We are entering the time of year when parties, family get-togethers, and excessive eating, drinking and merriment can create difficult or at least tricky situations for those in recovery. Thanksgiving, in particular, can be a challenging time. Facing your first sober Thanksgiving while in recovery may seem overwhelming since family interaction is often expected and it may be the first family get-together in a while. Here are some tried-and-true tips for enjoying Thanksgiving while in recovery.
Review the Past
If you are planning to be with family or friends during Thanksgiving, reflect on past Thanksgivings. Were they stressful? Was there a great deal of drinking and partying? Did family members fight or bring up and/or re-inflict old wounds? Did you feel comfortable and at ease?
By reviewing the past, you can look for things that may tempt you to drink or use it again. When and where do you think your buttons will be pushed? What situations or encounters led you to feel stressed, angry, sad or hurt in the past? Just because you are sober doesn’t mean that things will be drastically different. Hope for the best, plan for the worst and be ready for everything. Being prepared is the best thing you can do.
Plan Your Entrance
Now that you have reviewed where you could feel stressed, anxious, irritated/angry or triggered, plan how you will attend. Is it better to go early and get comfortable? Is it better to go later, to avoid certain encounters? Is it better to go with a sober friend or family member?
Perhaps it is better to not attend at all? If that is the case, is there a way you can communicate with your family to express your thankfulness for them, but yet keep yourself safe? Look for sober friends you can celebrate with. If you decide that it would not be healthy for you to be around family and old friends during Thanksgiving, plan something special with others.
Plan Your Exit
Before you go, plan on how long you think you can comfortably stay. If you know from past experience that staying for a full day, or a full holiday weekend will be too much or dangerous to your sobriety, then plan your visit accordingly. Let your family know about your plans ahead of time. Be open, honest and thorough when relaying your plans. This will help you set realistic expectations and allow others to understand your plans. Be prepared to leave even earlier than you may have originally planned if you are triggered or feel unmanageable stress, anxiety or anger. It is acceptable to explain that you feel you need to leave early.
Have Support Ready
Let your support group and network of sober friends know about your plans and any difficulties that may arise or did arise in the past. Tell them your travel days and times. Have a person available you can call if things get difficult. Or perhaps ask a sober friend or sponsor to go with you.
If you decide that you cannot safely attend your family’s Thanksgiving, see what sober events are available near you. There are typically Thanksgiving Alkathons going on at sobriety clubs or in accommodating churches. Check your local AA Intergroup website (Northern VA Intergroup) and plan out your evening a day ahead of time to ensure that once the days arrive triggers are less likely to derail your plans. Thanksgiving can be triggering even without family and old friends around. It can also be lonely…most restaurants and stores (although fewer each year) are closed. So plan ahead to share your Thanksgiving with others. Another great way to spend a sober Thanksgiving is to volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter for the day. It can be an incredibly moving experience that will fill you with gratitude.
Be Honest and Realistic
It’s best to be open about your addiction and recovery with family and friends. At a minimum be clear about your boundaries and rules. At a minimum tell your family that you are not drinking or using during the visit.
You should feel wonderful about your sobriety, however, don’t expect that everything within your family will be drastically different immediately. People change and evolve in small steps, so look for tiny increments of change. Sure, you are different, but give your family time to actually see and experience the difference. Seeing truly is believing for family and friends, especially those you may have hurt in the past.
Be Grateful and Enjoy
Now that you have planned ahead, you can relax and enjoy your Thanksgiving. Relaxing during a holiday isn’t always easy, so remember to breathe deeply and practice principles in all of your affairs. Thanksgiving is a holiday dedicated to being grateful, so think of at least three things you are grateful for and try not to stop with three. Our entire world changes when we see the world through gratitude.
Happy Sober Thanksgiving to You and Yours!