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Six Ways to Maintain Your Sobriety at a Thanksgiving Celebration

I first tried to quit drinking on November 11, 1995. By Thanksgiving of that year, I was clean, but I was scared to death of facing a holiday dinner without a drink. I remember standing by the bar in my grandmother’s house, downing Diet Coke in long gulps. I drank an entire case of Diet Coke during the evening, but I stayed sober. Now, I have more tools to maintain my recovery during the holidays. Here are some helpful tips for having a happy Thanksgiving celebration while remaining drug/alcohol free.

  1. Don’t do all the cooking. Cooking dinner for a dozen or so people isn’t the best way to have a low-stress holiday. Starting cooking at 3 a.m. is too much to ask of anyone, let alone someone in the early stages of addiction recovery. If you are the person on whom the pulling together of the holiday dinner rests, ask for help. Maybe you order a turkey from the grocery and ask everyone coming to bring a side dish. Maybe you go out to eat instead of having everyone over. Maybe you take a year off from being the hostess and go to someone else’s house. Set clear boundaries and know your limits.


  1. Write a gratitude list. Thanksgiving is about what we’re thankful for, not seeing who can overstuff their belly and reach food-coma first. If you’re feeling stressed or losing sight of what the holiday is about, write a gratitude list to bring your attention back to what is most important to you.


  1. Volunteer. The quickest way to feel better about your life is to help someone else. There are food pantries and kitchens all over the nation that need volunteer help. You might consider visiting a relative in a nursing home or making arrangements to assist at a VA dinner for elderly veterans (but don’t just show up unannounced). If you give of yourself, the family griping and slights may not feel so pronounced.


  1. Go to a 12 step meeting. If you’re in a 12-step program, it’s always a good idea to go to a meeting where you can be of service and share about your concerns.


  1. Have dinner with a friend. Especially if you are going to a family gathering where things might be tense or difficult, having a friend with you who will support you can make things a whole lot better. In some cases, family will be on better behavior if a non-family-member is around. In other cases, your friend can help you keep things in perspective and keep you from escalating a situation if unkind words are said.


  1. If all else fails, don’t go. If you are new in recovery, or even if you’re not, and going to a family or work function is just too much of a trigger for you, don’t go. Your health and life come first. Take care of yourself.