If you were recently treated for a drug or alcohol addiction, this may be your first sober summer in a long time. Summers are often difficult for recovering addicts because of the increase in barbecues, picnics and festivals where alcohol is the main attraction. It does get easier over time, but in early recovery, it can be difficult to know how to enjoy the summer and be with other people without falling off track. One thing that helps is developing a solid exit strategy.
An exit strategy is essentially a predetermined plan that you create to handle a situation that you’re uncomfortable with. Say that you are invited to a barbecue at a friend’s house, and you decide to attend. Your friend assures you that there won’t be much, if any, drinking going on, so you feel like it’s a safe bet. But, several hours into your stay, a group of old friends show up with alcohol in hand, and it makes you uncomfortable. This is where you would follow your exit strategy and remove yourself from the situation.
An exit strategy is necessary for all recovering addicts. You learn in treatment that you don’t have control over what others do, so it’s likely that you will be in some situations that may initiate temptation and make it difficult to stay on track with your goals. Even though early recovery is the hardest, you will have to go beyond your comfort zone sometimes, and you need to be confident that you can handle uncertain situations.
How do you go about creating an exit strategy? Here are a few pointers, and be sure to adjust your strategy as needed depending on your support people and how far you are in recovery.
Practice saying ‘no.’ As you start to attend more outings, you’ll need to learn how to say ‘no.’ When you’re direct and assertive, people won’t question your decision. Practice in the mirror and then with your loved ones. When you’re out with friends, you’ll know what to say if you’re asked for a drink.
Have a support person on call. When you do go out, always have someone on call for you. This could be a friend, family member or mentor from your 12-step meetings. This way, if you feel uncomfortable at any time throughout the night, you can call or text this person and have them pick you up.
Be prepared to walk out. One thing about recovery is that YOU matter. Now is not a time to try to impress or appease others. If you’re feeling tempted somewhere, you need to leave. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, and you shouldn’t push yourself just to make someone else happy. It’s not worth risking your sobriety.
Know your limits. As you venture out more and more, you’ll learn about your limits. You may attend a party and find that you were ready for that step, or you may find that the situation was uncomfortable. The goal is to keep learning from your experiences and choose to be with people and at places that won’t hurt your recovery.
Download an app. There are numerous apps that can be downloaded straight to your phone to offer support and motivation for staying sober, such as the 12 Steps AA Companion that maintains a running sobriety calculator. Other apps have inspiring quotes and relaxation techniques.
Increase your recovery tools. If you’re able to leave the situation right away and avoid temptation, you may not have any regression in your recovery. But, sometimes seeing old friends, hearing a certain song or being in the presence of drugs or alcohol can make you more likely to relapse. If you are feeling tempted, increase your recovery tools. Talk to other recovering addicts online, attend an extra support group or spend more time meditating. This is a normal part of long-term recovery; some days you’ll need more motivation than others.
Developing an exit strategy is not difficult; following it is the hardest part. Yet as you venture out more, it’s necessary to have a firm strategy in place. Removing yourself from a potentially toxic situation can help you stay on track with your goals and prevent relapse. And, you also learn to practice proactive thinking rather than reactive thinking. It’s skills like these that will ultimately allow you to lead a clean and sober life.