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As I sit on the edge of the couch, my posture is anything but relaxed. The heels of my feet are elevated off of the floor, and I am hunched forward with one of my hands covering my mouth. My fingernails have been gnawed off both of my hands as I anxiously wait for the referee to make the call on the field. Was it a touchdown or was it an incomplete pass? It’s tough to tell these days with the way some of these games get called. The referee takes off his headset and marches back onto the field only to raise his arms above his head and signal – TOUCHDOWN!   

Football Sundays have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I used to run around the couch as a kid wearing my Marshall Faulk jersey while my father watched the New England Patriots games and threw me a nerf football. I was playing Pop Warner football at the time, and I can remember all the kids on my team wanting to grow up and be just like their favorite player. When I was in 7th grade a few of the older kids in my neighborhood asked me if I wanted to smoke some pot with them and I said, “absolutely not, I am going to be a professional football player like Marshall Faulk and Randy Moss.”  

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Times changed, as they always do, and football took on a new meaning in no time at all. People from my high school would go to the Friday night games and then find some secluded portion of the woods to host a keg party. As my life progressed, and I made my way to UMass Amherst, the University football games were one of the most significant day drinking experiences on campus, and most of the time we never even made it into the stadium. We would head down to the parking lot to tailgate, and before we even knew it, the day would spiral into a drunken debacle that always trumped the on the field sportsmanship. Football became synonymous with having a beer in my hand, a joint in my mouth, or any other drugs in my system.  

When I first got sober, I didn’t know how to enjoy a football game without a drink in my hand or a drug in my system. The game play seemed slower, the commercials seemed longer, and most of the time I was watching the games by myself. It felt as if my sobriety had taken a lot of my favorite past times from me, and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to enjoy the sport that had always been such a big part of my life. I still get nostalgic thinking about the fall months in New England as the leaves were changing colors and the air was crisp, but the sun was still warm. My dad used to make homemade buffalo wings, and I always knew that Sunday would be filled with football, food, family, and friends. Football Sunday’s in early recovery didn’t hold the same luster that they once did, and I didn’t know how I would ever enjoy it again.    

It took some time to train my brain to associate football with recovery, but once I did, I began to fall in love with the sport in a whole different way. It has allowed me to connect to my support group at meetings by talking about the games. Football has been a catalyst for bonding with other men in recovery. I have built lasting friendships with other New England Patriots fans just based on two things we had in common at first – football and sobriety. Today I can go to both college and professional games, and when I do, I enjoy the tailgating with good food, great friends, and a whole lot of Red Bull. The best part about all of it is that I remember the entire game, I don’t have to worry about getting into a fight at the stadium, and I am always able to drive home safely.  

Here are my top tips for staying sober during football season

Embrace the change   

Don’t let yourself get caught up in what football games “used to” be like when you were drinking and using drugs. Practice opening your mind to enjoying them through the new lens of sobriety. We must do this with a lot of situations in our recovery, so it is good practice to start with something like sporting events.  

Don’t Hide Your Intentions  

If you have friends that are not in recovery, be honest with your plan not to drink and set the agenda up front. If you don’t feel comfortable going somewhere in early recovery – DON’T GO. I skipped a fantasy football draft party with six months sober because I knew everyone else there would be drinking. Our recovery must come first so that everything else doesn’t have to come second.  

Be Smart About Where You Choose to Watch the Games  

The age-old adage says, “If you hang around the barbershop long enough, eventually you are going to get a haircut.” So, stay out of bars and other public places that emphasize drinking during football games. These are high-risk situations, and no matter how strong you might feel walking into an event, things can change.  

Watch with Sober Supports  

Watching or going to football games with sober supports has been one of the most important parts of my recovery. It has allowed me to bond with people in recovery and enjoy the game in a safe environment that is conducive to my growth in these situations. Deep friendships are built around football, food, and fellowship.

 Remember that Recovery Comes First  

Remember why you got sober in the first place. None of us found recovery on a winning streak, and it is important to remember where our addiction leads us. A four-hour window of drinking and “fun” isn’t worth another long and extended relapse.

Nicholas Bellofatto “The Recovering Addict”

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