How to Not Drink At a Graduation Party.

Initially, I intended this post to be about how I spent the weekend blending in. Most of my family doesn’t know how to handle my being transgender. They still use my old name and female pronouns. I felt like I spent the weekend blending in. Much like the earth from the window of a plan 35,000 feet in the air, I felt like I watched myself going through the motions.

As I wrote the post, though, I realized the important part wasn’t the inability to assert myself. The weekend was about my sister and her graduation, not about Elliott insisting he be called by the correct name and pronouns. There is a time and a place for that; two weekends ago was not it.

It was that I made it through the weekend sober.

As I sat down this afternoon and began formatting the post I initially wrote, I thought about the true accomplishment of the weekend. Once I started the rewrite, I remembered a series written by my friend Kristi Coulter called “How to Not Drink At a ..”

This one’s for you, Kristi.

I took my one year of sobriety on April 19th, about two and a half weeks before leaving. I gathered reminders at many of my regular locations and a few I don’t frequent. I was plugged in and feeling good. Admittedly my connection with God was lacking but I had a large list of other sober alcoholics to call.

I didn’t imagine the weekend of my sister’s graduation would be as difficult as it was, though.

My alcoholism stems from a combination of environmental and biological factors, with a heavy emphasis on the biology. Much of my family drinks to excess. Whether or not they are alcoholics is up to them; that’s not for me to decide. I do know that many of them enjoy a few drinks and a few more than that when the family is gathered together.

I haven’t seen most of the family I saw since I was about 16 or 17, before I started drinking. Today I’m not drinking. I sandwiched the destruction of my life between gatherings with my heavily intoxicated family. Thankfully everyone is more than supportive of my sobriety.

That doesn’t make it any easier to transport a beer bong chilled by a cool Coor’s Light from the dedicated beer bong holder in the living room to the back yard.

So how did I stay sober during her graduation weekend? And how can you stay sober through the upcoming graduation weekends you may have to attend? The season is upon us and graduation is rife with champagne-soaked celebrations.

Here are a few things that helped keep me away from the drink for another few 24-hours:

1. Always have something in your hand.

Whether it’s a bottle of water, an energy drink, or a cigarette, having something in your hand helps keep people from offering you something. Common drinking courtesy includes offering others a beer, mixed drink, or a shot. If you have something in your hand already they’re less likely to offer.

Personally, I channeled my inner Red Bull affiliate throughout the weekend, crushing can after can of the wing-giving beverage (and I should have taken them up on that large settlement a few years back .. I never grew any wings).

If you don’t already smoke, don’t pick up smoking. If you are a smoker, having a pack on hand at all times helped me. It gave me something to physically distract myself from the presence of alcohol. It was my “thing to do.” My mom doesn’t like that I smoke but it’s better than me drinking.

I didn’t ruin my sister’s graduation because I had a cigarette on the front sidewalk.

Since only one other person in my family smokes, it provided an excuse to walk away from the madness even momentarily. Having a cigarette gave me a quiet moment to myself. And before you non-smokers jump on me, I know I could have stepped away without the excuse of a cigarette. It simply gave me something to do with my hands and relieve stress while I had that moment.

2. Keep some other sober alcoholics on speed dial.

Actually, is speed dial even a thing anymore? I used to have all my speed dials programmed on my old flip phones. Now it’s much easier to search your contact list and find who you need.

Regardless, have a list of sober alcoholics who know where you will be. Enlist the help of friends who are willing to pick up the phone at any time of the day while you’re there. I made multiple calls a day which helped get me out of myself, kept me from focusing on my self-pity.

Let people know where you’re going before you leave. There is little worse than having no one available when you need the help of another person who understands. I know that when it comes down to it all you have is God, but the voice of reason from a fellow alcoholic helps, too. Keep lines of communication open while you are out of town or even down the street.

3. Have a physical object to hold onto that reminds you of your sobriety.

I keep my one-year chip with me wherever I go: one in my wallet and the other in the watch pocket of my jeans. Whenever I need a physical connection to my sobriety, I pull out either one of these chips, look at it, reflect upon it.

Having something to hold in my hands connects me on a physical level to why I’m doing this. It provides a moment to pause and meditate wherever I am, to remember why I am walking this path today.

The foot-long scar on my right forearm is another reminder to stay the course. Each time a frozen shot of Fireball looked appealing, I glanced at my arm. I know, deep down to my core, I will die the next time I relapse. Oftentimes I hear the phrase “seconds and inches.” I am living proof that alcoholics often survive by the skin of our teeth. That’s something I never want to forget.

4. Come up with an exit plan.

This is one thing I did a poor job at: I didn’t have an exit plan. I was able to walk out of the party and down the street a few times but there was no way to physically remove myself from the situation. I imagine if push had come to shove I could have borrowed a car but I didn’t have anywhere to go.

Whether you are going across town or out of town, plan ahead for a way to remove yourself from the situation. No matter if it’s a borrowed car, an Uber, a taxi, or public transportation, figure out a way to leave the party if need be.

I’m grateful the need for this never arose. I would have figured something out but it would have been difficult. Having an exit plan is a necessary part of attending an alcohol-infused celebration.

How do you make it through celebrations sober?

Again, the whole weekend was for my sister. Every crack of a beer can, shouting of “Shots!”, and turning down accidental offerings of drinks was worth it. To be there, sober, for my sister, was one of the many gifts I’ve received during this first year-and-change.

These are just a few options to help you stay sober during a graduation party. Do you have any suggestions? Let me know in the comments.