Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for those in recovery, as many holidays can be.
During these times, each person in recovery will have to deconstruct their expectations of the holidays and begin to establish new practices and traditions that can help support their continued sobriety. However, planning for Thanksgiving can take a lot of work to ensure that someone is minimizing their chances of stressors and establishing coping strategies and contingency plans to remain safe through the holiday. While someone may feel as if their use of an addictive substance or behavior may be intricately linked to Thanksgiving, it is never too late to change traditions or create new plans that can help support ongoing sobriety while still enjoying the holiday.
Host the Holiday Yourself
If possible, one of the best ways to mitigate the chances of someone experiencing unforeseen triggers or stressors is to host the Thanksgiving feast at their place, where they can control the environment as much as possible. Hosting the event can help keep someone busy with cooking and serving for others rather than drinking and can help someone be close to all of their coping tools, including a safe space for them to get away if needed. It can provide a great sense of purpose as a host, which can continually distract someone from the temptations of any alcohol present that would otherwise compromise one’s sobriety from drinking. By hosting one’s party, it is even possible to let others know that there will not be alcohol present at all. Instead, it will be a sober Thanksgiving, mitigating the chances that someone will assume otherwise and putting the feast even more within one’s control.
It also allows someone to begin to create new traditions themselves. By hosting one’s own Thanksgiving, someone can set up outdoor activities or games instead of traditions, such as watching sports. Traditions may bring back memories of one’s engagement with an addictive substance or behavior. They thus may cause urges to re-engage with a past addiction if participating in these traditions. Creating new traditions, even with something as simple as playing a board game as a family, can ascribe new purpose and meaning to one’s Thanksgiving and create a holiday with a fresh feel that looks towards the future.
Plan the Whole Day
For those who cannot host their own Thanksgiving, it is still possible to enjoy the holiday. However, it does require some planning. Knowing how dinner will look on Thanksgiving Day and how the whole day may play out is important. Planning where someone will be at any given time, for how long, and with whom they may be sharing company makes it possible to get a good idea of the outline of the holiday. This can help someone structure their holiday and decrease the chances of surprises causing unwanted urges or stressors.
Planning also means having contingencies in place. Even if someone has practiced some coping mechanisms, it is still important to let others know that someone is attending a Thanksgiving party, especially if there are chances that alcohol may be present. Having sober participants aware of the party and ready by the phone can give someone the feeling of a safety net just in case urges begin to manifest.
It is also beneficial to have at least one family member know that someone intends to remain sober and can be an in-person support system for any difficulties. This kind of company and contact can also help someone create an escape plan in case things begin to feel too complicated, so someone can return to a safe space with supportive people rather than continue to put themselves in a risky situation.
Thanksgiving is a time of getting together, but that doesn’t mean the holiday will look the same in someone’s new sober life. These changes in one’s traditions and expectations during the holidays don’t mean that someone is giving up on their traditions, but instead, taking hold of what the holiday means to them and how they can continue celebrating alongside friends, family, and loved ones safely.
Hosting a Thanksgiving feast can give someone a sense of control over the food and beverages being served and help maintain a sober environment, and having plans in place can help keep someone supported through difficult situations and keep one’s sobriety at the forefront of their minds.
The holidays are an important time to get together, but they can also provide many stressors for those in recovery or struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
It is essential not to feel left out or alone for Thanksgiving. Many AA Meetings are hosting Thanksgiving get-togethers. For a guide to AA Meetings in your area, go to www.aa.org/meeting-guide-app
You will find loving and caring people there.
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