sober Thanksgiving

Avoiding Triggers Over the Thanksgiving Holidays

Thanksgiving is just days away, and you might be anxious over how things are going to go. While Thanksgiving is meant to be a time of togetherness, it can be a challenge if you can’t drink. Alcohol plays a big role in Thanksgiving celebrations, including the day before Thanksgiving (Blackout Wednesday) and the days after. 

So exactly how can you make it through the Thanksgiving holiday without any setbacks, especially if this is your first time? A little preparation, a fresh perspective, and realistic expectations go a long way in protecting your sobriety. Below are some tips to help you avoid triggers on Turkey Day. (Our tips cover both in-person and virtual gatherings.)

Make Sobriety a Priority 

During the holidays, many of us go that extra mile to make others happy. It’s the holidays after all! But in your case, sobriety must come first. It’s not your responsibility to make others comfortable and happy. 

If Aunt Judy is offended that you won’t try her spiked punch, it will have to do. If your friends are disappointed that you can’t make it to their party, they’ll have to accept it. The people who know, love, and respect you will understand your choices. 

Practice Good Self Care 

Self-care is essential. If you’re not taking care of your mental and physical health, you won’t be able to make the best decisions for yourself. Be aware of the demands that the holidays can bring, such as overextending yourself or neglecting your own wants and needs. It's easier to make smart choices when you feel good physically and emotionally. 

Rehearse Your Responses 

Chances are, you’re dreading some of the conversations that may come up at the dinner table (or on Zoom or Skype). These conversations (and the anxiety leading up to them) can trigger deep emotions. Unfortunately, you can’t control what other people will say and do, so you’ll have to prepare for uncomfortable discussions. 

We suggest having rehearsed responses on hand. Practice saying them out loud. It can be something simple and direct like, “I don’t want to discuss this right now. Let’s enjoy the holidays. How have you been?” Or you can make up an excuse for not drinking (i.e., work the next day) or simply change the subject. 

Choose Thanksgiving Plans Wisely 

Be smart about the places you go on Thanksgiving - and this includes virtual gatherings. Avoid groups or places where you know there will be drinking. Some people feel more comfortable hosting Thanksgiving themselves because they can control what's being served and keep busy with cooking, serving, and cleaning.

You can also talk to the host in advance to let them know you won’t be drinking. Offer to bring a fun non-alcoholic drink like this Thanksgiving Mocktail Punch. This way, you’ll have something available to sip on during dinner. 

cooking on thanksgiving

Create an Escape Plan 

What happens if you start feeling anxious or out of your element? Have an escape plan. The good thing about not drinking is that you can leave whenever you want. And if you're part of a virtual gathering, you can say you were experiencing technical problems. 

If you're hosting, it’s a bit harder to up and leave. But you can take a step outside to get some fresh air or change what you’re doing. For example, if a conversation turns awkward, you can remove yourself and start washing the dishes. Thanksgiving hosts have plenty to do! 

Accept That Thanksgiving May Look Different 

The holiday season often makes people feel nostalgic. However, you might only remember the good memories of you drinking and not the bad ones. Unfortunately, people who struggle with an alcohol use disorder tend to use the holidays to mask their drinking. They’re able to blend in with others, and they have an excuse to drink more regularly. 

Now that you’re sober, the holidays will look different. But many things are changing right now due to the pandemic, so it’s a great time to start new traditions. Being sober also has its benefits. You won’t have to deal with hangovers. You’ll make memories with loved ones. And you won’t say or do things you’ll later regret. 

What if I’m Not Ready to Face Thanksgiving Sober? 

If you’re feeling triggered just thinking about Thanksgiving without alcohol, you have a couple of options. First, you may find it best to celebrate with your sober friends. Family is important, but if you come from a big family of drinkers, you may have to skip the celebrations this year. Offer to host a virtual Thanksgiving dinner for your 12-step members instead.

Second, you can choose to get away for Thanksgiving weekend. For instance, you can go camping, take a hiking trip, or stay at a resort. Of course, check things out beforehand and plan ahead for COVID-19. Many things are closed or limited right now. If you do travel, be sure to follow smart practices like wearing your mask, washing your hands regularly, and social distancing. 

Finally, the emotions you’re feeling right now may be an indication that you need extra support. An outpatient treatment center like Awakenings Treatment Center is open during the holidays. We are also following all COVID guidelines. You can start one of our treatment programs while still returning home to your family in the evenings. This can give you the extra support you need. 

Try not to lose sight of what Thanksgiving is really about - acknowledging our blessings and being grateful. This year will look different for everyone, so chances are, whatever you decide to do will be alright.