Weddings can be beautiful, joyful events — but if you're sober, or avoiding alcohol for a period of time, they can also be challenging. A survey of 1,000 people by the American Addiction Resources Center at Alcohol.org found that 53% preferred weddings with alcohol to dry weddings, which means that there's a lot of social pressure for receptions to have free-flowing booze. If you don't drink, it may be a struggle to have a good time and enjoy the vibe of a wedding while everybody else is enjoying champagne with their cake — but if you plan ahead, sober people tell Bustle, you can get through it without hassle.
Being at weddings can be particularly challenging for people who have gone sober as part of their recovery from alcohol use disorder, "but it’s important to remember you’re never alone," Dr. Stephen Loyd, the National Medical Director at drug and alcohol treatment center JourneyPure, tells Bustle. People who are sober for other reasons, including health, may also find weddings and other alcohol-heavy events challenging, and may find it difficult to resist the temptation to have just one drink. Dr. Loyd suggests developing a plan, including identifying triggers that might persuade you to drink, and having an exit plan and some coping strategies to help avoid those triggers if they come up.
Seven people who are sober share their own tips and tricks with Bustle on how they handle weddings — and have a great time.
"My sister Shila and I have taken 2019 off from drinking alcohol and it's been such an interesting experience! Here are our tips. Plan to go early and leave early. It's best to just remove yourself from the situation but plan for it so it doesn't feel like you're being deprived. Find things to interact with that aren't necessarily people, find the ring toss, the dog or the sassy grandma for a riveting conversation.
"Be patient with and stop judging those who are drinking and remember they have a right to relax however they want. Social situations are the easiest place to slip into judgement. We do our best to ask ourselves 'what do I like?' and find things at the party to be happy about, like the nice lighting, someone's delightful dancing or how much we love the host."
"When I was drinking hard for 10 years, I used to think alcohol was the only way I could be fun. I clearly remember my first wedding where I was on the dance floor, totally sober, dancing my ass off and having the time of my life. And I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I know how to have fun without alcohol!'
"Having confidence in yourself and your decision to not drink is the first step. I began respecting my choice by setting clearer intentions ahead of time, practicing a visual exercise, giving myself a pep talk, and getting clear on all the reasons I wasn’t drinking.
"Feeling bad or guilty for saying no can sneak up on us when we're offered alcohol. I found that when I would excitedly and firmly say, 'Oh no, thanks, I’m great!' or, 'No, I am all set, thanks anyway,' it would remove some of the additional pressure people give. Without booze, I am a good listener, much more present, sincere and authentic in these social functions, and realizing that helps me to deal with the pressure I get from others.
"It’s important to not feel obligated to stay for the whole thing, and know when it’s time for you to go. I really don’t enjoy being in situations where there is a lot of alcohol and everyone is drinking heavily. It’s a good mirror for me to see what I used to be like, but more and more I am learning my limits at these types of events."
"Go in with a plan. What time are you arriving and what time are you leaving? Decide on a drink of choice so you don’t feel empty-handed. My fave is a wine glass filled with soda, a splash of cream, and a lime, so I feel fancy.
"Look for other obvious sober people in the room. I love hanging out with pregnant women when I’m at social drinking events. Take bathroom breaks, to breathe, and give yourself a pep talk. Remind yourself how good you're going to feel without a hangover the next day and plan brunch out to celebrate. And have an exit plan — just leave when you’ve had enough!"
"If you have a plus one, take a sober person. It will help you to have someone to go have fun with, and may help keep you accountable. Take photos or videos of the wedding to keep yourself in service and occupied. Help clean up. Even if you have to make cheesy small talk, be around sober people. It will make it easier. Find them.
"If you're in AA, plan to attend an AA meeting prior to the wedding so that you can get the support you need before the celebration. Let people know your concerns during the AA meeting so that the group can fully support you. Ask your sponsor and other group members for their suggestions for staying sober at the wedding. Put a 12 Step chip or lucky crystal in your pocket, as a protective factor, to remind you of your goals.
"Afterwards, take yourself to a late night diner for a grilled cheese or a slice of pie after the reception ends. Have something indulgent to look forward to as a reward for making it through a sobriety landmine."
"Preparation is a big part of enjoying an event alcohol free. You'll want to prepare what you are going to say, because you'll inevitably be questioned as to why you aren't drinking; what you are going to drink, because you don't want to be caught off guard and say your usual, 'Glass of Chardonnay, please'; and what you are going to do if you feel overwhelmed or left out.
"Go to the bathroom to call a friend, reach out to someone on social media, take a walk around the reception area, or even just step aside in a hallway and review a list of reasons why you don't want to drink that particular evening or season in your life.
"Before heading out to the event, visualize yourself having a wonderful time, laughing and easily turning down alcohol (and enjoying your soda water or non-alcoholic beverage). And find an accountability buddy — maybe it's someone at the wedding, or maybe it's a friend or family member, but choose someone who you will tell about your desire not to drink. Knowing you have someone who is rooting for you is really helpful."
"When I was younger, it was important to me to be sober, but for some reason the stigma really got to me, so I'd often order non-alcoholic drinks that looked like the "regular" drinks everyone else was holding.
"As I got older, it became more important to make sure that if there happened to be another sober person at the event, they wouldn't feel alone. It also became more important to lead by example and not try to appear to be something other than who I was."
"I got sober when I was 31. To be totally honest, I thought it was going to be the end of my social life, but surprise, it wasn't! Know going into it that you'll be ordering a Diet Coke or a La Croix or whatever non-alcoholic drink is your jam. You've probably been ordering alcoholic drinks at events like these for years, so you don't want to end up at the bar, panic, and order a glass of bubbly. Also, enlist an accountability buddy. Call your buddy beforehand (sober) and commit to calling them afterward (sober).
"Don't wait for someone to shove a glass of champagne or wine into your empty hand. When you get to the reception, head straight to the bar and order your non-alcoholic beverage! If you're drinking soda water, you can put a lime in it and people will probably just think you're drinking a vodka soda. Remember you don't owe anyone an explanation as to why you're not drinking, so don't indulge their questions if you don't want to.
"Finally, once you set your drink down, get a new drink. This is a big one. Picture this: you're doing a great job staying sober, drinking your soda water with lime. You set your cup down and turn to chat with a friend. You pick your cup back up and without realizing it you've grabbed the wrong one and suddenly you're drinking someone's vodka soda.
"When you arrive at the event, grab a soda water and then ask the host how you can help. Can you entertain your sister's kid, so that she and her husband can enjoy the evening? When I'm useful in these ways, I'm so much less obsessed about the fact that everyone is drinking and I'm not!"
A wedding can be a challenging occasion when you're sober or not drinking. Go in with a plan, though, and you'll still manage to dance the night away.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).