I chose to stop drinking in January of this year and have gotten through a lot of sober “firsts” since then, Thursday will be my first sober Thanksgiving. Apologies in advance to the Turkey Day Devotees out there but, I hate Thanksgiving. (Not a fan of Christmas either but I’ll jingle those bells next month.) Only thing that got me through the prior 30+ Thanksgivings was alcohol. Lots of it.
Mainly, I dislike Thanksgiving because of the family pressure. Given my childhood Traumas, I am not too keen on spending time with parental figures and distant family that you only see once a year. This brings up my anxiety, several triggers, paranoia, and constant self-doubt. Am I dressed okay? Do I look alright? Why isn’t anyone talking to me? Do they like me? Am I being entertaining enough? Am I acting too drunk? Is it rude if I just go ahead and open another bottle? Have we really been here for 3 hours drinking yet haven’t even had dinner yet? When will this damn dinner be over and when can we leave? Well, too bad you feel that way Laura- the calendar says so, damnit, and now you have to spend the longest meal known to man, chit chatting every last ounce of your energy away, while consuming 5,000 calories because society expects you to. Grrrrrrrrr.
Alcohol was my Thanksgiving savior, social lubricant working all its magic, allowing me to feel inauthentically happy and carefree- alcohol gave me the power to talk more (even though I was slurring), listen more (even though I recall little of what was said the next day), and feel some semblance of confidence (even though I actually acted a hot mess). But not this year, Thanksgiving. Not. This. Year. This year, with over 10 months of sobriety in tow, I am confident I can get through Thursday just like I got through all the other “firsts” and- hopefully- will finally find a newfound gratefulness and appreciation for the holiday itself. (Highly doubt that though. I vote we have a second Halloween in its place instead- who’s with me???)
Here are ten things from my Sober Thanksgiving Toolkit- any time it feels too much to bear, I remind myself that I am in charge of my feelings and I can use these tools at anytime…
1. Bookend The Big Feast with rest and self care. To protect myself and be ready for Thursday, I plan to relax as much as possible on Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday I have a hair appointment and Friday acupuncture, both serving a great purpose. Not only will my hair look frickin’ fabulous (and who doesn’t love a scalp massage?) which will boost my confidence but having a healing session following Thanksgiving will bring my energy back to balanced, back to myself. These things may not seem like a big deal but to me, it’s all about the little ways you choose to heal yourself. Each and every positive thing you do for yourself adds up, and I am always looking for pockets of peace and moments of absolute rest. In fact, it’s a priority.
2. Make a schedule and set boundaries. Luckily, I am hosting this year so things are a little more in my hands as
I my husband and I (who are we kidding? it’s all me of course lol) get to dictate what time this thing starts, what time dinner begins, and what time to start pushing people out the door. To be honest, I have never been good at wrapping things up or getting people to leave thanks again to good ol’ alcohol. Being alcohol free, I now notice things tend to wrap up all on their own right when they need to so I can trust in that. While just trusting in the moment sounds like the opposite of having a schedule, it isn’t. I can set an end time, sure, but people may still be having fun- me included- or right in the middle of a great conversation so going with the flow is the route here. If I say to myself, “My end time is 10pm.” and 10pm rolls around and I feel like it, I can politely excuse myself off to bed, no one else’s good times need to end in order for me to stick to my boundaries.
3. Stock up on alcohol free beverages. Just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a tasty beverage! Plus, I’ve noticed that drinking friends are always interested in trying them too so not only do I get to partake in all the, “Cheers!” but I can inspire others to consider trying an NA beverage because, ohmigoshletmetellyourightnow, they are oh so delish! My favorite small business sources for NA beverages are here, here, and here.
4. Take breaks. When things get to be too much, when I feel irked with all the chit chat or overwhelmed with awkward conversation, I find a reason and a place to be alone for a beat, a quick 5 minute self-recharge. The bathroom is the easiest go-to of course as no one asks questions, be sure to choose the one furthest away and walk to/ from very slowly. As the host this year, I always have the kitchen to attend to and never accept any help from anyone anyway so basting the turkey, prepping dessert, and washing dishes can beckon at any moment I need even when everything is done. I have also used the, “I think I left something very important in the car!” excuse to get a break. Sure, it’s a little white lie but if that’s what I need to do to get a small moment of peace and quiet in order to return to Thanksgiving with a smile, I do it.
