I never wanted tenuous sobriety that was dependent on me avoiding all situations, places and persons where drinking was involved. After all, if I can’t stay sober around some people having a glass of wine, my sobriety sucks. Moreover, my sobriety days would be numbered.
In fact, I like that I have solid enough sobriety where I can go to pretty much any event where there’s drinking AS LONG AS the main reason for the event is NOT getting drunk.
The short answer to whether you must avoid drinking situations to stay sober, if you want one based on AA literature, is NO. The Big Book addresses this specifically and the suggestion is if there’s a reason other than drinking to be there, by all means be there. This is exactly my view on the matter.
The only events and situations I avoid are those where the main purpose is to get drunk. This could be in a bar, at somebody’s home or elsewhere.
On the flip side, I don’t specifically avoid pubs and bars. I go once in a while to a pub or bar with friends and my wife who enjoy a cocktail or late night drink. I have a non-alcoholic beverage. My friends/wife aren’t there to get drunk. They just want a drink.
But I’m 9.5 years sober … should newcomers in recovery avoid situations where alcohol is consumed?
Yes and no. If you are white knuckling it and/or in a serious funk, it’s best to avoid drinking situations as best as you can. This need not be permanent. In time, as your sobriety improves, you’ll start feeling comfortable in situations where alcohol is consumed. It just kind of happens … at least it did for me.
Don’t use “there’s alcohol there” as an excuse
I’m an introvert and I can use my alcoholism as justification for avoiding social situations with the best of them. This is dumb and cowardly behavior. I admit I’ve used “there’s alcohol there” as an excuse to avoid going to events … but I don’t anymore UNLESS the main reason people are congregating is to get drunk.
If you truly believe the event is not one conducive for a recovering alcoholic, then by all means decline an invitation. If it’s an event you’d otherwise attend, but are having a pity party and don’t feel like going at the last minute, don’t use the “alcohol” excuse. Sure, don’t go if you dont’ want to, but don’t give a false excuse … after all recovery requires rigorous honesty.
Examples of situations I would avoid
- Riding on a party bus all night. People rent party buses for one reason only, and that’s to party like a rock star all night. I have no interest riding along with a bunch of drunk people on a bus. I would decline an invite on a party bus.
- A night at the nightclub. Okay, I could go and dance. But, I’m not into nightclubs. I didn’t like them when I was drinking except for the fact I could drink in them. Nightclubs are places people go to drink to excess and so it’s an event I’d likely avoid. BUT, if you love dancing and are secure in your sobriety, you don’t necessarily need to avoid nightclubs if non-alcoholic friends are going with you.
- Hanging out with a group of heavy drinkers. There are people who enjoy a couple of drinks and then there are people intent on getting drunk. I have no problem hanging out with people who enjoy a couple of drinks; I don’t hang out with people intent on getting drunk.
- Going to Las Vegas with heavy drinkers. This is a recipe for disaster. I don’t even like gambling (fortunately). However, if you’re going with people interested in shows and taking in the sights instead of getting drunk day and night, that’s fine.
Examples of situations where there’s alcohol that I don’t avoid
- Dinner parties. I like dinner parties. Often people drink a bit too much, but I don’t mind. They aren’t alcoholics. They’re enjoying a nice dinner.
- Weddings, birthdays, work parties and other celebratory events. I decided long ago I would not be a recluse and forsake celebratory occasions on account of being an alcoholic.
- Cruises. Many people drink like crazy on cruises. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t avoid a cruise vacation because of that. I haven’t gone on a cruise, but I wouldn’t mind going at all.
- Pub for cocktails / late night drinks. I’ve met up with groups of friends and gone to pubs with my wife. It’s not a big deal. It’s a place to meet up. Generally, we don’t stay long (an hour or so). I’ve never been tempted. Please note that my decision to attend a pub is because I’m very secure in my sobriety. This is one of those situations where I don’t think avoiding as an alcoholic is taking the cowardly avenue.
- Restaurants that serve alcohol. If you avoid this, you’ll have a hard time eating out. Avoid it if your sobriety is new or tenuous … but in the long run there’s no need to avoid restaurants that serve alcohol.
The point is you have to assess each situation. Sometimes, even if you don’t expect a situation not to involve too much alcohol, it happens. When this happens, don’t sulk or have a pity party … enjoy yourself and be a stoic.
Sometimes you have to step up and be a stoic
If you do happen to go to events and end up in situations where there is drinking, some people might just get drunk, even if they aren’t alcoholic. In fact, you might be asked to be a designated driver. Instead of sulking about this, step up and be of service. I don’t begrudge people having a few too many and needing a ride. I’ve driven tons of people home from dinner parties and restaurants. I’d rather everybody be safe than resent people drinking too much to drive (which isn’t much alcohol at all).
Think about how many times somebody drove your drunk ass somewhere when you were drinking. If you drank like me, it probably happened more than you drove drunk people around. Now you can return the favor.
Do we have alcohol in the house?
Yes. My wife drinks and is not an alcoholic. In fact, I’m still amazed how people don’t drink to excess. She seriously only likes one or two glasses of wine over the course of an evening. I still find it baffling. Nevertheless, her having a glass of wine doesn’t bother me in the least. In fact, I prefer she not go out of her way to avoid having a drink.
Again, I don’t want the type of sobriety where I can’t have alcohol around in order to stay sober. If’ I’m getting drunk, I’ll go to buy a truckload of booze and get drunk.
Protect your sobriety at all costs
The goal for anyone in recovery, whether AA, another formal program or a self-directed recovery program, is to be comfortable in their own skin and therefore comfortable in situations where alcohol is consumed. However, if you’re new in sobriety or are having a difficult time and you feel you might want to drink if alcohol is present, then avoid it at all costs. Seriously, it’s better to be a party pooper than an active drunk. If ever I suffer thoughts of drinking and my sobriety is tenuous (i.e. fall into a funk), I’d circle the wagons and avoid drinking situations until I got out of that funk.