by Eric Robert H.
My alcoholism never gave me the pleasure of keeping up with sports, professional or college leagues. The championships and series finals were always good incentives to roll up a blunt and grab a bottle, but diehard fanship seemed like more of a time consuming burden rather than an enjoyable pastime. The silver lining of getting sober is getting to choose my affiliations and joining the circus of camaraderie that comes from fanship. I’m in no rush to take sides but there’s a sense of belonging when the team colors are worn and the plans are made to meet friends outside the sports arena. Recently a friend of Bill invited me to join him and his son at a university basketball game; however when his back pain became debilitating he gave me all three of the sporting event tickets. For one of the first times in a long time, I had plans on a Saturday night and even bigger plans to stay sober.
Read on and you’ll find a step-by-step guide on how to stay sober in the face of camaraderie and triggers.
STEP ONE: Invite People with More Sobriety Than You.
When I left treatment feelings of loneliness and social loss were minimized by regular attendance at AA meetings. Being an extrovert helps a lot when it comes to making new friends, especially after a meeting. After a few conversations I had dozens and dozens of new phone numbers. Folks told me, “Call me anytime.” I seldom took them up on that offer until the going got tough. In order to get through the tough going, I called a couple guys regularly. One of which was introduced to me by my sponsor who advised me to call the other guy everyday- something I did not think I wanted to do. Boy, am I happy I did. For the sake of anonymity we will call this first mentor G.K. Daily phone calls with G.K. helped me get through a devastating blow to my career and got me back to feeling like one of the guys when he invited me to go golfing. What his hours of conversation did for me in early recovery was certainly above par.
Another gentleman who keeps a commitment at a Tuesday night men’s meeting, we’ll call J.J., has inspired me to pursue my career goals as an entrepreneur. He like G.K. has well over five years of sobriety and has counseled me in person and over the phone since I made that men’s meeting my homegroup. Ironically enough, a week prior to scoring tickets to the college basketball game I griped to J.J. about not having friends. He was quick to assert that successful people don’t have friends. His words knocked some sense into me when he explained how average and boring our lives would be if we were normal, out drinking with millions of others in the world.
I invited G.K. and J.J. to the game and they both agreed to join me. I was proud of my decision to invite them of all people because 1) they had more sobriety than me and 2) they actually knew me – like really knew me. Insulating my attendance at the game with people more sober than me full-proofed any preventative measures I could take on my own to avoid being triggered and drinking. The invites also served as a gesture of gratitude. I was able to thank the guys who helped me at my lowest by asking them to accompany me during a highpoint of sobriety.
STEP TWO: Grab Food Beforehand.
Anyone who is abstaining from alcohol that has previously abused it or formed a dependence on the consumption of such is well aware of the hangry (hungry + angry = hangry) feeling that can cause cravings to skyrocket. I have experienced this first hand in early sobriety finding my most challenging moments in staying sober were due to not eating and thus suffering from low blood sugar. According to UK-based Bright Eye Counseling “ your body associates drinking alcohol with lots of quickly available carbohydrates, and that’s what it asks you for. So the one thing you need to do when you’re cutting down your alcohol intake, is keep your blood sugar levels fairly balanced.” (https://www.brighteyecounselling.co.uk/alcohol-drugs/low-blood-sugar-levels-cause-alcohol-cravings/)
Prior to the game I frequented one of my favorite restaurants and tried something new from their creative and diverse menu. I knew I could eliminate a wide range of triggers by simply filling my stomach with starchy sweet potato fries and a flavorful burger that was laced with pastrami. By the time I met G.K. and J.J. I had solidified and harnessed a good mood by treating myself well and serving my bodily need to eat prior to arrival.
STEP THREE: Focus on the Event Not the Booze
The concession stand was buzzing and even with a full stomach my mind still wanted to buy something to snack on just for the sake of buying something. The three beers they had on tap seemed to be the first items I saw on the menu but the lack of beer in hand was apparent as well. Prior to getting sober, grabbing a pint of beer would have been my first priority upon entering the venue however now I was just fine with the coffee J.J. bought me. Despite what my disease tried to convince me of, the game would go on with or without booze and we would have a good time without incident because we as a unit were abstaining from alcohol together.
