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Recovery Survival Guide: Weddings

So you’ve been invited to a wedding. Awesome! Weddings are beautiful occasions to celebrate love, community and commitment. There’s usually free food, free alcohol, dancing, general merry making…what’s not to like, right? Well, it depends. If you’re recovering from an eating disorder (or anything else, for that matter), weddings can also be extremely challenging, and anxiety provoking. If you find yourself feeling more apprehensive than excited about the upcoming nuptials, that doesn’t make you a bad person, or mean that you need to suck it up and just be happy for your friend/family member. It means that you’re taking your recovery seriously, and you have perfectly normal concerns about the triggers you will likely be facing. In fact, that’s actually a good sign.

Before I get into some techniques you can use to set you up for a recovery win, I have some good news, and some bad news…and they’re the same. Unless it’s your wedding, then this occasion isn’t about you. That means making special requests about food, or asking for special accommodations may not be appropriate (although it might, depending on your relationship with the bride and groom. You’ll have to use your judgement there). It also means that the focus won’t be on you, so if you need to step out, or make accommodations for yourself, chances are most people won’t even bat an eyelash. The focus is on the happy couple, not on you.

It’s worth mentioning that if you’re extremely new to recovery, and particularly if you are also in recovery for an alcohol addiction, a common comorbidity, it might be wise for you to sit this one out. I’ve had to do that for a number of big celebrations, and while I experienced some major FOMO (fear of missing out), it was better than ending the night bent over a toilet for a private purging after-party (although I’ve done that too). It’s OK to take care of yourself right now. It’s better for you, and everyone in your life in the long run. If skipping it is not an option–like if you’re in the wedding, it’s a close family member, or it might even be yours!–and/or you’re a bit further along in recovery, then I have 5 tools you can employ to help you get through it without a relapse. Even though I’m pretty far along in my own recovery, I still use these. I just have a better time when I do. (Note: these tools also work for ANY special event or party, and they can be modified to help with drug/alcohol recovery, OCD, PTSD or Anxiety recovery as well!)

1. Set an Intention – Many of us, particularly in the West, don’t realize that we are the creators of our lives. Of course we often can’t control our external circumstances, but with practice we can learn to guide our internal experience of those circumstances, and that experience ultimately gives us what we call our “life.” That’s a big concept, and I will definitely write more on that in the future, but for the time being, just consider that taking the time to map out how you want the experience to go, may very well shape how it plays out. You don’t have to take my word for it–try it and see for yourself. If you’re not sure what intention you want to set, or don’t really know how to set an intention in the first place, here are some questions you can ask yourself: How do I want to leave the event feeling? (e.g. accepted, connected, joyful, alive, etc.) What experience do I want to give other people? (e.g. having fun, being heard, being appreciated, etc.) How can I honor my recovery inside of this experience? How can I honor myself and others? Write your thoughts down, and refer to them as many times as you need to before you go. You can even put a “cheat sheet” with key points in your purse or pocket that you can glance at if you’re feeling triggered. Whatever you can do to keep that intention present for you–do it. That’s your lifeline.

2. Establish an Anchor – Recovery doesn’t happen alone. It just doesn’t. If you’re in a vulnerable place, it helps tremendously to have a person you can check in with. If you’re in a 12-step program (like OA), that could be your sponsor. It could also be your best friend, your boyfriend/girlfriend, a parent, a mentor…anyone you can be open with. Share your intention with that person (or persons), so that you have someone else pulling for you. Even if they’re nowhere near you physically, having that tether will help you feel anchored. It actually works better if you share with at least one person who isn’t going to be at the wedding, because other guests are probably going to be distracted. If it works for that person, check in with them after you leave as well. Even just a quick text message saying “It went great!” or “It was really difficult!” can keep you connected to your commitment to stay the course. It doesn’t have to go perfectly for it to be a success. As they say in 12 step, “progress, not perfection.”

3. Don’t Show up Hungry or Dehydrated – This one’s pretty simple. If you show up starving and thirsty, you’ll be tipsy after one drink, and then you might hoover an entire tray of mini quiches before you’ve even sat down for dinner. After that there’s a decent chance you might develop a case of the “F*ck its,” and before you know it you’re sneaking food from catering, guzzling wine, and in the middle of a full-on binge. Have a meal before you go, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. If you’re worried about getting hungry before the reception, bring a small, safe snack with you. If you’re not ravenous, you can stay away from trigger foods more easily, and you’re less likely to get drunk and lose sight of your intention. Even if you have trouble with the first two tools, taking care of these basic needs will help you a lot.

4. Take Time Outs – If you’re feeling the urge to binge, purge, or if you’re feeling like your intention for the wedding has been thwarted, that’s not a problem. Really!! It’s not! It happens! Just take a beat. Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom, or step outside. Take a few deep breaths, and do whatever you need to do to get re-centered. Pull out your cheat sheet. Text or call your anchor. Say a prayer. There’s no one right way to do it, just do something.

5. Drink Minimally, or Not at All – If you’re dealing with alcoholism as well, this goes without saying, but even if you don’t have an issue with alcohol by itself, it’s a good idea to lay off the sauce during recovery–especially at the beginning. You are the only person who knows your tolerance, so a couple glasses of champagne may be OK for you, but for some of us, any kind of alcohol is a fast track to “f*ck it” land. You can have all the resolve in the world while you’re sober, but if you’re drinking, and you have what you decide is one-too-many bites of cake, you’re much less likely to be able to stop there. I can’t tell you how many times I relapsed because I had a little too much to drink. When your inhibition goes down, it can turn into a free-for-all quickly, and suddenly all those trigger foods you were successfully sidestepping are now residing in your stomach…and probably not for long. When in doubt, less alcohol is more in recovery.

There you have it! I highly recommend using all five of these techniques, but even one or two is better than none at all. If you use them and have feedback, positive or negative, please feel free to comment below! These are designed to help you guys, so if I can improve them, I’m all for it.

(All photos by Daryl Henderson)