9 Tips for Staying Sober Over the Thanksgiving Holiday
Holiday celebrations can be challenging for people in recovery. People look forward to family gatherings but these celebrations often involve alcohol. Special occasions can be especially dangerous for people recovering from addiction, sometimes even more dangerous than negative emotions. You feel good, it’s a special occasion, so you might start to think, “Why not just this once?” On the other hand, holidays can be extremely stressful too. Old resentments come up, people argue about politics, and someone brings up old mistakes you’d rather forget. Family can get under your skin in ways others can’t, especially when everyone is together. Conflicts may arise, leading to stress, anxiety, and rumination. None of this is helpful when you’re trying to stay sober. The following are some tips to help you get through the Thanksgiving holiday with your sobriety intact.
Have a strategy.
It’s a good idea to have a strategy when it comes to Thanksgiving holiday gatherings. Instead of just showing up with a casserole and hanging around until everyone leaves, be deliberate about your plans. You don’t have to accept every invitation, even if it’s tradition. If, on the whole, the gathering seems like more stress than it’s worth, you don’t have to go. Spend Thanksgiving with friends or find something else to do. If you do decide to go, think about the risks in advance. Who might be drinking? How might you avoid or neutralize conflict? Depending on your situation, you may want to limit your time there. Tell your host in advance you have to be somewhere else at a certain time.
Prepare in advance.
It may be a good idea to talk to your therapist or sponsor before heading to a family gathering. Your stress and anxiety about the upcoming event may be just as bad as anything that actually happens over Thanksgiving dinner. We tend to think of family through the perspective of our younger selves, when we didn’t have so many resources for dealing with negative emotions. Talking with someone ahead of time can help reduce anxiety and change your perspective on the event. Being aware of your expectations as well as what others may be feeling helps you be more objective when going into a potentially stressful situation. It may also be a good idea to attend a 12-step meeting before you go. Many groups have special holiday meetings, some of which are open the whole day.
Have an excuse ready.
There’s a good chance that some people in your family will be drinking on Thanksgiving and if you have struggled with substance use, the chances are even greater. You can be honest with people you trust and tell them you quit drinking. For others, it’s a good idea to have an excuse ready. “No thanks, I’m driving,” usually works pretty well, as does, “I have an early day tomorrow.” However, you don’t need to provide an explanation. As they say, “no” is a complete sentence. You can also reduce the likelihood that someone will offer you a drink by having a non-alcoholic drink already in hand.
Bring a sober friend.
It’s easier to stay sober at holiday gatherings when you bring a sober friend. Having a sober friend with you gives you extra support and deflects attention away from you. You have someone to talk you down when you start feeling anxious or stressed. Perhaps most importantly, there’s someone there to hold you accountable if you’re tempted to drink or use drugs. If you can’t find someone to bring to Thanksgiving with you, see if there’s someone you can call if you need to. It could be your sponsor or a fellow 12-step member or just a friend you trust and can talk to if you’re having a hard time.
Bring your own drinks.
Typically, at Thanksgiving, there will be non-alcoholic drinks. It’s a family holiday and there’s a big dinner, so there should be something you can drink. In most families, the drinking happens before and after dinner. For those times, it may be a good idea to bring your own drinks. Spiced cider is a great Thanksgiving drink but you can bring whatever you like. Maybe you have standard replacement drink that you reach for instead of alcohol.
Have an escape plan.
The last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere you feel overwhelmed or tempted to drink or use drugs. Sometimes the best way to handle a craving is just to get out of whatever situation is causing it. You might be ok if you just step outside for a few minutes but you might need to leave the party entirely. If you didn’t drive yourself, make sure you have some way to leave if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Dinner with the family isn’t the only way to celebrate Thanksgiving. You could also volunteer, perhaps at a homeless shelter, a women’s shelter, or a 12-step meeting. Instead of dealing with the emotional turmoil of interacting with family, focus on giving back to others. Or your could do both. Volunteering typically makes volunteers feel happier and better about themselves. Volunteering before or after Thanksgiving dinner may be a good way to buffer challenging emotions.
Don’t neglect self-care.
Thanksgiving is a famously gluttonous holiday. It doesn’t hurt to indulge in a big meal on occasion but pay attention to how your eating affects your mood. A mound of mashed potatoes followed by ice cream and two different kinds of pie may be delicious but it might leave you feeling awful and less able to tolerate other challenges. Moderation will make you feel better in the long run. Getting a bit of exercise or spending time with friends before or after the gathering can also be a way to stay relaxed and in a good mood during the holiday.
The danger doesn’t end with the holiday.
Keep in mind that the danger doesn’t end when you leave. Family gatherings can stir up old anxieties and insecurities. You may find yourself over what you said or should have said. It’s important to use strategies for self-soothing and limiting rumination. Talk it over with someone else or go to a meeting as soon as you can.
At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.