It’s that time of year again: wedding season. Many of our mailboxes have been busting at the seams for months with “save-the-dates” and invitations from loved ones and friends getting ready to marry in a more forgivable climate. This matrimonial marathon usually runs from about March to September, with certain stragglers waiting for the outlying months, presumably in hopes of getting a better deal. What does this mean for those in recovery? Well, in addition to a whole lot of travel and expense, it also means being on heightened guard in order to avoid a potential setback in the progress we’ve been making.
Whether we’re there as spectators or actually part of the affair itself, weddings are not exactly dry affairs, nor are the events leading up to them. From the engagement parties to the bachelor and bachelorette bashes to cocktail hour to the obligatory cake-mashing, the champagne keeps flowing and can very easily test even the most established and best-adjusted of us. We should expect certain variables: the overly exuberant best man or maid of honor who is completely ignorant of our recovery, and tries with great intent to force us to take a drink, the looks we get when tell complete strangers why we can’t “toast the happy couple in ‘proper’ fashion” or having to sit around and watch everyone fall over themselves drunk at the end of the evening.
We can’t, nor should we, expect everyone to know our backstory. It’s not as though we have “I’m in recovery” written on our foreheads. It is up to us to know our limits and what we can tolerate without giving in to temptation. One of the particularly difficult elements of alcohol addiction is that we almost can’t avoid coming in contact with drinking culture during recovery. Illicit drugs operate on the periphery; alcohol is practically engrained into American socialization. Weddings put alcohol right in front of us, whether we like it or not.
The good news is, however, that there are some simple things we can do to avoid getting tripped up.
Sponsor on Speed-Dial – We connect with our sponsors for a reason: they understand the pressures that come with certain lifestyle situations and can help us keep ourselves together. They’re there to help us get through the tough times and keep us from the brink of relapse. It’s critical that we keep either our sponsors or our therapist close at hand, or at phone, during high-risk events like weddings. It helps to coordinate with them prior to the event to see if they’ll be available when and if we need them.
Lean on Your “Plus One” – What if our sponsors can’t answer? Usually if we’re bringing someone to a wedding, it’s safe to assume that they’re close enough to us to understand that we’re in recovery. It’s not unreasonable to ask them to keep an eye on us throughout the night and make sure we’re OK. They don’t have to babysit us, but having backup can really improve our chances of staying away from alcohol. We can even give them our car keys and the contact info for our therapists or sponsors in the event the pressure gets to be too much and we do wind up losing control. If we aren’t able to bring a date, perhaps we can rely on a friend or family member who understands our situation.
Decline with Regret – Sometimes we just have to admit to ourselves that we’re not ready. This is especially true in the days immediate following our departure from treatment. We have to realize that it’s OK to say no and send a gift. If our loved ones push the issue, we can just be honest about our concerns. This may cause some sideways looks in the short-term, but it’s nothing compared to what can happen if we inject ourselves into a situation in which alcohol is present before we’re ready. There will be plenty of time to heal enough to celebrate important milestones with family and friends. In the meantime, send them a gift.
As the calendar goes on and the “I-Do’s” start flying, we need to be realistic about our readiness and practice the techniques we learned in treatment. If we do this, we stand a much greater chance of keeping the wedding about the wedding, and not about the night we relapsed.