LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Many prepare for the Kentucky Derby by getting their outfits and party plans in order. While exciting for many, this week packed full of celebrations can be triggering for people recovering from addiction. 

What You Need To Know

  • Derby week can be triggering for people recovering from addiction

  • Healing Place, an addiction recovery service in Louisville, is helping residents prepare a plan of action

  • Don’t be afraid to say no to parties and events if you are not feeling comfortable

  • Remember Kentucky Derby days from the past as they actually happened instead of romanticizing the times celebrating with alcohol

Keith Farah, the transitional care manager at the Healing Place in Louisville, now spends his time helping others recover from addiction. A big goal this week is to make sure residents are prepared for a week that can be difficult as others around the city party for the Kentucky Derby. 

Keith Farah helps residents at the Healing Place with addiction recovery. (Spectrum News 1/Amber Smith)

“It’s interesting the way holidays can play tricks on people in recovery. There’s a term for that in this field. It’s called euphoric recall,” Farah said. “What will happen in the mind of an alcoholic or addict is there could have been 100 Derbys where they drank or used and it was disastrous. What your mind will focus on is that one great time that you had. Therein lies the risk.”

He knows that feeling firsthand, as he has his own recovery story. It’s why he feels so connected to all the people he aims to help.

“I was very hard headed. My first time in treatment, I was 16. I got sober at 41-years-old. The three years prior to me getting sober, I was in some form of treatment for addiction probably about 20 times,” Farah said. “For me, that is one of the reasons why I never give up on anyone. One thing I know for sure, is when I finally did get sober, nobody thought it would be different that time than any other time.”

Even as he is almost eight years sober, he said you just never know what can happen at one of these Derby parties that can be a trigger. He recalls a time attending a Kentucky Derby party four years ago, which was at about years of sobriety for him.

“I love all cakes, but I really like rum cake. There’s not always rum in every rum cake though. I didn’t smell the liquor, so I took a nice slice and took a bite. There was so much rum in that cake that I felt the heat in my chest you feel when you drink dark liquor,” Farah said. “I was three or four years sober at that point, so I was just like that is a terrible idea. I think I am not going to have the rest of this cake. It is little stuff like that that you had never intended on that can set off that craving.”

That personal experience is what fuels his advice. This is what he suggests for anyone in recovery for this upcoming week:

  • Make a schedule for next week. He found that down time was often the hardest for him in the early days of recovery.
  • Know that it is OK to say no to functions, even with close family and friends
  • Go to 12 step meetings that week to stay connected to support
  • Go to sober events if you can
  • Remember past Kentucky Derby days as they actually happened instead of romanticizing past times celebrating with alcohol
  • Know that it is OK to change your mind at the last minute if you are not comfortable
  • If you go to parties where there will be drinking, take another sober friend, especially someone who is well into recovery
  • Drive yourself so you can leave the event if you start feeling uncomfortable
  • If you ride with someone to an event, discuss a leave plan ahead of time, so that they agree to leave if you need to

Some recovery programs actually have events planned for that day, which can be a great option to watch The Derby with support. 

Farah knows the journey is not easy, but says it is so worth it. He was homeless and unemployed at the start of his recovery journey. Now, he is a college educated manager who loves what he does for a living. 

“The only reason I am here is only because I’m sober,” Farah said.” What I do know and what I am thoroughly convinced of, and I’m not being dramatic, if I leave here and use today, I will undo everything I have built for years probably within 24 hour and that’s if I live that long. That’s definitely what would happen.”

The Healing Place offers a variety of programs and resources for anyone who needs assistance.