From traveling to cooking to dealing with family tension, Thanksgiving brings a number of stressors. When you’re in recovery from alcohol addiction, you face an additional stressor: alcohol at the dinner table.
Luckily, you can take a number of steps to enjoy a calm, sober Thanksgiving.
1. Bring Your Own Drinks
Some Thanksgiving dinner hosts only offer alcohol. That’s why you should bring plenty of your own non-alcoholic beverages.
While you could stick to basic drinks like water, soda, or iced tea, you can also bring some more festive options, such as apple cider and hot chocolate. In addition, you can take along ingredients for your favorite mocktails.
No matter what you bring, always have a drink in your hand. This lowers the chance of someone offering you alcohol. If you’re worried that someone will ask why you’re not drinking alcohol, disguise your beverages in red solo cups.
2. Prepare For Triggers
A trigger is anything that makes you want to drink alcohol. Some of the most common triggers include:
- people you used to drink alcohol with
- the smell of alcohol
- unpleasant emotions, such as stress, anger, or sadness
Consider your own triggers and whether they might appear at a Thanksgiving get-together. Then, plan how you’ll handle them.
Many people cope with triggers by breathing deeply and thinking of all the reasons they quit drinking in the first place. Others relocate to a calm, private area (such as a guest bedroom) or take a walk around the block.
In addition, you can reduce the risk of emotional triggers by meeting your basic self-care needs. In other words, get at least seven hours of sleep, eat nutritious foods, drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly.
3. Lean On Sober Friends
When you see all your friends and family members drinking, it’s normal to feel alone and uncomfortable. These feelings can lead to intense alcohol cravings.
Before the festivities begin, ask your sober friends if you can call or text them should you get overwhelmed. They can help you manage triggers and motivate you to stay sober.
Also, if possible, bring a sober friend to the celebration. You won’t have to worry about being the only alcohol-free guest. Plus, if your friend is also in recovery, you can support them as they support you.
4. Attend 12-Step Meetings
At a 12-step group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), you can connect with other people facing the same Thanksgiving-related anxieties.
You can also learn relapse prevention strategies from people who’ve survived numerous sober holidays. Nearly every town hosts 12-step meetings, so you should be able to find one even if you’re traveling.
Many 12-step groups run meetings all day long on Thanksgiving. That’s because group leaders know how challenging the holidays are. To start the day off strong, try a morning meeting. You can return at the end of the night to process any difficult experiences if necessary.
5. Plan An Exit Strategy
No matter how much you want to celebrate Thanksgiving with your loved ones, your health needs to be your first priority. That’s why you should plan an exit strategy in case you feel close to relapsing.
First, make sure you can leave the event whenever you want. Drive yourself, and only bring other people if they understand your situation and agree to leave if you get overwhelmed.
You should also plan how you’ll respond when someone asks why you’re leaving. Some people give direct, honest explanations, such as “I’m feeling triggered, and I need to leave so I can maintain my recovery.”
Others prefer to make up excuses, such as “I have to go walk my dog” or “I have to meet up with some friends.” Do whatever feels most comfortable.
6. Create New Traditions
Although some people might argue otherwise, you don’t need alcohol to celebrate Thanksgiving or any other holiday. This year, start some alcohol-free traditions, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen or going to the movies.
You could also host your own sober Thanksgiving celebration. Make some seasonal mocktails, such as virgin apple cider sangria, and plan sober activities like board games, trivia, and dancing. If you choose to invite any non-sober guests, make sure they know the event is alcohol-free.
7. Express Gratitude
Thanksgiving encourages us to practice gratitude. While gratitude benefits everyone, it’s particularly helpful for people in addiction recovery. That’s because it can boost your mood and decrease stress, making it easier to stay sober.
To start your gratitude practice, list some things you’re grateful for. They can be big things, like beating alcohol addiction, or small things, like enjoying a cup of hot chocolate. You can also think of all the people who helped you get where you are today.
When you focus on the positives, you’ll find it easier to ignore cravings, live in the moment, and build the life you want.
If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. Our substance abuse treatment programs offer medical detox, mental health counseling, and other evidence-based, recovery-focused services.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Handling urges to drink
National Institute on Drug Abuse — 12-Step Facilitation Therapy
National Institutes of Health — Practicing Gratitude