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Managing Sobriety This Thanksgiving

Coping with Holiday Stressors

Thanksgiving conjures up images of happy families traveling to spend the holiday together. Grandma or mom is presiding over the kitchen, fixing a glorious meal that rivals any meal seen on a magazine cover. Grandpa or dad is watching the game on television. Happy children are playing and adorable dogs are romping. Even the family cat is happy.

But what if your Thanksgiving doesn’t look like that? What if your family doesn’t get along? What if your Thanksgiving is populated by actual real humans instead of entertainers direct from filming a Thanksgiving special? 

For some, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time with family. For others, it is filled with stress, anxiety, or loneliness. If you have recently embraced a sober lifestyle, Thanksgiving can be particularly stressful.

Several aspects of Thanksgiving can be stressful and potentially triggering, especially for people newly in recovery. These stressors include traveling, staying in someone else’s house, and Thanksgiving dinner itself. With a little planning, however, Thanksgiving can be a pleasant, substance-free time.

Traveling During the Thanksgiving Holiday

If you have to fly to reach your destination, bear in mind that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days in the entire year. If you hate crowds or are afraid of flying, and you are committed to sobriety, you will face some challenges.

Since you no longer will have a drink or two to help you deal with a jam-packed airport, canceled flights, and lots of time spent waiting, you will have to resort to other, albeit healthier, coping mechanisms. Allow more time than you think you need. If the airline says to be there two hours in advance of your flight, do it. Maybe even come a little before that. The last thing you want during Thanksgiving is to be anxious about missing your flight. Bear in mind that the other travelers will possibly be anxious and short-tempered. Call upon the resources you learned in recovery, like deep breathing, to stay as relaxed as possible.

If you are afraid of flying and this is your first time flying sober, you are facing another challenge. Use deep breathing or another technique that you can do seated. This can get you through takeoff and landing, and any turbulence that you may encounter in the air. Bring a book or game to distract yourself. In addition, travel with as little luggage as possible.

Staying in Someone Else’s Home

Staying in your parents’ or a sibling’s home can be a source of stress. Even if your relationships with your family are positive, visiting your childhood home as an adult can bring back childhood memories and possibly unresolved issues. When you are a guest in someone’s home, you need to abide by their rules and be mindful of their schedule. Although it can be fun for everyone to be together under one roof, it can throw off your routine. Ask your host (your mom? dad? sister?) if they mind if you do yoga in the living room at 5 a.m., go for a run every night two hours after dinner, or find an AA meeting to attend while you are in the area.

If your family enjoys wine with dinner, a beer while watching the game, or cocktails before dinner, give some thought to how you will handle the situation. If your family already knows that you aren’t drinking, your situation is easier. If your family or some family members don’t know and they are accustomed to seeing you with a drink in your hand, you may want to have a conversation with them before you arrive. This proactive approach can minimize awkwardness and may give you and them a chance to have a real discussion about the changes you have made in your life–if that’s a discussion you want to have. In any case, bring along whatever it is you like to drink and enough to share.

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day festivities may include other relatives and family friends. Not all of these guests may know that you are sober by choice. As you would before going into any social situation where alcohol may be served, spend a little time thinking of what you will say if and when someone offers you a drink. Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation; a simple “no, thank you” should suffice. Nevertheless, there are a few strategies and techniques that can help ease any awkwardness that could arise.

  • Help in the kitchen. It’ll be difficult for anyone to offer you a drink if you are busy.
  • Keep a glass in your hand. If you already have a drink, no one will offer you one.
  • Bring a festive nonalcoholic beverage to dinner. Other people may enjoy it as well.
  • Have a few responses ready if someone asks you why you aren’t drinking: you are taking medication that doesn’t interact well with alcohol; you are training for an event and you have an early workout scheduled the next day; you’ve lost your taste for it. Or you could simply tell people that you don’t drink anymore and change the subject.

Thanksgiving and other holidays can be stressful for anyone, especially if you have recently chosen a sober lifestyle. With a little forethought and planning, however, you can go and enjoy spending time with people you love while maintaining your sobriety.

Holidays and social events can be stressful, but in the recovery treatment program at Enlightened Solutions, you will learn the life skills you need to navigate social situations confidently as you move forward in your new life, sober by choice. Enlightened Solutions, located in New Jersey’s south shore area, tailors a recovery program to meet the needs of each individual client. The focus is on healing the whole person, not just stopping the addictive behaviors. The treatment options include talk therapy, both one-on-one and in groups, and a wide range of holistic treatment modalities including acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, yoga, sound therapy, family constellation therapy, horticultural therapy, art and music therapy, and more. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction or other mental health challenge and is seeking compassionate therapy in a comfortable and soothing environment, call Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483.