For years, Eric Davis couldn’t imagine watching a football game without a beer in hand.
“Beer and football are just synonymous with each other,” he said. “Men just love to drink beer and watch the game.”
But after 18 months of being sober, Davis, 33, is sure his life would spiral out of control again if he were to have even a sip of beer. So Davis of Brentwood on Sunday night watched the Super Bowl with about 40 other people in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction at THRIVE Recovery Community and Outreach Center in Hauppauge, which held its second annual sober Super Bowl party.
The free event was created as a “safe space for people who don’t want to go to booze-filled parties,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive of Mineola-based Family & Children’s Association, which runs the center in partnership with three other nonprofits.
At many Super Bowl parties, a recovering alcoholic sipping water or soda can “feel awkward, like you don’t fit in” when almost everyone else is drinking alcohol, Reynolds said.
At THRIVE Sunday night, football fans sat on sofas and cushioned chairs, munched on pizza, heroes and pasta, and drank soft drinks while watching the game on a big-screen television.
Davis, who lives in a residential treatment center in Brentwood, is a recovering alcoholic whose most recent drugs of choice until he went sober in 2017 were heroin and other opioids. Even if he had the option of watching the Super Bowl at a bar, “I wouldn’t put myself there. I wouldn’t want the temptation,” he said.
It’s not just being around people who drink that would be hard, he said. It’s also the beer advertisements that are a staple of any football game and show happy, healthy, active people enjoying a cold, refreshing beer.
Davis knows that some people can enjoy an occasional beer or two but “one beer would lead me to do a bunch of other things and bring me to destruction.”
Now that he is sober, he enjoys the game more, he said. “You understand what’s going on a lot more,” he said. “You miss a lot of stuff when you’re drunk.”
Joe Cavallo, 31, of Ronkonkoma, is recovering from alcohol and cocaine addiction. He said he can be around family members and friends who are drinking moderately, because they are supportive of his recovery. Still, he feels more comfortable in a setting without alcohol and said others, who can’t be around alcohol at all, would otherwise “have to sit home by themselves or be around others who are drinking,” risking a relapse.
Joel Kramer, 68, of Bay Shore, has been in recovery for 12 years from cocaine and heroin, but alcohol was his “gateway drug” to other substances. He recalled how in the 1980s, after 10 years sober from alcohol, he was at a party and “I thought, ‘I’ll just have one beer.’” That led to years more of drinking. “You think you can handle it, but you can’t,” he said.
Events like the sober Super Bowl party show people in recovery that sobriety doesn’t mean giving up some of the fun activities they have always enjoyed, Reynolds said. They also bring sober people together to create new social networks to combat feelings of loneliness that some people in recovery experience feel after they have distanced themselves from the people they once drank or did drugs with, he said.
Reynolds said being around alcohol is risky even for someone who is, for example, in recovery from opioid addiction but was never an alcoholic. They may think “‘I was never really addicted to alcohol, so maybe it’s OK if I have a drink or two,’” Reynolds said. “For a lot of people, that spells the beginning of potential relapse.”
“When you’re drunk,” he said, “you make lousy decisions and you go back to people, places and things, and before you know it you have a needle in your arm again.”