As recovery professionals, we repeatedly have to explain even to people who have never struggled with alcoholism that you can have fun without drinking. And in rehab, recovering addicts generally spend more time focusing on the “serious” stuff than on thoughts of having fun. “Learning to have fun” is not a common reason given for going to rehab.
However, neglecting the question of how to have fun without drinking can lead to problems when people leave rehab. On a more fundamental level, disregarding the idea of fun as something unimportant neglects a key aspect of a recovering addict’s life.
Fun, in many senses, comes from open expression, connection, and a willingness to play. It comes naturally in childhood, but as adults, we close ourselves to these things for fear of getting hurt. When you use alcohol to have fun, you’re generally using it as a way to forget about that fear and self-consciousness.
If you’re not having fun while sober, you are missing opportunities to express yourself and connect. Now that alcohol is no longer an option, you need to work on finding more authentic ways of having fun.
Giving yourself permission
The first step towards having fun without drinking is giving yourself permission to play. We so deeply internalize the idea that playing is for children that playfulness starts to seem ridiculous through sober eyes.
To give yourself permission to play, you need to regularly remind yourself that play leads to self-expression and connection, and that is neither stupid nor childish. So many people have told me that they just want to splash around in the pool with friends, climb trees, and play games. They’ll say these things while sitting by the pool among friends, as if jumping in the water and playing is just not a real option for an adult.
You will need to push yourself to overcome your aversion to having fun while sober, but by consistently giving yourself permission to do so, you will get there.
A new environment
However, the struggle is not only internal. The same environments in which you used to have fun might no longer make sense. Bars and clubs are geared towards a specific type of fun – the type of fun that is almost accidental. In these environments, you may well struggle to have fun while sober, even if you’re getting comfortable with the concept. In a club, you’re having fun because the alcohol is helping you let go, not because you’re really connecting.
Think about the kinds of environments in which you will have the best opportunities to play and connect with others, without getting drunk. These will differ from person to person. Some enjoy sitting at home with friends, talking about life all night. Others like playing sports. Still others want to actually dance to music in an environment in which they have space and the music they like.
Learning to have fun again is a key part of the recovery process. It is a crucial cog in finding out how to live a happy, sober life.