Thanksgiving marks the kickoff of the holiday season for many. Usually a gathering of friends and family, the intent of Thanksgiving events are to help us to reconnect with all the people we love most in a day and age where there is rarely time to stop and spend time with one another.
While this is a noble goal, it is not always the reality of the situation. Many people in recovery find family gatherings for events like Thanksgiving dinner to be extremely stressful and, as a result, a trigger for relapse. Family dynamics, long-term disputes, and issues that occurred during active addiction can all make Thanksgiving dinner extremely uncomfortable – or it can be a wonderful and supportive experience for the person in recovery.
Because you can never know until you try, many individuals in recovery go in as “armed” as they can be with positive coping mechanisms and tools to manage any difficult situations if they arise, and others opt out. Both are perfectly fine. Your recovery comes first, and you need to make the decision that is right for you.
Many people in recovery spend Thanksgiving at the home of a family member or friend. Not sure if your uncle is going to get blitzed and knock over the dessert table again, or if your cousin is going to offer to get you high in the basement? Here are a few things you can do if you are attending a family event or going to a friend’s house this year for Thanksgiving:
- Bring a sober friend. It’s always a good thing to have backup – someone who knows your concerns about different people and will be able to help you through awkward situations. It’s unlikely, for example, that a family member will bring up an embarrassing choice that you made prior to entering an addiction treatment program to hurt you in front of a friend, but if that happens, your friend can step in, back you up, and ease your discomfort as well as your urge to drink or get high.
- Hire a sober companion. If you don’t have any sober friends who are available to escort you to your family event, consider hiring someone who will serve the same purpose. This person can hold you accountable for your choices throughout Thanksgiving, talk you through rough patches, and support you no matter what happens.
- Have an escape route. If you show up to Thanksgiving dinner and it’s clear before the first round of appetizers hit the table that this situation is just not where you should spend the day, there’s nothing stopping you from hitting the road. You can do so gracefully by having an escape route at the ready – a friend in need, a crisis at work, or whatever suits your situation. Politely make your regrets and thank the host for the invitation on your way out.
- Have a “no, thank you” excuse ready. Unless the Thanksgiving dinner you are going to is hosted by someone who is sober, then you will likely be offered a beer or a glass of wine at some point in the day. It doesn’t have to be a tense situation if you are prepared with an offhand reason for saying “no,” such as, “I’m driving and I may have to leave early, so I’d better not.”
- Bring your own beverage. Make sure that your hostess isn’t uncomfortable and that you have more to drink than water by bringing a couple bottles of sparkling apple cider or another beverage you enjoy.
If you are open to trying something new this Thanksgiving, you can:
- Host a nontraditional Thanksgiving. Why not host your own Thanksgiving this year? And why not make it fun and different? Pick a theme and ask everyone to bring a dish that represents that theme in some way. Make it a tree-trimming party, have everyone bring a different ornament, and decorate your house for the holidays together after you eat. Of course, you can choose the guest list and make it clear that it’s a sober event.
- Get out of town. If it’s just too much for you to stay home and be by yourself on Thanksgiving, and you have nowhere you’d like to go, take a vacation instead. While some places may be packed due to the holiday, others will be wide open for the same reason, so take your time to look around and see what’s available. Then, spend the long weekend exploring a new place.
- Attend a sober Thanksgiving event. There are numerous sober organizations that host Thanksgiving meals and other events over the long holiday for people in recovery. Talk to your therapist and ask around at 12-Step meetings to find out what is happening.
- Go to a 12-Step meeting or other sober support group. Though some support groups will not meet over the holidays because so many people travel or are busy, some make a point of meeting over the long weekend. Find out which of your regular meetings will be available to you, and find alternative meetings and support groups if necessary.
- Volunteer on Thanksgiving Day. Homeless shelters, churches, synagogues, and nonprofit organizations all hold Thanksgiving meals and request the assistance of volunteers. If you have nowhere you’d rather be, why not give back to the community on Thanksgiving?
How will you navigate the holiday season without relapse?