How to Celebrate Sobriety – Without Alcohol

Celebrating your sobriety is an important part of your recovery. It’s also one that you need to factor into your life. Celebrations are, by their very nature, meant to be occasions of rejoicing, joy and sharing something that’s good. But they take planning and conscious thought. Celebrations don’t just occur without intention. Still, whoever came up with the idea of celebrating sobriety should be commended. Many times celebrations include alcohol – weddings, birthday parties, and anniversaries – but this is clearly something that doesn’t belong at a celebration of sobriety. The question is how can you celebrate your sobriety? Here are some suggestions.

Preparing for Celebration

While impromptu celebrations can and do occur – and they’re very welcome – most of the time you’ll need to do a little advance preparation for your celebrate-sobriety occasion. So, it’s important to pick your moment. Anticipation is three-quarters of the rush, as addicts know, getting back to the basic physiology of addiction. Turn anticipation toward a positive outcome – your sobriety – by choosing a particular milestone you’d like to celebrate.

For those new to recovery, every day sober is a milestone, as it should be. Each day you’re clean and sober is one day more where you’re taking control of your life, banishing your demons, and becoming stronger in your commitment to sobriety. Be grateful every morning and acknowledge your efforts. This is self-congratulation – and you deserve it. Then, the first week, the first month – these are your next sobriety milestones. In your 12-step groups, you’ll undoubtedly receive recognition of such an achievement at the 30-day mark, as well as subsequent milestones. This is great reinforcement of your tremendous achievement. But you need more.

Family and friends can and should assist you in this endeavor. Perhaps there’s a special occasion that is coming up that you’d like to commemorate. It could be your 6-month milestone, or your first year, or 18-month sober mark. With the help of others, plan a celebration that heralds this achievement.

Celebrating With Many Others or More Privately?

It’s up to you whether you want to call it out as an overt celebration of your sobriety or combine it with another family celebration such as the birthday of a spouse, child, sibling, or parent. This is a decision that’s truly personal. Some who are new to recovery are reluctant to let the world in yet. They may feel too vulnerable and not confident enough in their coping abilities. But you do need the reinforcement that comes from celebrating your sobriety milestone, whatever it is. One solution is to have a small and very private celebration, perhaps just with your spouse or significant other, perhaps with your 12-step sponsor or group members with whom you’ve become close. Perhaps you just reward yourself with something special. But, do celebrate the moment.

There will come a time when you are more confident in your ability to maintain your sobriety. You will have considerable practice at overcoming cravings and urges, and will have successfully navigated stress and minor (maybe even major) challenges that come your way. For some, this is around the 6-month mark, or their first-year anniversary of being clean and sober. Whenever you feel you’re ready, go for the more public celebration. The more reinforcement, encouragement and support you receive from others about your sobriety, the more solid your achievement will be in your own mind.

Types of Sobriety Celebrations

Unlike Christmas or Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day, a sobriety celebration isn’t characterized by specific dates on the calendar, practices such as gift giving, carving turkeys or exchanging candy and flowers. In addition, there really isn’t a single type of sobriety celebration. That’s what makes the idea of celebrating sobriety so liberating – it can be anything that you want it to be.

Where can you find ideas for celebrating your sobriety? Your 12-step A.A. group is a good place to start. You could also search the Internet for ideas on how other 12-step groups, local and international, have celebrated members’ sobriety. Once you get going, you’ll come up with your own ideas. Here are just a few, gleaned from past group celebrations that were promoted or publicized on the Internet.

• Students for Recovery – While not a specific, single event per se, the Students for Recovery group at the University of Michigan (http://studentsforrecovery.com/) is an association of students (in recovery or supporters of those in recovery) that provides information, encouragement, support and sober events for its members. The Students for Recovery encourage interested individuals to attend their weekly on-campus meetings. The group recognizes the pressures of students trying to overcome internal challenges (maintaining sobriety) while they work to achieve external goals (academic success). This, in a campus atmosphere where students are constantly bombarded by flyers and promos for pub crawls, beer busts, keggers and more. With structured events, the Students for Recovery provide a supportive environment for empowering students to protect their recovery during their studies at the university.

