That’s a phrase two groups of people hear all the time.
One group is expecting parents: it’s just about the first thing out of everyone’s mouth when you share the news.
The next group?
People in recovery for the first time.
There’s a funny thing about this phrase, though: everyone who says it is dead wrong. They’re wrong about how it applies to new parents, and they’re wrong about how it applies to recovery.
Hold on – how can we say that?
Because when you have a child, or when you decide to enter recovery for an alcohol or substance use disorder, there’s only one thing that changes: you.
Everything does not change.
The rest of the world stays exactly as-is.
You have a baby – the world keeps turning. You quit drinking or taking drugs – ditto. The world keeps turning.
So what on earth are all those people talking about?
What is it that changes?
We said it before.
You’re what changes.
Summer, Festivals, and Staying Safe
When you first quit drinking or using drugs, you might have a string of thoughts that goes something like this:
“My entire social life is over. I can’t go out for drinks, I can’t go out to see bands, I can’t…I can’t go out and do the things I love ever again. Like music festivals. My favorite summer thing. But there’s just no way. Those things are huge drinking and drug parties. I don’t think I could make it.”
When your inner monologue goes there, you’re letting thought patterns associated with your addiction creep into the way you view your recovery. In this case, you’re defaulting to a psychological mechanism mental health professionals call splitting.
Splitting – also called all or nothing and black and white thinking – happens when you find it hard to hold two opposing viewpoints in your mind at the same time. Rather than accepting the ambivalence and integrating the opposing viewpoints into a whole, you separate them into separate parts and label them as either good or bad.
In this case, you look at going out with friends, going to see bands, or going to a summer music festival as all or nothing choices. If you go out with friends, you have to drink a glass of wine. If you go to see a band, you have to drink a beer. And if you go to a music festival, all bets are off: you have to imbibe in beer, wine, and whatever drug comes your way.
The thing is, going out with friends, going to see bands, and going to a music festival do not require intoxication.
That’s your addiction talking.
Staying Sober While Doing the Things You Love
Let’s take festivals, for instance.
It might seem like it, but not everyone at festivals is drunk or high. We know because at two of the biggest festivals in the country, Bonnaroo and Coachella, organizers have created special areas for people in recovery to take a break, seek the fellowship of sober peers, and even go to 12-step or other social support meetings.
At Bonnaroo, the sober safe zone is also a group campsite called Soberoo. At Coachella, it’s called Soberchella. Sober festivalgoers at Bonnaroo can attend three meetings per day: noon, 6:00 pm, and midnight. At Coachella, sober festivalgoers can attend one meeting per day around midday, with specific times announced daily. The sober components of these festivals have been part of the experience for over ten years, with the full support of festival organizers.
We’re not naïve: clearly, these festivals are trigger-rich environments, and you need to have your coping skills on point if you plan to go to an event where it’s likely 99% of the people will not be in recovery. However, if you’re at a place in your recovery where you think you’re ready to try a festival, our real point here is that you’re not alone. You can find recovery peers, go to meetings, and enjoy the magic of live music in a festival atmosphere – all while staying true to your recovery plan and maintaining your sobriety.
The same is true for going out with friends and going to see bands. You can do it without being drunk or high. The trick is to plan ahead. You know you’re going to be triggered, and you know you might have to navigate a slippery moment or two. Be ready with your coping strategies, including the nuclear option: if things get to be too much, you can walk right out that door.