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A Special Kind Of Birthday: Celebrating One Year Of Sobriety

A Special Kind Of Birthday: Celebrating One Year Of Sobriety
Written by Seth Fletcher on August 30, 2019
Last update: May 15, 2024

If you stopped using drugs or alcohol sometime in the last year, you will soon be marking off the days to completing your first year of being sober. No matter what path your addiction took, this is an occasion for celebration. You have worked hard to get to this point: you have endured the withdrawal symptoms and made the decision to improve life for yourself and for the people you love.

So now you have something to plan: your first sobriety birthday celebration. Celebrating sobriety is a major part of substance abuse recovery. It allows you to bask in the well-deserved glow of pride in your accomplishment, and it gives your closest friends and family members – the people who have been rooting for you – an opportunity to share your success.

The problem with special occasions is that we are culturally conditioned to celebrate them with alcohol. Champagne and sparkling wine are the beverages of choice at weddings and New Year shindigs. Fancy dinner parties tend to include expensive bottles of wine. The completion of a big project or the closing of a major sale is often marked by a rowdy evening in a pub.

Planning a party for a sobriety milestone take a little more creativity. The good news is that there is no set rule governing celebrations, so you can do whatever you want, whether it’s a big party the includes all of your friends and family members, or a special dinner with your significant other.

If you are stuck and unsure about how to mark this special occasion, check out our tips for celebrating your first year of being sober.

Creative Ways To Celebrate

Have A Private Dinner

The first year of sobriety can be an anxious time. A lot of people in this stage of recovery are rebuilding their lives and repairing their relationships, and they may not feel ready for a big celebratory get-together. If this describes you, go ahead and have a private dinner with your family or closest loved ones. Break out your favourite recipes or order in, decorate your dining room table with flowers and candles, and toast your accomplishment with some mocktails created for the occasion.

Go To A Theme Park

Many theme parks don’t allow alcohol at all, and the ones that do require it to stay in very specific places, such as restaurants and bars.

There is a perception that theme parks are places for kids, but there’s plenty of fun for adults too. They are a perfect venue for people who want their sobriety celebrations to include their children, nieces and nephews. North America has an abundance of amusement parks that will provide a festive atmosphere for the entire family, such as Canada's Wonderland.

The one downside of theme parks is that they are not open during the cold season. But there are plenty of family-friendly winter activities that you could do instead, such as tobogganing, letting loose at an indoor trampoline park, or visiting a skating rink.

Get Your Adrenaline On At Laser Tag

Theme parks are a lot of fun, but some people may feel overwhelmed by the crowds and the constant buzz. If you want the family-friendly fun of a theme park without all the frazzle, you might want to see if there are any laser tag arenas nearby. Themed restaurants, minigolf and ten-pin bowling can also be a great choice, especially if the venues target kids. Many of the establishments that cater more for adults have a heavy emphasis on alcohol. Be sure to check the venue out – or have a friend or family member look at it for you – before you schedule your session.

Give a Little Back

For some people, the idea of celebrating sobriety might seem a little strange. Bear in mind that celebrations can take many forms, and giving back to your community or helping a friend in need can be a great way to mark your first anniversary of being sober. There are many ways of doing this: you could go to a movie with a friend who has helped you through your journey, or who is having a struggle of their own. Or you could sign up to volunteer at a food bank or an animal shelter, do a fun run for charity, or cook dinner for a relative who is sick, elderly or lonely.

Studies and surveys have shown that the happiest communities in the world are the ones where people give of themselves. By taking the positivity that comes with your sobriety birthday and spreading it around to other people, you can multiply your own happiness.

Quick Weekend Getaway

Is there a little B&B that you’ve always wanted to go to, or a place in the mountains or by the lake that you’ve always wanted to visit? You have put a lot of work into your sobriety, so you deserve to treat yourself. Make a reservation for yourself and a loved one to go to that hotel or B&B, or to have a weekend away in a quiet, scenic spot.

When you make the booking, avoid destinations that are focused on parties and nightlife, and remember to ask the hotel you are visiting to clear out the minibar in your room prior to your arrival.

