Wedding season can be intimidating for a variety of reasons — for one thing, it's expensive — but if you're newly sober, a wedding can present an added minefield of problems. Weddings are often notoriously alcohol-heavy events, with open bars and many toasts, and whether you're rethinking your relationship with drinking, or committing to a longer-term life without alcohol, that can feel difficult. However, experts tell Bustle that attending weddings sober doesn't have to be rough, and can in fact add to the overall joy of the occasion.
Psychologist Dr. Eric Fields, who specializes in addiction therapy, tells Bustle, "Anyone who is trying to remain sober from alcohol should be aware of triggers." If you're early in your sobriety, you should usually stay away from places that might cause you to want a drink.
Holly Glenn Whittaker, the CEO and founder of sobriety organization Tempest, agrees. "The first thing to do is remember you don't have to go," she tells Bustle. "Sobriety is about setting boundaries, saying no, and choosing your health over a need to people please."
However, if you really need to attend a wedding because a lot of people will be hurt if you don't — or, if you really want to go — you need a plan to get through the hours without heading to the bar. Fortunately, experts tell Bustle that dealing with weddings when you're not drinking is achievable with a little bit of forward-thinking. Here are nine tips to help you enjoy the day to its fullest.
Think you're going to find it difficult to remember why you're sober when so many people around you are having a good time? Keep a reminder on you of your reasons for abstaining. "Make a list of all your reasons for not drinking on the notes app on your phone ahead of time," Warrington suggests. It's private but easily accessible, so you can look at it in the bathroom whenever you need a reminder of your choice and the rationale behind it.
If you need to, remind yourself about why this is actually a cool new opportunity for you. "This is your chance to test-drive a whole new version of yourself who doesn't get drunk or wake up the next day with mystery receipts and a hangover that lasts until Monday," Whittaker tells Bustle. "And that's exciting."
Plan What To Say When People Ask
One of the most challenging parts of being sober can be dealing with the questions and expectations of others. It can be helpful, Dr. Fields says, to make a script before the wedding so that you know what to say when somebody asks why you're not getting into the champagne. "You can use a white lie, such as you need to abstain for medical reason. You can also be honest," he says. "And you can, of course, be creative and use some humor." Rehearsing this beforehand, whatever it is, can help you feel more natural in the moment.
If you do go with the honesty route, Warrington says you may get unexpected rewards. "Sharing one of the reasons on your list could lead to a moment of genuine connection with them," she says, so anticipate potential vulnerability. You never know what stories people have with alcohol themselves.
Restrict Your Access To Heavy Drinkers
Even if you're committing to attending an event where you know there will be a lot of drinking, says Dr. Fields, that doesn't mean you can't make it a bit easier on yourself. He suggests not standing near the bar for a long period of time, and staying away from heavy drinkers or only socializing with them briefly. "Engage in some conversation for 10-15 minutes, then tell them you want to catch up with some other guests but will be back. Take your time making it back to that group and then repeat," he says. This will reduce your triggers for drinking and make it easier to focus on your own behavior.
Give Yourself Things To Do
When you're drinking, time can fly by. Without a glass in hand, and surrounded by drinking people, weddings can feel long and exhausting. The best way to combat that feeling is to stay busy.
"Give yourself a job," Dr. Fields says. Taking on the role of a host or hostess at a wedding, even if it's not yours, gives you a purpose. "You should always be doing something or have a plan to do something," says Dr. Fields. Check in on people, try to fix problems (weddings always have problems that need fixing), and talk to young children or older folks who might not be getting attention otherwise.
Not only will this give you something to do, it'll make you invaluable to the actual hosts. Make sure you know what you're doing after this particular job, too — even if it's just finding a side room and chatting quietly to a supportive person on your phone.
Give Yourself Permission To Party
There's an unexpected advantage to being at a wedding when you're sober: everybody else is cheerful. "It can be really fun being around other drinkers when you’re not, as people loosen up and laugh more," Warrington says. Have hilarious conversations, hit the dance floor, enjoy the party atmosphere and join in with games and activities. "You're an alien on a new planet, the sober person in the land of drinking, and it's wild; enjoy it," Whittaker tells Bustle.
You may not have any liquid courage to help you on, but you can definitely do an energetic routine to your favorite song with the bride. No alcohol required.
Plan Sober Activities Beforehand And Afterwards
"Probably the best advice I could give to a newly sober person attending a wedding for the first time in sobriety is to book-end the event," Ford tells Bustle. "Have a committed plan for what you are going to do before and after the event, and stick to this plan." She recommends activities like a call with a sponsor, therapist, or other person who's supporting your sobriety, journaling, or an early morning meditation or yoga class — which you'll be to able to do, because you won't have a hangover.
Whittaker recommends putting in the time beforehand to committing these plans to memory. "Spend 10 minutes visualizing each moment from what you wear, to what you ask to drink, to declining the wine, to going home at a reasonable hour," she tells Bustle. "This is creating a future memory and doing it will make it that much more natural when you're in the scene." Making it firm in your mind will help you keep to the plan when you really need help.
Remember To Eat & Hydrate
This is definitely the occasion to appreciate the catering as much as possible. "Don't forget to eat!" Dr. Fields advises Bustle. "We are less likely to want alcohol on a full stomach." Listen to your body's hunger signals, and make sure you keep hydrated; if you've got a glass of water in hand and are full of tasty food, you'll feel much less inclined to reach for wine to slake your thirst.
Skip Out If You Need To
It's important to be kind to yourself if sobriety is hard for you — and that can mean excusing yourself, says Ford. "We sometimes feel guilty putting ourselves first, but this a skill that the newly sober person would be well-advised to start practicing," she tells Bustle. "Your true friends and loved ones would want you to take good care of yourself, even if they don't yet know what you're going through." Work out what the required elements are — you may be obliged to attend the ceremony, but perhaps you could leave the reception early and reduce the pressure on yourself.
And make sure you reward yourself. "Have a treat waiting for you to celebrate making it through," Whittaker tells Bustle — because you made it, and you're awesome.
As long as you plan properly, getting through a wedding while completely sober can be achievable. "You can show your love for the newly married couple while you practice your love for your newly sober self," says Ford. And you can have the added bonus of waking up fresh as a daisy the day after.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).
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