• Annual Sobriety Celebrations – Certain local Alcoholics Anonymous groups, with Al-Anon participation, plan annual sobriety celebrations. Often, these annual events are heavily promoted throughout the area, with flyers posted at A.A. and Al-Anon groups. The annual event may have several years under its belt and carry a theme that helps encourage participation. Usually, there will be a guest speaker or speakers, maybe even a big name. This also helps boost attendance. There are dances, games, barbeques, conferences, workshops, meals and entertainment. Each celebration is different, but they all have one thing in common: to help members and their families celebrate sobriety. If your A.A. group doesn’t have an annual event, why not suggest a special celebratory day and volunteer to be on the committee to make it happen? And, if it does hold such an event, get involved in the preparations. You’ll be that much more energized when you’re part of the process. Finding ways to celebrate society is a way of bringing joy into your environment. And bringing joy to others means you also bring joy to yourself.

• National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month – Go straight to the source for promoting the national Recovery Month event (http://www.recoverymonth.gov/). This year’s event, Recovery Month 2010, marks the 20th anniversary of Recovery Month. Presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), this year’s campaign is expanding to reach today’s online world. This is heavily promoted on the Recovery Month 2010 website, which also includes resources for event planners (how to become an event planner, post and event or activity), how to order a 2010 Recovery kit, and recovery resources (how to find help or treatment, searching for recovery services, etc.). Although September is the national Recovery Month, you can celebrate recovery (sobriety) anytime of the year. Other information on the site includes learning more about Recovery Month, resources throughout the year, and finding out how you can participate. Each September, thousands of treatment programs around the country celebrate their successes and share them with neighbors, friends, and colleagues in an effort to educate the public about treatment, how it works, for whom, and why. Download the brochure, Promotional Event Ideas and Publicity Tips (http://www.recoverymonth.gov/Recovery-Month-Kit/Media-Outreach/~/media/Files/Kit/2009/508_pdfs/media_section/PromotionalEvents1.ashx), to help jumpstart your brainstorming to hold your own group event.

Recovery Month Ideas – Recovery Month 2010 publicity promotion ideas include the following:

• Schedule a conference or forum to discuss methods for combating addiction in your community

• Host a sporting event such as a Recovery Month run or walk

• Hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony or open house to celebrate the opening of a new treatment facility in your area

• Have the mayor sign a Recovery Month proclamation in a public place

Find Resources Throughout the Year – Promoting the benefits of recovery can help individuals and the public. Events can be large or small, and just getting involved in putting one together can be very rewarding. Find events that are already planned in your area or submit an event (http://www.recoverymonth.gov/Community-Events.aspx).

Sober Celebrations – Planning Meals without Alcohol

Any celebratory meal you can think of can be created, prepared and consumed without any alcohol. Even if you have guests who do drink, they can be politely asked to abstain during the celebration. Anyone who is a true friend probably knows about your addiction and recovery and will be happy to oblige. After all, true friends want you to succeed in your recovery as much as you do.

Check out Sober Celebrations: Lively Entertainment Without the Spirits (http://www.electricpressrelease.com/releases/2007/july-august/sober_celebrations.htm), by Liz Scott, published by Cleveland Clinic Press, 2007. Promoted as the “must-have” guide to holiday and special-occasion entertaining for chooses to celebrate alcohol-free, this cookbook contains more than 150 easy-to-follow recipes and 25 diverse menus. Included in the cookbook are substitution suggestions for recipes that call for alcohol, tips on using purchased ingredients to simplify cooking and entertaining, ideas for adding excitement and pizzazz to your celebration without alcohol, “mocktail” recipes and alcohol-free beverages, and information on health- and alcohol-related issues. Buy the book at (http://www.sober-celebrations.com/book/). Ms. Scott, a graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute and Villa Schifanoia in Florence, Italy, was honored by the Johnson Institute in 2005, one of 8 American pioneers and innovators in the field of addiction recovery. Her first book, The Sober Kitchen: Recipes and Ideas for a Lifetime of Sobriety, won numerous awards.

How About a Sober Celebrations Trip?

