Last night was the first time in my four years of sobriety that I went to a bar. And guess what? I had a fantastic time. I had so much fun that I want to go back in a couple days to participate in the Carnaval that happens every year here on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
I will go back and dance my butt off, and I’ll no doubt have another amazing night. I’m so excited about this that I must share with anyone who’s struggling through sobriety and misses nights out on the town.
For the past four years, I’ve avoided bars or any establishments that serve alcohol. To be honest, I will still avoid these places, but not every drinking establishment is created equal. Back in Canada, you won’t catch me going to a bar, but here in Colombia, things are a bit different.
You see, while most bars in Canada are geared toward getting drunk, here in Colombia, people dance. They dance so well that you can’t help but join in and get swept away by the joyful vibe while shaking your behind.
Now, back when I was a newly sober person, I’m not sure if dancing at a bar would’ve been a good idea for me. And because of that, I can’t recommend it to anyone else just trying to make it through another sober day.
However, once you get a few sober years under your belt, things start to shift a little. You have more confidence in yourself that you can remain sober under many circumstances, so you can venture out more. And let me tell you, this makes sober life so fun, refreshing and rewarding.
So can you enjoy venues that include alcohol while sober? Absolutely. The important thing is knowing when you’re ready and how to protect your sobriety.
As a sober veteran, I have a few suggestions, a guide, if you will, that may help you figure things out. But these suggestions are more for sober people who have a year or two under their belt.
1) Pick venues that don’t focus only on alcohol.
You would think that a bar would be the worst place for a sober person, but it depends on the focus of the bar. If the only thing to do is drink, then forget about it. But if you’re in a place like Colombia that focuses more on dancing, then you may be good to go.
Of course, if dancing is not your thing, then you may want to look for other venues. Arts, culture, sports or other activities may have alcohol as a component, but they may still be safe. Just make sure the focus is on something else besides drinking.
For example, I had a friend who loved playing pool, so she found a pool league to join, thinking it would be a fun activity she could do sober. Unfortunately, the league she joined was more about drinking with a little pool-playing on the side. So she found another league that was more serious and focused on the game.
The point is, you may have to do some digging around to make sure that venues involving alcohol are not only about the alcohol. Once you do that, you should be set.
2) Only go to these venues once you feel confident you can remain sober.
This is a highly individual thing. Only you know when you’re cravings are too strong to risk going to an event that includes drinking.
For me, I knew I was ready once I no longer thought much about alcohol. This took me almost until the end of my second year of sobriety. Even then I had a few moments here and there. But at four years, I feel very confident and have no desire or craving for alcohol at all.
You’ll need to be really confident about your sobriety before you can even begin to entertain the idea of going to venues that include alcohol.
So how do you know when you’re confident enough? Let’s go to point No. 3.
3) Develop a strong sense of awareness about your cravings.
Be sure to tune in to yourself so you can watch your thought patterns and physical cravings. Without this awareness, it won’t be easy to know your confidence level in the first place.
For me, I think this is the most critical part of working through sobriety. Developing a strong sense of awareness of your feelings, thoughts and patterns is vital in knowing why you got addicted in the first place. But let me say that awareness is also crucial to remaining sober.
I’m a 50/50 person when it comes to my beliefs about addiction as a physical disease. That means that I think 50% of addiction is a disease, and the other 50% is things like trauma, health issues, developmental, and other environmental and social issues.
Because of this, I think that self-awareness has a big part to play in our ability to get sober and stay sober. This has been a big part of my personal experience, so I can vouch for this approach 100%.
Once you develop awareness, then you’ll know when you have thoughts or feelings that may spark cravings you can’t get rid of. And once you know this, you’ll be able to make decisions about when you can or can’t venture out to places that include drinking.
4) Go with friends who also don’t focus on drinking.
I’m a big believer in using a support system for getting and remaining sober. This means you need supportive people who either don’t drink at all or who don’t focus on drinking.
The people I went dancing with don’t drink, so this made a difference to me in my ability to enjoy the bar in the first place. Other people had beers in their hands, but my people did not, and it really helps.
But also, even if my people had a beer, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, so long as they weren't focused on getting drunk over the dancing. Do you know what I mean? As long as your friends or supports aren’t focused on alcohol, then all is good.
5) Baby steps are always the most important thing.
Sometimes you don’t know until you take a small step and see how it feels. What I mean is, don’t take a giant leap and throw yourself to the wine-covered wolves. Instead, try a small step and see how it feels first. If that goes well, then you can take a more significant step.
For example, last night, we stepped into the bar early in the night. We looked around, asked some questions and got a feel for the place.
The bar was beautifully decorated, the DJ told us that the dancing was good, and they had yummy nonalcoholic drinks on the menu. So an hour later, we came back, and I felt comfortable to dive in and dance.
So go slow, check things out, and make sure you’re comfortable.
After you go through those first years of sobriety, you can start branching out and joining social venues that may include alcohol again. But first you need to be really comfortable in your sobriety and have a good sense of awareness of your thoughts, feelings and cravings.
Also, you’ll want to choose venues and a support system that don’t focus only on alcohol. Drinking may be part of the venue, and even your friends might drink a little, but the key is that your friends and the venue don’t focus only on alcohol.
If you follow some of these suggestions, then you can get out and enjoy some venues even though they include alcohol. There’s no reason not to have fun with your new sober life.