When a person is still in the beginning stages of recovery, they are still developing new and healthy mechanisms for coping with the many triggering situations that daily life can bring. This gets even harder over the holiday season, but these tips can help you maintain your sobriety during one of the most trying times of the year.
Show Your Thankfulness and Gratitude
Thanksgiving is all about being thankful and appreciating the good things in our lives. For an addict, no blessing is greater than the continuance of the strength it takes to maintain sobriety.
It may benefit you to keep a journal or diary or simply use a notepad to actually write down the things in your life for which you are grateful. This act can remind you how valuable your commitment to recovery is and has been while allowing you to enjoy time with your loved ones.
Furthermore, giving out personalized and heartfelt notes of appreciation to the loved ones who have supported you in recovery is a great way to show your thankfulness directly.
Reflect on the Past
If your Thanksgiving plans involve attending some kind of social event, think about holidays from the past and ask yourself:
1) Was it anxiety-inducing, stressful, or uncomfortable?
2) Were people partying, drinking, or using drugs?
3) Were family members in conflict with one another?
4) Were there any triggers?
5) Will there be people there that have wronged me in the past or who will start drama?
Sometimes our family and friends can undermine our recovery more than they support it. If you can reflect on past experiences and save yourself from possible temptation, it is wise to avoid it.
Just because you have changed your life for the better doesn’t mean others have done the same. As the saying goes: Hope for the best but prepare for the worst—or just stay home to make sure someone else’s drama doesn’t cause you to derail your whole life again.
It is best to try to be as honest as you can with your family and friends. Be clear about your boundaries and goals for recovery. Still, don’t expect everyone else to fall over each other to make the day easy for you. Despite life being completely changed for you, it’s pretty much unchanged for others.
But it’s definitely a good idea to let others witness your personal evolution. Positive engagement with friends and family helps reinforce your self-confidence and, ultimately, your recovery.
Engage in Self-Care
It is common for a newly sober person to deal with extra bouts of anxiety or depression. And holiday gatherings can be as overwhelming as they are enjoyable. Before the big get-together, perhaps try meditation or yoga to center yourself and reduce stress.
Things such as headphones and music to escape into are common sobriety tools, so don’t hesitate to take them with you if you need something to anchor yourself and keep from becoming overwhelmed.
Maintain Healthy Nutrition
It can be incredibly tempting to absolutely pig out on Thanksgiving food and go into a tryptophan coma. But remember that healthy eating habits are a powerful support tool for sobriety.
Eating to the point of feeling sick can weaken your resolve to stay sober, so balancing your portions and dining in moderation is a wise choice. Savor your meal and eat it slowly, and limit yourself to maybe just one dessert.
It might also be a mistake to arrive at Thanksgiving dinner on an empty stomach—good luck resisting the urge to overeat. Not to mention, being hungry makes it hard to regulate your emotions. It is okay to eat breakfast or an early lunch to set yourself up for successfully resisting the urge to drink or use.
Bring Your Own Beverages
Many times, the host will have drinks like soda, water, milk, etc., for people to enjoy. But just in case they don’t, bring your own beverages, such as sparkling cider, club soda, flavored water, or grape juice. This will help ensure that you don’t pick up just because you are thirsty.
Plan Your Entrance Ahead of Time
After you’ve reflected on the past and thought about how the events will go if you decide to participate, be sure to make a plan that can help you either avoid or sail through tough situations. Maybe show up earlier than most others to avoid the awkwardness and attention that arrivals can sometimes bring about.
Or maybe it would be better to show up later to avoid certain encounters with people. Taking a sober companion may provide you with a much-needed failsafe mechanism that can pull you out of trouble before it happens.
Or you could just stay home. Still, make sure to communicate to your loved ones that you are thankful and committed to remaining sober by avoiding the triggers that events can bring. Instead, maybe you could plan a gathering with your sober friends or friends from a group meeting.
Plan Your Exit Ahead of Time
Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but it is a great idea to cover all your bases and have an escape plan just in case things get too overwhelming. Perhaps you could have a sober companion who you can call or text that provides you with a good excuse to leave.
You could also just say you have some other Thanksgiving gathering to go to, and that’s why you are leaving early. Ultimately, if you are trying to maintain your sobriety, it is nobody else’s business.
Consider how long you can bear any possible stress before it starts to undermine your willpower to stay sober. If you are struggling, head out. And again, it’s totally acceptable to level with people and just say you are in recovery and feeling triggered, and that’s why you have to leave. If they don’t understand that, their opinion isn’t that valuable anyway.
Think About Starting New Traditions
Most people in recovery come from alcohol- or drug-using families and friend groups. Unfortunately, drinking is quite often a traditional component of the holiday experience for most people. Instead of just sitting inside and drinking, maybe organize a new activity, such as a family or friend football game.
Or do something totally different like volunteering at a local homeless or battered women’s shelter. And, of course, many 12-step groups still meet on holidays, so you can find solace among your comrades there.
Keep in mind that the only wrong way to spend your day is relapsing. There is no other wrong way to enjoy Thanksgiving, so stay positive and committed to sobriety.