My first Pride celebration sober I went in with far too much confidence, and quickly lost it. I was just shy of 7 months clean when I took on one of the biggest alcohol events of the year.
Pride weeks are known for their heavy sale of liquor. Especially events such as the Providence Night Time Parade. Which is held in the evening, on a street lined with bars, and quickly followed by massive block parties. And don’t get me wrong, its fun – it’s REALLY fun. But alcohol and other party substances are EVERYWHERE.
And while most cities have purposefully made their parades early to avoid the heavy drinking, its still a problem no matter where one goes. I grew up outside of Chicago which is (in my opinion) the best parade in the country. But every year people were getting so trashed the city organizers kept moving the time of the parade earlier and earlier. It didn’t matter. Whether drunk at 2 in the afternoon or 10 in the morning, people love to get wasted on Pride day.
I’ve Been There.
Up until 4 years ago I was one of those wasted party members. I don’t remember most of the previous pride parades. Though I do know that one year I came to and found that I had wandered into the midst of the Chicago parade. I was marching down Halsted street in a rainbow bikini proudly waving a flag that I don’t remember purchasing. Everything was a blast, until I woke up the next morning and realized I had spent my rent money and had no idea what I did the night before
So four years ago – and newly sober -I headed to the Boston parade, decked out in full queer apparel. I quickly felt that I was in over my head. But managed to power through the pre-parade activities and was relatively distracted during the main event. Until we headed to the after parties. Immediately after paying my $20 entrance fee I regretted the decision.
I could feel my mouth literally salivating for a taste of alcohol. My eyes darted back and forth, wondering what drinks everyone was purchasing. I was on edge and short with my girlfriend. My teeth were nearly ground to bits. I felt trapped and panicked. I didn’t live in Boston and I didn’t know any people in the city, other than my current friends. Eventually I faded from the dance floor and found a quiet spot in the jammed packed bar to sip my Red Bull.
I managed to make it through that night. But I was attending the Providence Night Parade the following weekend and I determined I wouldn’t put myself in that position again. I contacted my sponsor and we came up with a plan. This is what I have done every Pride -and alcohol fueled event – since.
1. Plan Ahead
Take a few moments to answer these questions:
- How can I leave if I feel uncomfortable? – Do you have Uber or Lyft downloaded on your phone? Do you have a bus pass? Are you taking your own car? My first year was right before Uber really took off so that wasn’t a very accessible option. So instead, I looked up phone numbers of cab companies and had them saved in my phone. I also made sure I had enough money to pay the taxi.
- What will I say if someone offers me a drink? – You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Try saying you’re on a diet, or you’re not feeling well. Perhaps the excuse that you’re in training or you’re allergic to alcohol will get people off your back. You can also get a red bull or sprite. Ask the bartender to put the drink in a glass with some fruit. Most people wont offer anything if you have a drink in your hand.
- Where can I go to take a break? – If you’re at a bar or a house party, look for a spot you can dip out to if you need a break. Bring some cigarettes or a vape. Or you can have someone on back up to call you so you have a reason to be on your phone.
2. Be Honest
Not just with yourself. Be honest with your friends and sponsor.
- Be honest with you – My biggest problem my first year sober was that I wouldn’t acknowledge how I was actually feeling. I had to be willing to let some things, and people, go.
- Be honest with your sponsor or sober companion – Find someone to hold you accountable and tell them the truth. Let them know when you’re struggling. Again, you can’t do this unless you are first honest with yourself.
- Be honest with your partner or friend – No doubt you’ll spend Pride with other people who drink or use other substances. Sometimes this can hold us back from being honest because we don’t want to be a “buzzkill”. But chances are, if you’re sober, you’ve got people in your corner supporting this decision. Rely on these people, let them have your back. And if you can’t think of any friends who want you sober, then you might need to re-evaluate your friends.
3. Let Go
Let go of the person you were and experience a new person
- Be a new party animal – For so many years I believed I could only party if I was drunk or high. And my first Pride I stayed in that mindset. But the next year I tried again, and this time I let go of that old me. I had a blast. Last year was also fantastic and this year I expect my Pride partying to be the best pride yet. But I don’t party the way I use to. I’m more reserved, I’m not the center of attention, but I have fun.
- Realize other people aren’t watching you – You may be watching everyone else (because it’s fun AF to watch wasted people when you’re sober) but I promise they’re not watching you. So let go. Dance, sing along, get in the mosh pit, scream your head off. To be honest, that’s what everyone else IS doing so really you’re the odd person out if you’re not joining in.
- Enjoy being able to absorb the experience – Many people at the parades, bars, and block parties won’t remember the majority of events the next day. Like I said, I can’t remember most of my first four years of Pride. But I remember every detail of the last 3 years and there are so many moments that still make me smile. The gift of sobriety is that I can absorb the moment and hold those feelings with me. Embrace that gift.
So have a wonderful Pride Month my friends. And remember, you’re not alone and you don’t need a substance. To thine own self be true.
Maybe you think you know the story of infamous gay politician Harvey Milk. Maybe you’ve seen the 2009 Sean Penn film and are all caught up on the subject.