How to Stay Sober and Sane at Thanksgiving

Family at the dinner table at the Thanksgiving day.

What do you think of when you think of Thanksgiving? For some people, Thanksgiving calls to mind happy times with family and friends over a delicious turkey dinner accompanied by plenty of satisfying side dishes and pumpkin pie. But if you struggle with alcohol or addiction, your memories of Thanksgiving over the years probably include memories that aren’t quite so warm, fuzzy or pleasant.

Family get-togethers during Thanksgiving may traditionally include overindulgence on food, alcohol or other substances. Holidays in general may be full of stress and tension. How can you get through the holiday while maintaining not only your sobriety, but also your sanity?

The Many Possible Triggers for Relapse

If you have struggled with alcohol or addiction and are in recovery, holidays can trigger many uncomfortable feelings that could lead to the urge to pick up a drink or a drug, and Thanksgiving is no exception. There are many different reasons why holidays could be a threat to your sobriety.

Thanksgiving is a holiday when you may be expected to attend get-togethers where you will be surrounded by people who are drinking or drugging. It could also be a day when you feel extremely lonely if you don’t have anywhere in particular to go.

Family members or friends who still drink may not be supportive of your decision to give it up.

Even if members of your family aren’t likely to drink, being around your family may bring out the worst in you. They may seem to always say or do things that aggravate you and make you feel reactive.

Extreme emotional reactions can easily trigger the urge to pick up. You may feel the urge to drink or drug as soon as you start to anticipate being around certain people, or you may feel overwhelmed with the stress and expense of planning and preparing a large meal or a get-together. If you’re single, holidays may intensify feelings of loneliness and a sense that you don’t really belong anywhere

Support, Strength and Sanity

The answer to hanging on to your sobriety and your sanity at Thanksgiving is to remember that Thanksgiving is only one day. The uncomfortable feelings you may have will pass, and nothing that comes up on this one day is worth picking up over.

Go to some extra meetings around Thanksgiving if you can. In many areas, on Thanksgiving Day there will be more meetings than usual, such as a continuous 24-hour meeting to help people who feel shaky. Keep other sober people close by if at all possible. There is strength in numbers. Invite a sober friend or two to join you for Thanksgiving get-togethers. If that isn’t a possibility, make sure you have the phone numbers of sober people that you can call or text if you’re feeling vulnerable.

During the days or weeks just before the holiday arrives, it may help to journal about things or people that may cause you to feel tense or insane. Think through your possible triggers and be as prepared as you can. Awareness of triggers can protect you from acting out on them. 

Keeping Sobriety Your Top Priority

For those in recovery, staying sane depends on staying sober. The important thing is to remember that you can’t afford to pick up a drink or a drug no matter what. This may mean that you have to avoid certain settings. For example, if you know that every member of your family is going to become falling-down drunk on Thanksgiving or that they are going to insist that you should have just one drink, it may not be a safe environment for you. Everyone will get over it if you choose not to show up at all or if you make a brief appearance and leave early.

Do whatever you have to do to hang on to your sobriety. By hanging on to your sobriety, you have a much better shot at leading a sane and peaceful life than you will if you go back to drinking and drugging. Sobriety has to remain your top priority at all times. Staying sober, calm, peaceful and sane will truly give you something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

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