5. Get active. For years, I ran a turkey trot on Thanksgiving morning, carrying those endorphins with me to and through The Big Feast. Breaking a sweat and doing something you love, outdoors even better, sets a positive tone for the remainder of your day. Endorphins pump, self esteem gets a boost, and stress is reduced- the perfect way to go into any tense situation! And if you run a trot, you even get a cute little medal of a reminder!
Getting active on Thanksgiving Day can also include your guests. This year, in lieu of cocktail hour and appetizers (you know, the meal we eat before the meal), I am going to suggest we all take a walk. Even if it’s a short walk, it will be great to get everyone on their feet, breathe some fresh air, and spend time with each other outdoors. Good for our health, good for our souls.
6. Make it fun! As I wrote prior, if Thanksgiving could just act a little more like Halloween, then we could get along. To that end, I force everyone to wear funny headwear (like this, this, and this) along with matching themed shirts because that’s kinda like wearing a costume and anytime I get to wear a costume is a damn good time!
A while back, I also discovered Christmas Crackers which the entire family loves! Lots of Thanksgiving (great for Christmas too as the name implies!) themed poppers out there, I usually get mine here, here, or here. They’re beautifully festive, I put one at each person’s place setting and at some point in the meal someone will pop open their cracker, don their paper crown, read the trivia and/or Thanksgiving joke inside inspiring others to take turns doing the same- they are so much fun! And at dessert, I plan to break out one of the many family conversation starter decks I have that really get everyone talking and laughing- these were my first, also just purchased this one and this one for this year’s holiday toolkit.
7. Plan your response. All the people I haven’t seen since last year in the same room who only knew me as Drinking Laura yet this year I told everyone to BYOB as I will not be serving alcohol. There will be those questions, “What happened? Why did you stop drinking?” and having a response prepared will save me from being immediately defensive, as well as saved the person asking their life (as Sober Laura still has a temper!). I have found that this question comes up a lot less when you have something in your hand, see # 3 above, but the moment your hand is free of a beverage, be ready.
Remember, you owe no one an explanation about what you do or don’t put into your body but just in case, here are some of my go-to responses…
- “I prefer my life without hangovers now.”
- “I stopped drinking to start feeling healthy, best decision I have ever made.”
- “That’s not my thing anymore- more for you!”
- “I’m planning to live forever so no thank you.”
- “I am 308 days sober today and aim to see day 309.”
- “I choose not to.” (Often the simplest response is the best response of all.)
8. Embrace the silence and practice mindfulness. I used alcohol to be “on” all the time and without it, I am completely okay not being the one who initiates every single conversation- other people can do that too! And if no one does, I am also perfectly okay sitting in silence, taking in everything around me in the meantime. I can key into the taste and texture of my favorite T-Day food (personally, it’s all about that stuffing), the endearing mannerisms of my loved ones, and if there’s a window close by then simply looking out at the trees/cars/people is also a refreshing endeavor. Sobriety took the pressure off of social situations in this way. I don’t have to be the “hostess with the mostess” every single minute- what an exhausting burden that was!- and my own silence, while rare (if you know me, you know), is truly golden.
9. Give and receive the love of family. When it comes down to it, Thanksgiving is really about bringing family together and spending time with the humans you share a connection with. I read somewhere that the opposite of addiction is connection and Thanksgiving certainly marks that spot. I may still have my issues with the holiday itself but when those triggers arise, I can think back to this post and recall my own words: connection replaces addiction. I will be able to bond more with family, share memories I will actually remember this year, and be grateful for the love of family. Even I can admit, there is nothing more precious than that.
10. Be thankful for all your gifts. How lucky we are to be blessed with connection, presence, and awareness. Life is a challenge, holidays are certainly a challenge, but we are always stronger for the obstacles we overcome. As a time for expressing thankfulness (and at any moment the in-laws become way too much to bear), we can step back and reflect on just that- I am thankful for sobriety and all that it has taught me, I am thankful for my dear family and the amazing young adults my kids are becoming, I am thankful for my dear husband who supports me every step of the way, I am thankful for my health and know a solution for my current issue is just around the bend, and I am thankful for the abundance, safety, and compassion the world has provided me.
And stuffing. Super grateful for stuffing too.
Have a very Happy Thanksgiving, friends!