Ask an Expert: I'm A Sober Mom Trying to Stay Sober on a Vacation

By Roland Williams 02/19/15
Today's question is on how a busy mom who has barely any time for recovery programs can stay sober when going out with friends.
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I am a recovering alcoholic and have been sober for 3 years, 3 months and 8 days. I am also a mum, a wife and a professional. Because of my life and responsibilities I have done much of the work to get sober from home: online (your website is an enormous help to me) and through reading at the library. I have wanted to attend AA but I have small children so it's not possible. My reason for writing today is that in November I have a girls weekend away in another city from where I live. It will be the first time I am away from my children, or my husband for that matter, in sobriety and I am terrified of relapse. It is with friends from childhood, and yes old drinking buddies. Everyone knows I no longer drink but I'm so scared that my brain will just tell me 'go for it' and I'll drink. I truly believe that if I drink again, it will kill me. This situation feels life and death for me and it's making me not want to go on the trip. What advice can you give me on how to handle myself on the trip. I have OCD (the self medication of which led to my addiction) so I'm starting to obsess and all this thinking about drinking is difficult also. 

Your help is greatly appreciated. Kind regards - Barbara

 

Roland Williams: Hi Barbara. Thanks for your question. t’s a tough one actually, so much comes up for me when I read and re-read your email. You seem to have a lot going on and I don’t want to minimize any of these very important issues in my response. So I think it would be easiest for me to break it down into what I am getting from you. 

  • You are sober and obviously proud of that accomplishment
  • You did most of the work to get sober from home, online and reading at the library
  • You want to attend AA but it’s not possible
  • You have not been away from your children in a long time
  • Your first trip away will be with old friends that drink away from your home 
  • You are afraid that your disease will take over and you might possibly drink
  • You believe that if you drink again it will kill you
  • You are obsessing about thinking about drinking

 

When you look at it like this, it looks overwhelming, doesn’t it? In one short paragraph you outlined a series of very complicated issues, each one could be a separate therapy session. So here’s what I think, in order of how you presented it all. 

First and foremost, protect your 3 years, 3 months and 8+ days of sobriety, at all costs. I’m sure that your ability to be a mum, a wife and a professional are all contingent on you staying sober. If you drink, your ability to be either and all of those becomes compromised. So your Recovery has to be your number one priority - you need it to do all that other good stuff. 

I think it’s great that you were able to get and stay sober primarily from home. However, from your email I can’t determine exactly what your Recovery program looks like in practice. It’s very difficult to achieve Recovery in a vacuum. It’s usually not enough to just stop drinking, because abstinence is not the same as Recovery; it’s a prerequisite for Recovery. It gives you the clarity to do the work you need to do to heal, and I can’t tell what that “Recovery Work” looks like in your life. 

I know Recovery is a fluid process and it changes as we change…. we get older, acquire responsibilities etc. and we have to do whatever we can to keep our Recovery program fresh, current, and applicable to our issues. A lot of people are finding themselves challenged by a working a program that was appropriate in year one, but not so appropriate in year five. 

The fact that you “want” to do AA is encouraging, and if that’s the case, then I would challenge whether it is truly “not possible.” I believe if you wanted to go, you could make it happen, and that might be one of the updates you need in your Recovery program at this time in your life. 

I know a lot of people who don’t want to go to AA. They have many reasons, from philosophical differences, to conflicting schedules, bad experiences, new responsibilities, etc. And certainly a lot of people actually stay sober without AA, but the fact is if you are an alcoholic/addict seeking Recovery and are not going to 12-step meetings, you actually have to work twice as hard to achieve Recovery. AA provides a fellowship, a social network, accountability, a mentor, a set of guidelines for living your life, a sounding board, a routine, a laugh or two and a constant reminder of what to do and what “not to do”… all for free. Without AA a person has to try replicate as many of these things as possible in their lives, and that's not as easy as it sounds. 

The fact that you have not been away from your children in I’m not sure how long implies that your life could use a little balance, some mum time, some wife time, some professional time and some Barbara time. It doesn’t seem as if  you are getting enough Barbara time. So now you are tempted to go away from the city you live in for a “girls weekend” with women you used to drink with, In Relapse Prevention Therapy, we would refer to that as a “High Risk Situation” and the first rule in dealing with a HRS is to ask yourself “do I have to go?” You see we treat any person, place or thing that poses a threat to our Recovery, the same way Superman would treat Kryptonite. 

By your own admission you are afraid that your alcoholic brain will tell you to "go for it," so it sounds risky. I’m not telling you whether or not you should go, that’s your choice, but I wish you were connected to some women in Recovery who you could go and hang out with. It sounds as if you need a break, but I’m not sure if this is the best way for you to get one, I wish you had healthier and safer options. 

If you decide to take such a gamble with your Recovery, and I only say this based on the thoughts you are having about going, I think you need a real solid Relapse Prevention Plan, i.e. have your own transportation, call someone everyday and check in, have a drink in your hand at all times, (Coke, soda water, etc). Have a person there that you can tell if things get uncomfortable for you; have your own living area so you can get away from the drinking if you need to, etc.

Don’t underestimate the seriousness of this situation. By your own admission you believe if you drink again it could kill you. So again I challenge you to consider the stakes as you weigh the pros and cons of putting yourself in such a situation, and ask yourself is there a better, safer way for you to have a good time. In the first sentence of your email you describe yourself as a “Recovering” alcoholic, so now is the time to use your Recovery tools. 

Finally if your OCD is kicking in and your are obsessing about this… pay attention to your intuition. Listen to that voice inside - it might save your life. I wish you all the best and I would love to hear what you decide to do.

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Roland Williams, MA, is an internationally recognized addiction interventionist, author, educator, trainer, counselor and consultant. He heads www.rolandwilliamsconsulting.com and has provided treatment and program development consultation to major institutions around the world. A popular keynote speaker, he authoredRelapse Prevention Counseling for African AmericansRelapse Warning Signs for African Americans (with Terence T. Gorski), and the Relapse Prevention Workbook for African Americans.    Full Bio.

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