How to Stay Sober on Turkey Day


No doubt about it – the holidays, while maybe the most wonderful time of the year, can also be the most stressful. Planning feasts, choosing the perfect presents, and compiling a lengthy list of resolutions… it can all be a bit overwhelming. We may pile our plates too high entirely, or feel obligated to participate in holiday dinners, office parties, and gift exchanges that leave us emotionally drained (and all but bankrupt). It comes as no surprise that the holiday season is a minefield when it comes to relapse triggers. Not only do we have a tendency to stretch ourselves too thin, but we spend ample time with our (dysfunctional) families, reflect (often involuntarily) on the highs and lows of the past year, and are probably surrounded by festively disguised temptations all the while (spiked eggnog, anyone?).

Thanksgiving can be especially tough. All of that familial dysfunction in one room for an extended period of time, talking politics and throwing back wine, and asking, “So… when are you going to get married?”

Staying Serene on Turkey Day

While Turkey Day itself is only 12 hours long, there is the time that we put into travel, preparation, hosting, and all of the other potential planning. It can be demanding – and can leave us emotionally frayed enough to consider reaching for a drink. But only if we fail to take care of ourselves during the process! The most crucial component of a successfully sober Thanksgiving is self-care. If we practice adequate self-care during the holiday season, we are liable to make it through completely unscathed. What does this mean? Basically, it means that we figure out what we need to do to keep ourselves sane, serene, and sober – and then we do it. We set and maintain healthy boundaries, know our own limits, and keep up with our program of recovery (whatever that looks like).

Practicing Self-Care This Thanksgiving

Below are several helpful tips that will better ensure a stress-free and enjoyable holiday. Of course, everyone is different. Only you can determine what steps you need to take in order to keep your Thanksgiving free of familial drama and emotional break-downs. However, this is certainly a good place to start!

  1. Know your social limits.

Thanksgiving is a pretty social holiday. Whether you are spending it with family or friends, you will inevitably be mingling quite a bit. Perhaps you know your grandmother (after roughly 5 minutes of small talk), will dive right into your need for a life-long partner. “So, who are you dating? Someone your age should not be single. I need grandchildren! Please, please give me grandchildren. What else are you doing? You don’t have a career… time to make some babies.” You love your grandmother, and of course you do. But if she has a tendency to guilt-trip you for not being where she wants you to be in life, there is no harm in keeping conversation brief. If a conversation or interaction is beginning to wear on you, politely excuse yourself. Take a walk around the block if you need to. Set and maintain those healthy boundaries!

  1. Avoid especially triggering people, places, and things.

Just like knowing your own social limits (and avoiding deep conversation with your shaming grandmother), you must know your limits when it comes to other things, as well. If your cousins are going to grab a drink at the local dive bar after the feast… consider skipping out. If your alcoholic uncle asks you to pick up another bottle of gin from the liquor store, simply say NO. Do what you need to do in order to keep your mind free of extraneous triggers – spending an entire day with extended family can be triggering enough!

  1. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat well.

Self-care isn’t all about emotional boundaries; it also concerns taking good care of your physical body. We may be tempted to stay up late during the holidays, or skip out on our daily exercise routine. We will undeniably be tempted to eat an excessive amount of baked goods, candy, and… well, food in general. While Thanksgiving is all about that ‘gobble till you wobble’ mentality, it is important that we still pay attention to our physical needs. Take a walk in the morning, or hit an early yoga class (many studios offer classes the morning of Thanksgiving, because remaining centered is especially important on days like these). Don’t eat to the point of physical illness – pace yourself. And make sure you get ample sleep the night before the big holiday. A well-rested mind makes all the difference!

  1. Plan the day in advance.

While it will be impossible to plan out every waking hour of your Thursday, you can certainly schedule a few things. Like a meeting, for example. Or an early-morning walk on the beach, or a phone call with your sponsor (or another sober support). Writing down several events in your planner will help the day feel more manageable, and will help to keep you accountable.

  1. Have a sober support on speed-dial.

The day before Thanksgiving, call one of your most reliable sober supports. Let him know that you may be calling at any point in time – to have his phone with him and his ringer turned up LOUD. You may think to yourself, “But, come on, it’s Thanksgiving! I don’t want to burden anyone on a family holiday.” Remember that every time you call someone for assistance, you are also doing them a favor. Plus, chances are, your sober support will be grateful for an excuse to escape his own holiday madness for a few minutes. Be sure to line up a few back-up numbers, too. If you find yourself in a particularly triggering situation, having a friend to call could make all the difference.

Over time, you will inevitably perfect your stress-free Turkey Day routine. In the meantime, just remember to take care of yourself; show yourself the same love and respect that you show to your loved ones. By putting your own needs first, you will not only greatly reduce the risk of relapse, but you will improve the overall quality of your holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Next Chapter!