Clean and sober is a way of life for many individuals who have embraced sobriety as their core principle. Naturally, there are cottage industries that have sprung up seeking to capitalize on this ready audience. And, that’s not a bad thing. It’s better to have programs and merchandise tailored for and in recognition of sobriety than not. Why? For years, alcohol and substance abuse have been regarded as a stigma – and one that has only recently begun to abate. With the stigma being relegated to the past (for the most part, since there are still some who regard alcoholics and drug abusers – even those in recovery – in an extremely negative light), letting the light in and educating the public about treatment and recovery is a very good thing indeed.
One case in point is the travel industry. There are sober celebrations cruises, backpacking trips, wilderness trips, whitewater rafting trips, and so on. Sober Celebrations is one such outfit (http://www.sobercelebrations.com/) worth a look. Their mission statement tells a lot about the organization:

“Celebrate sobriety and fellowship while on fabulous vacations. Provide daily 12-step infrastructure for the length of the vacation. Create trips as cost effective and luxurious as possible. We have suffered enough. Operate anonymously and in the general vacation population.”

According to the site’s promotional message, sober trips are ones that you plan for. This strikes a chord, since we’ve already mentioned planning ahead for your sober celebration. Since your trip is in celebration of your recovery, planning is exciting and completed well ahead of time. Your sober celebration trip – whether a cruise or some other type of getaway – is one that you will remember for a long time. You should, however, consult your 12-step advisor prior to booking a sober celebration trip (say the website’s promoters). This organization is not affiliated with or endorsed by Alcoholics Anonymous. It is not a treatment center or a recovery convention. It is a so-designated “sober vacation for those who are spiritually fit enough to be in the general population.”

You don’t have to go to any particularly designated sober celebrations organization to plan your sober celebrations trip. You can organize one through your local 12-step group and plan it through a reputable travel company. Add guest speakers and special events and you’ve got a winning combination – a perfect way to celebrate your sobriety without alcohol.

Other Ways to Celebrate Your Sobriety Alcohol-Free

The preceding ideas hopefully will serve as a kick-start for your own creative suggestions on how to celebrate your sobriety without alcohol. Here are a few others you may wish to consider:

• Take the family away for a week-long adventure – Spending quality time with your family – the ones who are closest to you and will benefit the most from your continuing recovery – is a great way to celebrate your sobriety. Go on a wilderness trip or stay at a modestly-priced motel/hotel in or adjacent a national park. While you’re there, go on daily hiking adventures, horseback riding, canoeing or kayaking, whatever the park offers. The peacefulness of the setting, the communal nature of appreciating nature’s natural wonders with your family, and the ability to get away from life’s everyday stresses will be memorable for all concerned.

• Arrange a special meal – Your celebration of your sobriety can be as simple as a special meal you arrange for you and your spouse, special friend, or another. It can be a romantic, candle-lit celebration or a banquet for friends and family.

• Celebrate by helping others in need – What better way to celebrate and acknowledge your own sobriety milestone than to help others who may be in need? This doesn’t have to be a fellow friend in recovery – maybe you’re not ready for that yet. It could be that you help a neighbor who’s been confined to bed due to an illness, or the widow down the street that’s been having a difficult time since her husband’s death, or giving your time to help with your child’s Cub Scout or Girl Scout outing or school activity. While you are helping others, you are also helping yourself, getting stronger every day in your sobriety.

• Write in your journal – Capture your thoughts on this day of celebrating your sobriety by writing in a journal. You don’t have to be an author to write what you feel. It’s a personal journal, meant only for your eyes. So, feel free to include whatever comes to mind. Over the months and years to come, you will be able to look back and see the progress of your recovery. This is your gift to yourself that will pay you back in countless ways. You will be able to see how you’ve become stronger and better able to withstand the minor and then major challenges that have come your way, how you dealt with cravings and urges, how you emerged from hopelessness and despair and gained hope, self-confidence and purpose.

Make Plans to Celebrate Now

With what you now know – that anytime’s a good time for you to celebrate your sobriety – why not start now to make plans for your special celebration? Enlist the help of your family, close friends, and 12-step sponsor or group members as appropriate. But do begin thinking about and implementing your plans to celebrate your sobriety without alcohol.

Above all, congratulate yourself on a job well done. Every day sober is a day of great celebration. Add up the months and years of sobriety and you really have many reasons to celebrate.