The rites of summer can be challenging for those in recovery. Here are some tips for making the most of the season while maintaining your sobriety
By Patrick McElwaine, Psy.D., LPC
Summer is upon us. For me, that used to mean there were many opportunities to have a drink. Relaxing outside in the heat—I’ll have a beer. Watching a Phillies game—I’ll have a beer. Going to a barbeque—I’ll have a beer. Just finished cutting the grass—I’ll have a beer. As you can see, summer and drinking were tightly connected.
There were so many ways to justify my drinking during the summer. Once I stopped drinking and started my recovery journey, I struggled during the summer. I thought, This is going to be terrible! No fun! Everyone else can have fun at barbeques, baseball games or late nights with their buddies having a few beers. Those thoughts consistently filled my head. In addition, the smells would make me crave a drink—the scent of freshly cut grass or a charcoal grill. Early on in my recovery, I would have “F— it” moments. I would start to sneak drinks, blame others for my drinking or rationalize my use.
At times, being sober can be difficult. But it does get better with time and being active in recovery, whether that means seeing a therapist, attending 12-step meetings or other aspects of maintaining a healthy routine.
How to Thrive in Summertime … or Anytime
At times, being sober can be difficult. But it does get better with time and being active in recovery, whether that means seeing a therapist, attending 12-step meetings or other aspects of maintaining a healthy routine. There are many ways to maintain your recovery, and I want to share some:
- ODAAT. You are going to have some rough days and nights, but you will also have some good days! The horrible thoughts and feelings I had early in my recovery (that this would be painful and miserable for the rest of my life) turned out to be temporary. I really listened to and embraced the one day at a time (ODAAT) motto, even breaking it down to one minute at a time to help me through some rough patches. Just remember that the crappy days will get better.
- Acceptance. When I was in denial and using every defense mechanism I could to abstain from treatment and continue my drinking and drug use, I would tell people and myself that I knew I was an alcoholic and drug misuser, and if people really loved me, they would understand and wouldn’t leave me. The truth is, I was scared of recovery. Every relapse was like collecting evidence that said, “Give up, Pat. You can’t get recovery. It’s not for you, This is your life.” Finally, I accepted that I needed help, that I couldn’t do this on my own. I put my ego aside and listened to others. When I felt like drinking or using drugs, I would go to a meeting. I would be honest with my therapist. Slowly, changes started to happen that were more positive in my life. I stress the word slowly. I wanted these changes to happen quicker, but that’s not how it works. Nevertheless, I kept doing the things that would keep me sober.
- Therapy. If you can go to 12-step meetings or other supportive meetings for addiction and mental health, please do. They are extremely helpful. I also believe another critical aspect of my recovery was seeing a therapist and being honest in those sessions. We also worked on some of the underlying reasons that I used drugs and alcohol. My line of “I use alcohol and drugs because I like the taste and the way it feels” really wasn’t the reason I used. I used because I was hurting. I spoke to my therapist about losing my father tragically at a young age, about bullying, about low self-esteem and other aspects of my mental health. After processing those traumas, I can now say that my self-esteem is in a very healthy place. I also think about my future in a healthier way now. If you can see a therapist and engage in treatment, please do. If you run into barriers and obstacles to treatment, try reaching out to a local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) chapter or other local supportive agencies.
Sobriety in the summer is beautiful, though I will say I hate cutting the grass. The Phillies aren’t so great either these days, but I can watch a game without a drink and still feel good. Barbeques, concerts, hanging out with friends and, most importantly, summer activities with my two beautiful daughters and my wife are things I cherish. I know for a fact that if I had continued drinking and using drugs, I wouldn’t have these great times. I’m grateful to be in recovery. Happy summer, everyone!
Patrick McElwaine, Psy.D., LPC, is known as “Dr. Mac” to his clients, students and colleagues. He has his own counseling practice, teaches counseling psychology at Holy Family University in Pennsylvania, is a faculty member at the Beck Institute, and serves on the Bucks County National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) board of trustees. His column publishes regularly on TreatmentMagazine.com.
Top photo: Marek Mucha; bottom photo: Aleksandra Sapozhnikova