugs or alcohol, and to trust my gut instinct when it feels like a situation is threatening my sobriety – and just leave.
I want to be able to enjoy time with friends and in community, but I have learned that my sobriety has to come first. I can enjoy these gatherings, and simply leave as soon as I am not comfortable. Being around too much alcohol or drugs is very dangerous to my sobriety, and definitely not worth it!