While some of us live for the smell of a roasted turkey or the warmth of a baked apple pie, there are others who are strongly triggered by these sensations surrounding Thanksgiving. A time where families are meant to gather and feast can be a very stressful and overwhelming concept for many people. Regardless if you are struggling with addiction, in recovery or an ally of people in recovery, a setting for celebration can create anxiety and emotional tension. It is important to be honest with yourself if you feel that you are ready to participate in traditions that may include being confronted with hardships. Certain people, places and food/drink could knock us off our path to recovery fairly quickly if we do not keep awareness and focus during these times. To decide whether or not you should attend a Thanksgiving party or dinner, think to yourself what is most conducive to your recovery. If that is to be surrounded by family and friends that love and support you, then do it! If you are fearing questions, comments, concerns and being in an environment that substances are being used, maybe think of alternative plans or create an exit strategy in case of conflict.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. The more you practice your coping techniques and deregulation skills before the event, the more readily available they will be for you in the heat of the moment! Think of topics you can discuss with family that does not revolve around recovery or addiction. Bring board games or card games that can help distract you and others. If you occupy yourself with baking dessert or clearing dishes, you are less likely to engage family members who are renowned for picking fights. If your family situation is a threat to your sobriety – or you are facing a holiday of isolation – staying busy is just as important. Twelve step fellowships utilize a phrase to describe a common holiday relapse trapdoor; they call it “stinkin’ thinking”. This type of negative thinking is born of isolation and can be exacerbated by the stress of the holiday season. You may get stuck focusing on what you don’t have or what’s not going right. One way to avoid the “stinkin’ thinking” trap is to host a “Friendsgiving”. Invite your friends or recovery peers over for a meal.
Be aware of recovery meetings that are happening throughout the day and allow yourself to attend as few or as many as you need. You can make time in your day to treat your substance use disorder or you can neglect to address it. When you make time to focus on your recovery, you ground yourself in positive thinking. Your day is bound to go smoothly when you are firmly rooted in a positive, recovery oriented mindset. Other people may behave negatively, but you will be able to respond from a healthy place. Furthermore, even if you struggle to connect with your relatives, a recovery meeting guarantees you will connect with people who understand exactly what you’re going through.
Whatever this Thanksgiving looks like for you, remember to stay focused on you! Stay in the moment and use your skills. Be thankful for today and do what you need to create a better tomorrow.
Other helpful tips to prepare yourself for Thanksgiving gatherings:
- If you’re nervous about how much you can handle, you can also inform your host that you are only able to stay for an allotted period of time. Early recovery is fragile. Advance preparation will sustain your balance when life catches you off guard.
- Give yourself a ten minute break to call or text a sober friend when needed. Alternately, invite a supportive person to attend dinner with you.
- Offer driving others so you can provide a reason for not drinking.
- Remember, You alone are responsible for protecting your sobriety, but you are not responsible for how others respond.