With the July 4th holiday almost here, Phoenix House wants to ensure that everyone in recovery has the tools to both strengthen their sobriety and enjoy the best of summer. Over the years, as director of outpatient services for Long island, an area renowned for its beach communities, I have worked with many clients who wanted to create positive, sober, and memorable summers for themselves. My colleagues and I have learned what techniques are especially effective. So here is our seven-point summer sobriety plan for every stage of recovery:
- Work it. Embrace the idea of being in recovery and cultivate a recovery-oriented mindset. Inform others of your new identity and let them know you appreciate their support. If you’re offered a drink, state out loud, “No thanks, I don’t drink.” If someone pushes you on this point, answer with a ready phrase, such as, “No, it disagrees with me.”
- Identify with the “sober scene.” Increasingly, people in recovery are coming together under sober tents at music festivals and through sober activities in their communities. Look for sober Meetup groups in your area and check local listings for sober events. Explore summer events that don’t involve alcohol or drugs, such as an outdoor family concert or a craft fair, and try new activities in which sobriety is taken for granted: volunteer to march for a cause; try gardening or tai chi; or take up guitar or smartphone photography.
- Create quality time. If you’re invited to a barbeque, pool party, or another get-together where there will be alcohol or other intoxicants, show up early and leave early. Spend quality time with your host or hostess, help with the cooking and set up, enjoy older and younger guests who aren’t “partaking,” and then give your adieus before any drunken carousing gets underway. You’ll minimize triggers and dodge guests who, when intoxicated, could potentially undermine your abstinence.
- BYOB–bring your own buddy. If your host or hostess has room for one more, invite a support person who backs your abstinence 100 percent. Your guest can be your personal backup, ready to run interference in the face of temptation or a tricky situation.
- Host your own event. If you have the resources, consider having your own potluck picnic or backyard party. This way, you’ll be in charge of what goes on and have an opportunity to practice your sobriety on your own terms in a social setting.
- Manage your cravings, urgings, and triggers. If you know you’ll be in a high-risk situation that could threaten your recovery, work out a game plan ahead of time, with the help of your formal sobriety program or informal support group, to equip yourself for the challenge. Your plan may include:
- Understanding your cravings and how to suppress them. Cravings are internal responses to physical or emotional states, such as being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Strategize, for instance, to arrive well rested and to reach for the food, not booze.
- Practice “urge surfing.” An urge is signified by a physical movement to use, such as wandering toward the cooler. In your support program or group, tell how you would move through an urge and beyond it. Through this technique, you can demonstrate to yourself that you can have an urge and move past it without using.
- Using mindfulness to identify your triggers. A trigger is an external cue that can drive an unconscious desire to use. By being mindful—purposefully and nonjudgmentally paying attention to yourself in the present moment—you can become aware of how certain cues can create a desire to use. Once you know your triggers, you can avoid them if you are in early recovery. If you are in later recovery, reach for the “play the tape” technique—visualize the mounting consequences that would arise from giving into your triggered desire.
- Reward your abstinence. Recovery is a lifelong journey; part of the long-term work is to learn to have fun without relapsing. Create joyful experiences for yourself as a way to reward your abstinence. Just do this honestly and involve your support people. Rewards, of course, can include special outings such as going to a water park or a street fair (one that emphasizes food and shopping). However, a fantastic reward can simply be spending time with the ones you love, even when you feel you may have harmed the relationship. Tell yourself, “I’m going to have the confidence and the self-esteem to reach out to my brother and see my nieces and nephews.” Believing that you are worth the opportunity for connection is the single best reward you can give yourself, not just for the summer, but for every day to come.
Director of Outpatient Services
Phoenix House Long Island