As a person who has lived most of his life in what most would consider a mecca of horse racing, it seems paradoxical that I have never had much interest in spending a day at the track or making an “educated” bet on which thoroughbred would outrun the pack. That being said, my alcoholism developed a fond appreciation for the festivities of the bourbon-drenched festivities that I came to associate with the Kentucky Derby. Honestly, I drank as much on Derby Day as I did on any given Monday but on this day, it felt like half of Louisville was drinking just like me! I found a delusional comfort in the fact that for 24 hours, it felt as if I drank like everyone else did.
In my first year of recovery, I found that events like this could trigger my craving for alcohol, and the memories of the misery associated with my alcoholism were at risk of being overwhelmed by the few moments of satisfaction that occurred during Derby events. I found a few tools to be helpful in navigating down this slippery slope.
I made plans to spend the week leading up to Derby with my support group and network of sober friends. I learned that idle time was not my friend in times when my sobriety could be challenged. I am fortunate that our city has a very active recovery community and meeting spaces such as the Token 3 Club hosted events throughout the week. There were also many AA meetings available to me and I took advantage of that opportunity. I also intentionally avoided large Derby events in which drinking was going to be prevalent, and if I chose to participate in any of the general festivities, I went with a group of people with long-term sobriety so I could be kept accountable and learn to have fun in these situations without alcohol.
One of the most important skills I have learned in recovery is the ability to be comfortable with saying no. This can be especially important in times when I am tempted to appease friends and family and put myself in situations where drinking may put my sobriety in jeopardy. I find that this certainly applies to Derby week. There were parties I chose not to attend and invitations to family events that I declined because I knew that alcohol was going to be a big part of those gatherings. I was told that if I chose to put myself in situation where alcohol was involved to have a sober support person with me and to have the ability to leave and get to a meeting if I felt triggered to drink.
As a person with almost eight years in recovery, I remain convinced that the reason that I get to enjoy the incredible life that I have now is due to my willingness to listen to the suggestions like the ones that I have listed above. While some of them felt like a sacrifice at the time, the reward has been one that I never could have imagined and as I write this I am humbled in realizing that I am able to fully live.