During the initial stages of recovery, people are still learning new coping skills and how to deal with everyday situations and the triggers they can bring. During the holiday season, maintaining good habits can be difficult, but if this is your first Thanksgiving in recovery, these tips can help you learn how to stay sober and navigate this uncharted territory successfully.
Be Thankful And Grateful
Thanksgiving is about appreciation and being thankful for what we have. Truly, there is no greater blessing that maintaining recovery and sobriety. Use a diary or journal to note the things in your life that you are grateful for, and to remind yourself of your commitment to recovery while allowing yourself to enjoy the holiday.
Also, sending heartfelt, personal notes of appreciation to people who have supported you and helped you with your recovery is another positive way to show thanks.
Now you can relax and make plans to enjoy the holiday.
Engage In Self-Care
If you are experiencing depression or anxiety in addition to being newly sober, holiday gatherings can be a bit overwhelming. Beforehand, take time to meditate, do yoga, or some other activity that will help you reduce stress.
And don’t be afraid to bring sobriety tools along with you, such as headphones and music to give you a break and occupy you if you start feeling overwhelmed.
Consider The Past
If you are planning on attending a social event, reflect on past holidays and ask yourself the following:
- Was I stressed or anxious, or did I feel comfortable?
- Was there drinking and partying?
- Was there family conflict?
- What would my triggers be?
- Will there be others there that have hurt me in the past, or potentially offer present drama?
By reviewing the past and your experiences, you can better prepare yourself to identify triggers and events that may tempt you to engage in substance abuse. Being sober doesn’t mean that everyone else has changed, or that things will be dramatically different. Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
Start New Traditions
For many in recovery, drinking or other substance abuse may be an integral part of your holiday tradition. But instead, you could organize a game of football with your family and friends, or volunteer at a local shelter for the homeless or battered women. Attend a 12-step meeting or some other support group.
Remember, there is no wrong way to spend your day, as long as you remain positive and maintain your commitment to recovery.
Develop An Entrance Plan
After a careful review of events and circumstances that could make you feel stressed or tempted to drink or use, plan how to attend and when to get there. Is it better to go early before the crowd shuffles in, or later to avoid encounters with others?
Should you attend with a “sober date,” or is it in your best interest (and the interest of your recovery) to opt out altogether? Ask other friends who already know how to stay sober on Thanksgiving.
If you choose the latter, find a way to communicate with your loved ones that you are thankful but that you must make this decision to keep yourself away from triggers and temptations. Instead, you can plan something special with others, such as friends from a sober group.
Stick To Good Nutrition
Thanksgiving is a time for many people to indulge in a feast, but remember that healthy eating habits support your sobriety. If possible, begin with a salad, choose moderate portions of your favorite dishes, and then end on just one special dessert. Eat slowly and savor your meal.
One mistake that people make when planning for Thanksgiving is that they come to dinner with an empty stomach. Doing this may increase the likelihood of overeating and eating the wrong things, and being hungry can also make it more challenging to regulate emotions and keep cravings for substances at bay.
Bring Your Own Beverages
Most hosts will provide non-alcoholic beverages, but you can avoid this problem altogether by bringing your own special drinks that you know you will enjoy, such as sparkling cider or grape juice, flavored water, etc. Bring enough to share with others so that they may also partake in non-alcoholic drinks right along with you.
Develop An Exit Plan
You may not need it, but it usually a good idea to consider an exit or escape plan if the situation gets too stressful or overwhelming.
Perhaps you can have a friend on “standby” who can text or call you with an urgent message that gives you a good “out” if you feel like you need to leave the event. Or, find out the schedule of nearby support groups and plan to go straight to a meeting.
Or, you can inform others that you have another engagement later and will need to leave the party early if you feel like you may not be up for the entire event. Moreover, consider how long you can comfortably stay without posing a threat to your sobriety or general well-being. It is also perfectly acceptable to acknowledge to others that you are in recovery and may need to leave.
How To Stay Sober: In General, Be Realistic
It’s usually best to be honest as possible with loved ones, but at least be clear about your boundaries during the recovery process. Don’t expect drastic changes. Although things may be different for you, they are mostly the same for many others.
However, if possible, consider giving your loved ones the opportunity to see the evolving you, and realize that any amount of positive engagement during the holiday can help build confidence in yourself. It is this confidence and inner strength that you will need to successfully sustain your sobriety throughout recovery.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology, author of How To Stay Sober On Thanksgiving