We took our seats and before I could get too comfortable I was back on my feet for the National Anthem. Listening to the Star – Spangled Banner was a sobering moment in itself. Having gone thru this past year with nearly 7 months of rehab under my belt, moments like this were seldom to come by and staying sober now represented an honorable duty for me to fulfill as a law abiding citizen; a person able and willing to contribute to society rather than take away from its quality of life through drinking.
The game started and it drew me in without contest. Brief moments of cravings cropped up towards the end of the game but because of my fellow alcoholics and a stomach full of food I was able to redirect my attention to my purpose of attendance: the sporting event at hand. I did not see one person with a beer in hand when I did venture to scan the crowd. What I did see were couples cozied up with one another, kids dancing on the big screen and college students that were way more enthusiastic about their school’s basketball team than I ever was. The event was memorable because I did not consume anything that would inhibit or detract from making it a memory. I was able to be invested in the game rather than getting a refill.
STEP FOUR: Enjoy Yourself and Others Will Enjoy You.
Kelsey Clark authors “People with These 3 Traits Are Universally Attractive, Science Says” asserts that a positive attitude is crucial to being successful. She discusses balanced extroversion and confidence but it’s her summary of the benefits of a positive attitude that struck a chord with me: “those who project a positive attitude and outlook on life succeed in attracting the people around them. Not only do more optimistic people tend to live longer, but they’re also more professionally successful, mentally and physically healthy, and socially attractive.” (http://www.mydomaine.com/attractive-personality-traits)
My disease wanted me to be frustrated and angry that I could not drink. Alcoholism wanted me to have a boring, bad time without its presence in hand but challenging the -ism gave me more success than not. As a host I was able to help my guests get comfortable and enjoy themselves. As a fellow recovering alcoholic, my abstinence from drinking also helped them in their journey on the “happy road to destiny”. We had a great time and the camaraderie of the basketball game was natural, not inhibited or artificial.
STEP FIVE: Treat Yourself to Desert Afterwards.
After the game, conversation that had commenced inside the arena carried us all the way to the parking garage where we said our goodbyes, knowing we all have every intention of coming together at our regular meeting on Tuesday nights. I was proud of myself not only for staying sober but for doing it well. If you’re like me, these events seemed near impossible to enjoy without intoxicants so to do so writes a new narrative of my persons and the life I’m choosing to live.
Frozen yogurt and ice cream are affordable and attainable means of positive reinforcement. In early sobriety it may seem like the only answer we give ourselves is “No.” But the fact of the matter is that we are actually saying “Yes” to life and that more abundantly. Jeffrey Foote, Ph.D., co-author of Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change defines positive reinforcement as “doing “nice” things in response to positive behavior.“ (http://blog.smartrecovery.org/2015/03/24/power-of-positive-reinforcement/) We don’t have to wait for a promise of the AA’s program as these are often lofty and long-term. Treat yourself to something sweet upon accomplishing the social feat. A little sugar rush will not only taste good but also curb those late night cravings for the sugar we used to get out of alcohol.
STEP SIX: Call Another Alcoholic.
When it’s all done, it’s time to be said and decompress what just happened. I had an experience and it was great. I needed to tell somebody. G.K. and J.J. were not the first guys I invited so it was a good time to check-in with guys that could not join me. Just because I did something new and different to my sobriety there was not a reason to stop working my program and connect with others.
Now, this is not a chance to brag or show-off but rather to find out how others maintained their sobriety on a Saturday night. If the chance arises, of course share your experience and don’t be afraid to be honest if it was difficult. Another alcoholic in recovery can relate and help you break-down what exactly just happened. It’s a moment of actualization through communication that we deserve. In sharing our experience, strength and hope we encourage others to take advantage of the simple joys of life and open ourselves up to increase our network of friends in recovery as they will know you are someone that has fun staying sober.