A Picnic in the Park

Dinner parties and weekends away can be costly. Public parks provide a great low-cost way of celebrating your first anniversary of being sober. Ontario is full of beautiful open spaces that are free and accessible, where you and the people you are celebrating with can enjoy being in nature and away from the stresses of daily life. If you are planning to invite a lot of people, who will need to make all of the arrangements in advance. But if you are going to be with two or three people, you could turn the day into a country drive with no fixed destination. Explore the natural beauty that your area has to offer, and stop for lunch wherever and whenever you feel like it.

Go To A Game

Sporting events are a great way to enjoy sobriety milestone days with fellow sports fans. There is something for every season, from baseball at the height of summer to hockey or basketball in the winter. Since many professional sports venues allow the sale of alcohol, consider college events, most of which prohibit alcohol. That way, you can enjoy watching your favourite sport played at a high level of skill and competition, without worrying about the temptation of alcohol.

Tips For Enjoying Your Sobriety Birthday

Not everyone is comfortable celebrating sobriety. For some people, this anniversary is a reminder of what they went through during addiction. No matter what your journey looks like, though, you deserve to feel good about yourself for making it through the first year. Try not to let painful memories hold you back. Try the following tips and ideas, and allow yourself to really enjoy this milestone.

Pretend It’s Your Birthday

If you are celebrating at home, get balloons, birthday party décor and a cake. Blow out the candles while loved ones cheer you on.

If you end up going out to a restaurant, have someone tell the waitstaff that it’s your birthday. Like most people, you might feel self-conscious when the candle and cake come out, but when you do, everyone in the restaurant will be celebrating your sobriety with you, without even knowing it.

In a way, this is a birthday – the birthday of your new, sober self.

Celebrate All Day

Birthdays aren’t over just because the party is done, and sobriety anniversaries are the same way. The celebration does not have to limited to the time of whatever special event you have in store. If you are having a dinner party in the evening, start the day with a lazy breakfast that consists of your favourite food. If you a having a celebratory brunch, follow it with a movie or a walk on the beach. Treat your milestone like a holiday, because you have earned it. The hard work you have put in over the last year deserves a little more than an hour or two of fun.

Don’t Count Calories

Eat whatever you want. No, really. A celebration of sobriety is no time to count calories. Just as many people forego their regular healthy eating plans on Thanksgiving or Christmas, you should not be worrying about how many calories were in your dessert. Consider this day your reward for all of your hard effort, and enjoy eating your favourite treats without worry or guilt.

Don’t Celebrate Alone

Celebrations can be very difficult for recovering addicts, and they create a high potential for relapse if the addict is trying to celebrate alone. Whether you are celebrating with your family, your best friend or your sponsor, make sure you share this milestone with someone.

Avoid Celebrating with Alcohol

They say in AA that if you sit in a barber shop for long enough, you’ll eventually end up with a haircut. Even if the plan is for a dry celebration, don’t celebrate in a place that puts emphasis on alcohol. That includes bars, some restaurants, casinos, and professional sporting venues. If you’re planning on celebrating in a place that is new to you, be sure to first scope it out, or have someone else do it for you.

Don’t Skip Milestones

Just as we don’t stop celebrating birthdays after the first one, don’t stop with your first sobriety anniversary. Similarly, there’s no reason to limit your celebrations to one a year. Do something special after thirty days of sobriety, or celebrate your anniversary of entering rehab or graduating from your rehab program.

It is important for recovering addicts to find new ways to celebrate. You can retrain the reward centres of your brain – the part of you that used to need alcohol – by celebrating as many milestones as possible.

Visit Your Regular Support Group

You might find that as you progress on your path down recovery, your visits to AA/NA meetings will start to diminish, and that is all right. However, going to a meeting on your first sobriety birthday can be a huge boost in motivation, not only for yourself, but for others who are at an earlier stage of recovery. If the rehab facility that you went to has an alumni group, attend one of their meetings so that your fellow recovering addicts – many of whom are celebrating the same milestone – can share in your accomplishment.

Celebrate Sobriety No Matter What

No matter how you end up celebrating sobriety, make sure that you do. Create new traditions, and treat yourself to something nice. Surround yourself with loved ones, and remind yourself why you went sober in the first place. By creating a day for yourself that is filled with the love of your friends and family, activities that you love, and a well-deserved sense of accomplishment, you are setting yourself up for continued success.

Photo credit: Sian. This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.


Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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