Starting The Summer Sober

Choosing To Stay Strong in a Difficult Situation

In South Platte Counseling’s ongoing blog series, “Mental Health and Me,” we invite one of our clients to write openly and anonymously about their mental health journey on a topic they’ve personally experienced.  We are showcasing this series to help de-stigmatize the conversation around mental health.  We want to let people know mental health is an individual journey and a ubiquitous life experience.  With that being said, let’s read about one person’s experience with this week’s topic: coping with sobriety while enjoying the summer fun.

Editor’s note & warning: This blog includes toxic thoughts and feelings toward alcohol.  Please take care while reading.

From the moment I stepped on the boat, I knew that today would be a challenge. After being nine months sober, it was time to reenter an environment that contained alcohol. While I was confident I was capable of staying strong due to planning with my therapist, I knew that I would be tested – a lot.

It was a yearly tradition for my four close friends and me to take the boat out on the first Saturday of summer. Being back home in Michigan, this day was always something to celebrate after the brutal winter we always experienced. It is always such a fun day spent on the water, soaking up the warm sun, and day drinking. However, I felt like this was going to be such a different experience for me as I no longer would be participating in a big part of the day: taking shots and playing drinking games. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to be with great friends enjoying the beautiful weather, but I was anxious about the long day ahead.

In my mind, I was afraid strangers at the sandbar would judge me for having a water bottle in my hand. I was fearful of not fitting in because I wasn’t intoxicated. Would I still be “fun”? I was worried about the mere chance of slipping up and ruining all the progress I had made. Yet no matter how many of these jumbled thoughts I had, I still had a smile on my face – I was still happy to be here even if I was nervous for myself.

From the moment we left the dock, beers were poured, and the drinking began. Although I was uncomfortable, I knew it was time to implement parts of the plan my therapist and I had created. While my friends had Coors Light or White Claws in their hands, I had La Croix. When my friends took shots, I took pictures. If I had a thought about “not fitting in with the group,” I reminded myself of the awesome impact I made at the party; after all, I am the best DJ.

I also implemented a safety net in case the day went sideways and I couldn’t handle it. I talked to my best friend beforehand and made a plan. I told him how big of a step this was for me. We agreed that if at any point I could not handle being in the environment anymore, I could be dropped off back on land with a simple excuse of needing to go home and take care of Linda, my Husky. Although thankfully, I never used this exit strategy, it made me feel much more secure about being there.

The last piece of the plan we put in place was for me to stay present and intentional. As the day progressed, I found myself having a great time and worrying less. This fun day on the lake wasn’t planned to be one big test. Instead, it’s always been intended as a day out to have fun, socialize, and get some sunshine like we do any other year.

I am proud to share this day and this experience with you as I know that four or five months before, I wouldn’t have been able to have such great success. Between attending my regular AA meetings, working closely with my therapist, and being surrounded by a strong support system, I have found myself enjoying my life more than ever.

If you are someone who sees summer as a scary time due to facing alcohol, going to parties, or not being able to remove yourself from a situation (like being on a boat), know that you, too, can get through it. The best advice I can give is to have a plan and understand what you can handle now and what you may not quite be ready for. Remember, we do this a day at a time. On that boat, I had to break it down and take it a moment at a time. But, having a therapist, a friend who supported me, and a plan – I feel even more confident about the next time I’m in that situation.  I know I’ve got this – and I know you’ve got this, too.  Stay strong.

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