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When in recovery from alcoholism, you quickly find that potential relapse triggers lurk everywhere. Alcoholics Anonymous developed its hotline-like buddy system to help combat that problem: many people lack the strength to stand firm on their own power when suddenly confronted with a tempting situation:
- The sight of a neon “Happy Hour” sign
- The aroma of an old-favorite beer
- Being handed a wine list in a restaurant
- Being unexpectedly invited out for a drink
- Unanticipated demands or stresses
Whether or not AA is your support system of choice, it pays to have a friend who understands your struggles, whom you can quickly call for support when temptation strikes out of the blue. But, of course, the best way to avoid relapse is to steer clear of potential temptation whenever you can.
Sometimes, the only way to do this is to seek advance information from people who may not understand your problem with alcoholism. How do you pose what they may see as “dumb questions,” without creating unnecessary embarrassment or airing your struggles to the world?
QUESTIONS YOU MAY DREAD HAVING TO ASK
Some examples of questions you may find necessary:
- Will alcohol be served at this party you’re inviting me to?
- Does the restaurant have a bar or a wine menu?
- Will the happy hour bartender cooperate in making sure I’m served nonalcoholic drinks only?
You don’t want to risk walking into temptation, but neither do you want to imply anyone should make major changes to their plans to accommodate you. Nor do you want to give the impression of being a holier-than-thou type who won’t associate with anyone who’d touch a cocktail.
Here are some things you can do.
RECOGNIZE THAT OTHERS’ JUDGMENT IS OFTEN ALL IN YOUR MIND
People who develop alcoholism often have low self-esteem to begin with, and low self-esteem comes with the belief that everyone will despise you unless you do everything according to their expectations. In fact, very few people will label you “stupid” over one unexpected question, or even remember it an hour later. (And if they do, they’re the ones who are being stupid, and their opinions aren’t worth worrying about.)
Never let “what they’ll think of me” fears keep you from finding out what you need to know.
DIRECT YOUR INQUIRY TO THE RIGHT PLACE
If someone invites you to a restaurant that might serve liquor, you can always say, “Let me check my schedule and tell you tonight.” Then, call the restaurant and pose the question to them. They’ve no doubt heard it many times before, and it’s less painful asking a business than an acquaintance. Plus, the restaurant knows best the details of their own menu and serving policies.
When you do have to ask an acquaintance directly (as when they’re hosting the party you’re invited to), you don’t necessarily have to explain your problem in detail. You can often tease out the relevant information by subtly encouraging them to talk about their plans, providing you project interest in them and what they’re doing, rather than implying you want to make sure their entertainment is good enough for you. (If you aren’t sure how to do this, role-play tactful communications with a support partner before the situation arises.)
If it does turn out that alcohol will flow freely, and you doubt you’ll be able to handle it, a simple “It sounds great, but I’m afraid I have other plans that night” should take care of the situation without hard feelings. If you still feel this is someone you’d like to get to know better, follow up by inviting them to a (no-alcohol) party of your own, or to join you for tea or a movie.
WHEN IN DOUBT, OPT OUT
If you don’t want to go through the teasing-out-information procedure—or if it doesn’t tell you what you need to know—you can always play it safe and just say, “I’m sorry, but I have that evening taken,” without going into further detail. Again, you don’t have to cross the person off your list: feel free to issue the next invitation yourself.
KNOW WHEN TO BE FRANK
With people you’ve known for some time and want to stay friends with, you’ll want to be a little more honest. Take the initiative in explaining that you’ve realized you can’t handle alcohol. Tell them kindly that while you want to keep seeing them, you’ll have to keep away from any alcohol-serving settings for a while. Chances are they already suspected you had a drinking problem, so your admission may well come as a relief.
Have suggestions ready for other things you can enjoy together. If they’re really your friends, they’ll understand. They may even become lasting allies in your sobriety journey, and give you fresh confidence for coping with tough situations!