Learning to Be a Party Animal While Sober

Adam Daar remembers what he was thinking when ordered by the courts into addiction treatment at age 14: “I’m never going to have fun again.”

How could he? Partying was how the young had fun, and that just wasn’t possible without drugs and alcohol, he believed. “I was even thinking ahead to college. How am I going to have fun in college? That was my biggest fear.”

Today, Daar is 19, more than four years into recovery and having plenty of fun, thank you, as a student at UC Santa Barbara.

Yes, UC Santa Barbara, the university that, along with providing a quality educational experience, consistently makes it onto Top 10 lists of best party schools. It’s a ranking Daar confirms is well-earned, yet it wasn’t a deterrent when the time came to search out schools. Indeed, its party reputation earned it a check in his “pro” column.

How can a teen who once saw getting loaded as his chief aim in life feel confident enough not only to attend a party school but to attend its parties? It took time, effort, his 12-step program, therapy and counseling, Daar explained. “Now, I don’t find it tempting anymore. And that’s one of the incredible gifts of my recovery.” He credits a counselor in his court-ordered program with getting him started, by teaching him good times don’t depend on a bottle or a drug.

“I was able to find out how I could have fun without being overwhelmed by these cravings to drink and use drugs,” he said. “That ended up being an incredibly, incredibly important part of my recovery — being able to have fun sober.”

Therapy also helped him understand the psychology behind his substance use. “For me and I think for a lot of other addicts — and also for a lot of people who aren’t necessarily addicts — it’s that sense of being uncomfortable in my own skin. I’m anxious and I’m insecure and I can’t talk to girls and I can’t dance and all these things, and I had to find out how I could get past those so that when I’m at a party I’m not just sitting there really uncomfortable, just crawling in my own skin. I had to deal with those prior to really being able to party well sober and not be stuck in my head. Now, I can go to parties, and I can talk to people, and I can dance and I can do all those things. I don’t need to get drunk first so that I don’t feel insecure.”

Sober partying can, in fact, be the best of all worlds —a good time, and one you can actually remember, don’t have to apologize to anyone for, that doesn’t take days to recover from, and that doesn’t put you at risk of killing yourself or someone in your path.

It’s a message he tries to share as a recovery peer for Gauchos for Recovery, a student-run part of the university’s alcohol and drug program, named after the school’s mascot. The group arranges events, provides a meeting place for those seeking sober society and helps them work on building the confidence to resist the temptations around them. And crucially, the group helps participants overcome the notion that the college experience must come with alcohol or drugs attached. “Yes, you can have fun sober,” Daar tells them. “It really is possible.”

Discovering Joy in Sobriety

Daar’s story is a familiar one to Joni Ogle, LCSW, CSAT, executive director of the young adult program at Promises Treatment Centers. “When young adults come in, the thought of being sober for the rest of their lives is unfathomable to them. They can’t really wrap their head around it.”

They worry that friends will feel uncomfortable around them if they aren’t drinking or using drugs, that they won’t be invited to parties, that they will be the “Debbie Downer” no one wants around, she explained. “But as we help them, what ends up happening is they feel joy for the first time in their life when they’re sober. Suddenly they realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m having fun and I’m not drinking!’ ” They come to realize the things they’ve been telling themselves are myths, she said. “The truth is, you’ll have closer friendships and you’ll have more fun because you’re not going to have to deal with all the behaviors that come with being drunk or high.”

There may be some friends from their past that they can’t risk associating with again, but eventually they can build the confidence to take part in social situations where others aren’t sober, Ogle said. “In the beginning, of course, we encourage them not to go to those parties where there’s a lot of alcohol and drugs because they don’t have strong enough resistance built up yet. But once they do and then they go, they really have a lot of gratitude about not being sick the next day, not feeling a ton of shame for their behavior, really being able to see people and think, ‘That is not how I want to be. That is not getting me where I want to be in my life.’ ”

Expanding the Entertainment Menu

A welcome sign for those who want to have their sobriety and their fun, too, is the growing acceptance by event organizers that the entertainment menu has room for more than just alcohol and drugs. Sober partying, in fact, is no longer an oxymoron.

Dawn raves, for example, are bringing young people together across the globe to dance, socialize and enjoy, all without alcohol or drugs. Dubbed “conscious clubbing,” the trend began in London in 2013, pioneered by a group called Morning Gloryville and has now spread to more than 20 cities, including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Tokyo, Melbourne, Barcelona, Montreal and Rome.

Social clubs that cater to those who want a good time without the booze are also becoming more common. And a new online community called the Clean Fun Network aims to bring together a range of services such as travel, events, and get-togethers to, as it explains in its mission statement, “help others who, like us, are committed to sobriety and seek a life filled with excitement, adventure, and most importantly, fun.”

Knowing such options are out there can be a huge mental boost for those who want to commit to sobriety but who fear happiness is linked to how much alcohol or how many drugs they consume. Daar recalls the response at a sober rave he helped organize last year at UC Santa Barbara. “I think a lot of people were surprised,” he said. “They said, ‘Wow that was crazy. I had a lot of fun. I didn’t know that was possible.’ ”

By Kendal Patterson

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