It’s a beautiful time of year, as October comes to a colorful end and November brings shorter days and the welcome break of Thanksgiving. Whether you look forward to the holiday or not will depend on many things: your work schedule, your family situation, how much you enjoy traditional Thanksgiving food, and how much work the holiday holds for you. If you’re newly (or old-ly) sober, maintaining your sobriety during the season may trump all of the other concerns.
As it should. You’ve worked hard for your sobriety, and you know how important it is to put it first, even when doing so may inconvenience you (or others). Let’s look at some tips to help you safeguard your sobriety this Thanksgiving.
Stick to the Recovery Plan
If you’ve completed substance use disorder treatment, you probably worked with your treatment team to create a relapse prevention plan. This may have included, among many other things, regular therapy, support group meetings, and friendships with other sober individuals. Don’t let these commitments fall back when life gets busy or your routine changes.
While it may feel frustrating to have to spend so much time on your recovery when Thanksgiving brings so many other chores, trust that a session with your therapist, a meeting with your support group, or coffee with a friend will help you slow down. You’ll be better able to put your to-do list in perspective. In this way, taking these times to focus on yourself and your sobriety will actually seem to slow time down rather than making it feel too full. It will create a spaciousness in which you can relax and breathe.
Relax and Breathe
Easy for us to say, right? But stress management is one of the primary skills required for maintaining sobriety. And while your recovery support system can help you manage stress, you’ll need some strategies to turn to when that support system isn’t available. One such strategy is meditation. If you don’t already make meditation a part of your daily routine, consider adding 10 minutes a day (or maybe twice a day–morning and evening) when you do nothing but sit in a quiet place and observe your breath. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. That’s it.
When the mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. If it feels like your mind is wandering the whole time, don’t judge yourself. Just notice the mental activity and trust that the 10 minutes of breathing is helping, even if it doesn’t seem like it. As you become accustomed to meditation, you’ll start to turn to it whenever you feel stressed. You’ll know that when the emotions or thoughts surge, you can pause and take a few moments to breathe.
Sometimes we think that with a holiday like Thanksgiving, we have to be on call the entire day. After all, it might be rare that you get to spend time with some of the people who come to Thanksgiving dinner, and you don’t want to waste it. Or maybe you worry that your family or friends will judge you if you aren’t at hand to provide much-needed help with all of the cooking and cleaning that are part of Thanksgiving. But a big family gathering can feel overwhelming, especially if you go into it thinking that you’ll have to be present and available the entire day.
There are a couple of ways to address this. Tell someone you trust that you’ll be needing to get away for short breaks now and then. You may even want to give this person a particular word, phrase, or nonverbal gesture that will be their cue to help extract you from the situation when you start to feel overwhelmed. This person may be a family member or a sober friend who understands what you’re going through.
Bring a Sober Friend
It’s always helpful to know you’re not alone. So even if your Thanksgiving dinner will be a family affair, don’t hesitate to invite a sober friend who can be your ally that day. If a sober friend is not available that day, or if you think your family would not welcome the intrusion, make sure to have someone on call. You can be there for each other and agree to answer a call or text immediately. If your day becomes too uncomfortable, excuse yourself and leave.
Maybe Don’t Have Thanksgiving at Your House?
If you have everyone come to your place, realize that there will be less opportunity for you to escape. If you know for sure that you adore your family and friends and will have no desire to leave them early, then go for it. But if you suspect you might need a break or if you know that you get easily stressed by hosting an event, celebrate the holiday somewhere else. But it’s tradition to have Thanksgiving at my house! I don’t want to disappoint anyone! I want to prove that I’m healthy now and capable of doing this! You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. It’s okay if people are disappointed–they’ll get over it. And your sobriety is more important than tradition. Which brings us to our final tip…
It’s Okay to Say No
Only you know what you need from the Thanksgiving holiday, and only you know what you need to protect your sobriety. Even the most encouraging and supportive family in the world will sometimes expect more from you than you’re able to provide. Be kind, but be firm. Set boundaries. Be your own best friend as you navigate November 23.
St. Gregory is Always Here if You Need Us
If you or a loved one are struggling with drug or alcohol use or worried you might relapse, reach out to our team in Bayard, Iowa. We can help you get back on track and find the hope required to move forward with confidence.