From traveling to cooking to handling any family tension, Thanksgiving comes with a number of stressors.
When you’re in recovery from alcohol addiction, you face additional stressors in the form of addiction triggers, such as being around alcohol or seeing people you used to drink with.
Here are 10 tips that have helped other people in recovery enjoy a sober Thanksgiving:
1. 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.
2. Practice Self-Care
Supporting your physical and mental health through self-care is a good way to help prevent triggers and experience a better Thanksgiving overall.
Good self-care includes getting at least seven hours of sleep, eating nutritious foods, not skipping meals, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a slice of pumpkin pie or two over the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s just a reminder to look for ways to create balance during what can be a time of excess.
3. 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 a mug.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Embrace Vulnerability
You might be feeling vulnerable over Thanksgiving as a newly sober or even long-time sober person. But remember that it’s OK to feel this way.
In fact, feeling vulnerable gives us the opportunity to practice courage. Take a few deep, slow breaths if you’re feeling overwhelmed, and remember some of the other tips provided here.
Also, keep in mind that everyone else is most likely experiencing elevated levels of stress and anxiety this time of year, so they may be feeling vulnerable too.
9. Schedule Pre-Party Laughter
Nothing helps bust tension like a good belly laugh. Research shows that just 15 minutes of laughter a day can have a significant positive impact on our health.
Is there a particularly funny movie or series that you like? Or a YouTube channel that regularly gets you giggling?
Laughter yoga is another option to try. The practice is based on research that shows that voluntary laughter has the same health benefits as spontaneous laughter, including the ability to reduce stress, strengthen the immune system, and encourage positive emotions.
10. 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.
Practical Steps To Take If You Or A Loved One Relapses On Thanksgiving
Alcohol addiction is a lifelong disorder that requires learning new behaviors and habits. It does get easier as the days go by, but relapse is a possibility because we can’t always predict what will happen and how we’ll react.
Here are a few steps to take if you experience a relapse this Thanksgiving:
1. Seek help. For some people, entering an addiction treatment facility for a period of time will be the most helpful. Others might require a partial hospitalization program or intensive outpatient program.
Your addiction care providers can help you make the right choice. It might make sense for some people to attend a 12-step group meeting in the meantime.
2. View it as a step on the path to recovery. Relapse happens. It might feel like the end of the world, but it isn’t. Look at the relapse as a chance to reevaluate and adjust your sobriety plan with your healthcare team.
3. Be kind to yourself. You might see looks of concern on the faces of your loved ones at this time. What they are feeling and thinking isn’t as important as what you’re feeling and thinking right now.
Make space for any feelings of disappointment and breathe through them. They won’t last forever. Remind yourself of how far you’ve come and know that you have the strength to get back on track.
Find Addiction Help Today
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