October 2, 2023
Q: How can I get through a wedding reception without drinking?
A: This is a big one. It’s a milestone that can feel really scary and overwhelming without alcohol, but there are strategies that help.
As someone who recently got married, I will say it’s much easier to be the groom than it is to be a guest. You’re so busy and you’re surrounded by your biggest fans and supporters. Still, I was terrified in the months leading up to my own wedding. I broke down to another peer coach about six months beforehand; all I could think about was how I wasn’t going to drink. I went through some of my own coaching to process my anxiety.
Some of the best advice I got was from one of my members just two days before I got married. That’s what I love about peer coaching – my own wellness benefits so much from what’s shared in the coaching room. My member told me she doesn’t remember the reception of her first wedding and it put a big strain on her. She reminded me that it’s a rare day of pure love and joy. How many other days in your life will you feel so loved and celebrated? Hearing her story and reflecting on the true meaning of the day was an eye-opener. I’m proud to say I remember everything I did and said on my wedding day.
Whether it’s your wedding or you’re a guest, there are a few strategies that may help. As you get more comfortable in your sobriety, these will get easier, too.
- Communication is huge. Make sure you talk to someone you trust beforehand. For me, that was my wife. I let her know how I was feeling and we talked about how we wanted the day to go. Plus, everyone in the wedding party knew my story. They knew my past with alcohol and that I wanted to stay sober. I didn’t have to worry about anyone offering me a drink or pressuring me to have “just one.” I had a couple of guys check on me throughout the night, which I appreciated.
- Keeping a drink in your hand, even if it’s water, is helpful. Don’t spend too much time by the bar, where people will likely offer to buy you a drink. I used to have a lot of anxiety about people asking me why I wasn’t drinking. The bottom line is you don’t have to explain why you’re not drinking to anybody. But it may help to have a response in mind, like, “I don’t want to drink tonight,” “I’m taking a break this round,” “I have to be up early” – there are tons of options. If you’re really nervous about not drinking, ask someone to be your sober buddy. They can advocate for you if someone is being pushy about shots or tries to hand you a drink.
- I’m a big believer in exit strategies. Talk to whoever you’re going to the reception with and come up with a plan in case you feel overwhelmed. The last wedding I went to, I left at 9. I still had fun and I didn’t have to see how drunk people got by the end of the night. During my wedding, people texted us and apologized for leaving early, which I didn’t even notice. There’s so much going on; it’s unlikely the bride or groom will notice or care if you duck out early.
- Give yourself permission to have fun! You don’t need alcohol to have a good time. Grab a nonalcoholic drink, get on the dance floor and dance like a lunatic. Other people aren’t thinking about you as much as you are. Just have a good time and do your best to let go of any embarrassment you feel.
I’ve been to about five or six weddings now while sober, including mine. It has gotten easier, but certain thoughts still cross my mind, like, ‘It would be easier to let loose with a drink.’ I think that’s normal and something to keep in mind. You can manage it easier over time, but the thought might not go away.
Communicate, plan ahead and be ready to leave. You got this!