Gatherings during the holidays, like Thanksgiving can provide an opportunity for family and friends to have a relaxing celebration and fellowship. We can have wholesome conversations, delicious food, and enjoy the opportunity to reflect and share stories about what we are thankful for. For those of us in recovery, Thanksgiving can pose special risks in the form of triggers that can put us at high-risk for relapse.
Avoid a Relapse During Thanksgiving
Big social gatherings can cause anxiety and fear while also bringing up feelings of isolation. By understanding the unique challenges of being in recovery during the holidays and how to respond to those challenges, we can minimize the risk for relapse. Stay on the path to recovery during the holiday with a few helpful tips.
- Practice an Attitude of Gratitude – Thanksgiving is a time to count your blessings and there is no bigger blessing than being in recovery. Reflect on what you are grateful for and write it down. This is an excellent way to commit to your sobriety in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Sending messages to those who have helped you with your recovery is another great way to express your gratitude. Practicing an attitude of gratitude will allow you to focus on the progress you have made in recovery.
- Create Sober Traditions – While actively using, a lot of our traditions get lost, and trying to navigate holidays after years of not being present emotionally, physically, and spiritually can be difficult. Some of our family traditions on Thanksgiving can involve drinking so it is important to think about some new traditions. Creating some new holiday traditions can be a way to celebrate being sober during the holidays. You could create a trivia contest, play a game of flag football, play board games, give back to your community, or create something unique. The goal is to make new, healthy memories with your sober support.
- Schedule Self-Care – Holidays can be a time for large gatherings and focusing on giving to others. We know that while it is important to give back to others, it is just as important to give back to ourselves. Scheduling self-care time during the busy holiday season will be important to deal with any depression, anxiety, restlessness, or discontent this time of year can bring. Taking time to give back to yourself can look like meditation, yoga, listening to music, attending a meeting, journaling, or any other self-care activity you enjoy. 15-minutes of self-care per day will make a big difference during the holiday season!
- Eat a Well-Balanced Thanksgiving Meal – We know that food can impact our mood, so it is important to eat a well-balanced meal during Thanksgiving. Keeping in mind the healthy eating habits we have used to support our recovery will be vital. Make a point to eat slowly and mindfully, by giving your full attention to your food so you can savor every bite. Make a plate that is full of your favorite entrees and side dishes with appropriate portions. A common mistake we make while planning our Thanksgiving feast is eating on an empty stomach. We will hold off on eating all day to overindulge on our dinner. Remember, that hunger can be a relapsed trigger as it makes it harder to regulate your emotions and control your cravings for drugs and alcohol.
- Prepare for Triggers – Planning for our triggers during the holidays will allow us to be better prepared in case we experience them. Identify your triggers: people, places, things, and situations and then identify strategies for managing them. If you are going to a family gathering knowing your family will consume alcoholic beverages, how will you plan for that? You can bring non-alcoholic beverages, ask your family/friends to not drink around you, or identify if it is too high-risk to be around people drinking. Has an escape route planned or a code word for whoever you go out with, so they know it is time to leave? It is a way to gracefully exit a situation that starts to feel like it is too much. Make sure your “toolbox” of skills is ready to go to help you manage any trigger that arises during the holidays.
- Schedule your Day – Downtime and boredom can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and restlessness, especially during the holidays. A way to help you avoid excessive downtime is to plan out your days. Schedule each day and what you will be doing throughout each hour to avoid any downtime that can negatively impact your recovery. Self-help groups increase their meetings during the holidays, so it is important to identify meetings you want to go to and schedule them between any holiday commitments. Schedule your meetings, self-care time, social time, and any other important part of your recovery. If you have a schedule to follow, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed by the additional tasks the holidays can add to our schedule.
- What to do if your Loved Ones do not want you Home – While the holidays can be a time of joyful celebration, spending time with loved ones, and eating great food, for some of us in recovery, Thanksgiving can also leave us feeling lonely, bored, and sad. During active use we negatively impact our relationships, so for some of us, our families and loved ones may not be ready to have us home. Being alone on Thanksgiving can be an emotional trigger so it is important to take steps and preventative measures to protect our sobriety. The best thing to do when you are alone on the holiday is to try to attend a self-help meeting like AA, NA, SMART recovery, or Dharma Recovery. Opportunities to volunteer are also a great way to give back and stay focused on your recovery. Try to find sober events where other individuals in recovery enjoy Thanksgiving in a sober setting. The app Meetup is an easy tool to find sober events and meetups. The best thing you can do is create a plan to stay busy and focused on your sobriety so that you are not isolating on the holiday.
Have a Happy and Sober Thanksgiving!
Whether you are in early recovery or have years of sobriety, celebrating the holidays can be a high-risk time for relapse. The holidays can bring the opportunity for each of us to appreciate how much we have changed and how lucky we are to be working on our recovery every single day. By understanding the unique challenges of being in recovery during the holidays and how to respond to those challenges, we can minimize the risk for relapse. What will you do to stay focused on your recovery during the holidays?
Brittany King, LMHC