The holiday season, in general, can be a little anxiety-producing for those who are relatively new to recovery – and for those who have been sober for years. While thinking of past Thanksgiving gatherings may conjure up warm and fuzzy memories of food and family for some, for the average alcoholic, holiday-related memories might not be so pleasant. Not only can unfavorable memories of past holidays be triggering; there are many potential aspects of a Thanksgiving with (or without) the family that can threaten your sobriety.
A Very Sober Thanksgiving To You
Perhaps your family is not yet ready to forgive you for the havoc you wreaked in years passed, and you will be condemned to scrolling through ‘happy family’ pics on Facebook while crying into a lukewarm Lean Cuisine. If you are single or find yourself with nowhere to go, this particular holiday may stir up intensified feelings of loneliness and isolation. Perhaps addiction runs in your family, and returning home will mean watching your father and uncle drink copious amounts of wine (and then vodka, and then whatever else is in the freezer, and then that age-old bottle of Amaretto that grandma used for baking). Perhaps your family doesn’t support your sobriety, and constantly questions you and your motives. Or, perhaps your family (like most families), simply knows how to push all of your buttons, evoking uncontrollable emotional reactions that leave you desperately wanting a tall glass of spiked egg nog.
How to Stay Sober Through the Holidays
Whether you are alone, heading home for the first time in awhile, or hosting a get-together of your own, feelings of loneliness, sorrow, and stress can be a bit overwhelming. The key to getting through Thanksgiving with your sobriety intact is remembering that Thanksgiving is only one day! While the feelings you experience may be uncomfortable, they will certainly pass – and no feeling of grief, isolation, or anxiety is ever worth picking up over.
Be sure to keep your sobriety as your top priority no matter what, and take the following suggestions if you are anticipating feeling a little bit shaky.
- Amp up your meeting attendance.
Try to get to as many meetings as you can before the big day arrives, and be sure you map out several meetings that will be easily accessible from wherever you find yourself on Thanksgiving Day. Most big meeting houses will hold 24-hour meeting marathons on emotionally triggering holidays. Remember that you are never alone! And excusing yourself from your parents’ house for an hour to attend a local meeting will certainly do a lot to re-center you if you begin to feel a little shaky or unstable.
- Invite a sober friend to parties and family functions.
Bring a reliable, sober friend with you no matter where you go. If your family is weary of ‘outsiders’, be sure you at least have several close, sober supports on speed dial. Let your sponsor know that you may need a little extra support, and set up a time to call and check-in regardless of what festivities you decide to partake in. Hold yourself accountable, and structure your day in order to make doing so easier.
- Make a list of potential triggers.
Writing out people, places, and things that may threaten your sobriety will not only help you to be better prepared, but it will bring to light certain circumstances that you will probably want to avoid altogether. For example – if conversations with your disapproving Aunt Helen consistently leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth, it might be wise to keep your distance. If you went to a Thanksgiving party at your ex-girlfriend’s apartment last year and ended up blacking out, punching a hole in a wall, and crying in the bathroom for 3 hours, maybe don’t go back to your ex-girlfriend’s apartment. If a potential trigger is unavoidable, formulate a plan of action that is geared towards limiting interaction time and keeping yourself as safe as possible.
- Keep yourself safe.
If spending the weekend at your parents’ house is at the very top of your ‘potential triggers’ list, remember – your recovery is top priority. Make an appearance if you feel the need to, but plan on staying for an hour or two and excusing yourself early. Temporarily hurt feelings are easier to remedy than compromised sobriety. Your family will get over the shock of your leaving before dessert. They will.
- BYOB – bring your own beverages.
If you are going to a Thanksgiving party, be sure that you bring your own beverages just in case. All too frequently, holiday party hosts will overlook things like juice and water in favor of wine, champagne, and heavily spiked punch. Grab a case of water bottles to keep in your car, or bring a couple 2-liter bottles of your favorite soda to ‘share’.
Service keeps you sober, and this favored, cliché phrase is true inside and outside the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Take some time to volunteer at a soup kitchen, or hand out Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless if you have nowhere to go yourself. Not only will engaging in this kind of volunteer work help to put things in perspective (and remind where you used to be, or where you could easily end up), but volunteering will help to give your holiday a whole new sense of purpose and meaning. Perhaps the kind of meaning that a holiday revolving around gratitude and altruism originally bore.
Staying Sane this Thanksgiving
Remember that your personal sanity is directly contingent upon your ability to stay sober. Even if being around your highly dysfunctional family makes you feel as if you are rapidly losing your marbles, you truly are not – the experience may be stressful, but getting through it sober will allow you a swift return to serenity after the fact. Remember that Thanksgiving is just ONE DAY, and that your higher power will never present you with anything that you cannot effectively handle.
Please feel free to share your own tips for staying sober on Thanksgiving!