How to Survive a 4th of July BBQ Without Relapsing

How to Survive a 4th of July BBQ Without Relapsing


This post was originally published don July 3, 2015.

I used to love barbecues when I was drinking. It was the perfect excuse to day drink without feeling like an alcoholic, and to this day when summer hits I sometimes get a hankering for beer. Given the fact that alcohol ravaged my life, I understand that if I knock back a cold one on a hot summer day I might as well chase it with rat poison.

Not an option.

But social events with booze can be challenging if there aren’t tons of sober folks around, especially if you’re new in sobriety. Add to that any social anxiety you may have when thrown into a party (which I often get if I don’t know a lot of people), and it can be extra uncomfortable.

Then you’ve got the food. Once I cut out drinking, I often found myself lingering over the grill, eating not one but two hamburgers, then polishing off a hot dog, then polishing off too much potato salad, a bunch of chips and the homemade brownies someone bought, and I felt increasingly sick.

I used to use my sobriety as an excuse to engage in hardcore gluttony.

“I’m sober!” I’d congratulate myself. “So I can eat whatever I want!”

Though it’s true you’re sober, and though it’s true there is nothing morally wrong with stuffing your face, you deserve better.

So how can you hit a kickass barbecue without getting wasted or binging on all the goodies?

First off, bring your favorite non-alcoholic beverage(s), and bring a ton of them. Remember how you used to bring a nice bottle of wine, not for the party or the host but so you could drink it? Or a bunch of beers so you could drink those? Or a bottle of Bacardi 151?

Do the same with whatever non-boozy drinks tickle your fancy. I’m a sparkling water junkie, and I can go through bottle after bottle in just an hour. In fact, the few times I’ve felt thirsty for a beer when it’s hot, which happened a lot in my first year of sobriety, I’d hit the 7-11, get an ice cold Perrier and chug it. It killed the craving instantly.

Yep. Sometimes when you crave booze, you’re actually just thirsty. 

So stock up on Perriers or Pelligrinos or Voss or even the Arrowhead brand if you like those, and bring enough for yourself and all the guests. If you don’t think the host will have enough room in the cooler, go out and get one for yourself, invest in those ice packs, and bring it to the shin-dig. Your sobriety is worth it. You’re worth it. So don’t sweat the extra cash.

But if you’re like me, you’ll go even further than the sparkling water.

I like to have something with caffeine and something with sugar in addition to my Perriers, namely a Diet Coke and some sparkling French lemonade, all within an arm’s reach. Maybe you like iced tea—bring tons. Maybe you like Arnold Palmers. If that’s your jam, bring some tea and lemonade and mix it up in a red Solo cup. Bring those too, if you have to.

We’ve come a long way with nonalcoholic beverages, and you can get some fine ones at Trader Joe’s on the cheap. You’ve got everything from quality ginger sodas—the hot thing these days—and sparkling fruit juices. If they’re cold, they’ll hit the spot way better than beer.

I also love making Virgin Madras, which is just half OJ and half cranberry juice. Delish.

As for the food, don’t show up ravenous, or if you do, coat your stomach with two bottles of sparkling water—you’ll eat less. You don’t want to get to the point of starvation where your blood sugar drops—it leads to major overeating, eating way too fast, and then you wind up like Louis CK, who has said, “I don’t eat until I’m full…I eat until I hate myself.

He goes on to describe that ungodly feeling of having the food creep up all the way to your upper chest. When this happens, you just want to knock out, puke or keep eating to make the pain go away.

It’s an insane concept, to keep eating to make yourself feel better, but it happens among us addicts.

So don’t show up starving and also recognize that just because there’s a plethora of awesome burgers, killer dogs, carne asada or barbecued chicken, it doesn’t mean you have to consume everything as though you’ll never eat again. I’m such a food junkie I often eat to excess because I’m so elated that I have access to all sorts of deliciousness at my disposal…and it’s free! So I’d be a real jerk not to eat the chicken, the dogs, the burgers, the corn, the potato salad, the watermelon and the chips, right?


Don’t feel guilty for sticking to one or two items. Yes, there are starving people all over the planet, and maybe you’re low on cash so you can’t eat such yumminess on a daily basis. Doesn’t matter. Practice restraint and moderation, and do it for yourself.

There are more burgers and dogs and chicken to be had on Labor Day.

As for the social anxiety, it won’t be too bad if you’re going to your best buddy’s house where you’re comfy-cozy and know half the crowd. But those others can still be freaky if you don’t know a soul.

Since barbecues are casual and festive, ask the host if you can bring a pal. Lie if you have to, and say you’re barbecue hopping together and you won’t be able to make the shin-dig unless you bring the friend since you’re carpooling. Even if you two just sit and talk among yourselves the whole time, it’ll still be fun.

If you don’t have a friend but you do have a dog, ask the host if you can bring the pup. Instant ice breaker. Everyone loves dogs, and there will probably be another dog there—at least if you live in LA—so you’ll connect.

You can also plan other icebreakers. If you wind up with people you don’t know and feel awkward (like me), the first thing you can do is talk about the food.

“Oh man these hamburgers are so good!”

Everyone loves food. In fact, the last barbecue I went to this was the main talking point among a lot of the guests I didn’t know. Instant ice breaker.

If they say they’re a vegan or a gluten-freer, ask about that.

“Oh! What made you go gluten-free?” Lie if you have to. “I’ve considered doing that too, but just haven’t had the balls to take the plunge.”

You can also bring a dish that looks exceptionally yummy. You don’t even have to cook. Go to the store and buy some awesome watermelon, then cube it into perfect chunks and arrange them nicely on a platter. Or you can go buy a shit ton of strawberries, pile them up on platter and put a bowl of whipped cream in the center. People will oooh and ahhh when you arrive and be ever grateful.

Another instant ice breaker.

And if you’re really feeling squirmy or awkward, or if you feel you may drink, remember there’s an out clause. You can always leave. It’s better than destroying your life through a relapse, or gaining five pounds through a binge.

After all, is there a better way to celebrate the birth of our nation than to avoid beating yourself up for gluttony or alcoholism?


About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.