For many, Thanksgiving means enjoying special times with family over a good meal. But for those who are about to attend their first sober Thanksgiving, worry, anxiety, and stress may overshadow the joy of this holiday. Implementing these tips for avoiding relapse triggers will help to keep you confident about and focused on your sobriety.
Adopt a Realistic Point of View That Focuses on You
We all have visions in our minds of what the perfect Thanksgiving should look like. However, recovery in substance abuse treatment centres teaches the vital importance of being honest with yourself and realistic about your expectations; having high expectations for a perfect holiday will only result in disappointment, which can trigger relapse.
Instead of visualizing how others will affect your Thanksgiving experience, focusing on the positivity of your sobriety will keep you centred and grounded regardless of what may be happening around you.
Here’s something to start doing right now and continue to October 12th and beyond. Every moment you can, remind yourself of how good sobriety makes you feel. Write this down on sticky notes: “Sobriety makes me feel good”. Place these everywhere you can think of, including at your bedside, making sure you repeat this every night before bed, and right when you awaken.
Identify Your Triggers, Have a Plan
Be aware of the high-risk situations that could trigger a relapse while you’re visiting family and have a plan in place to handle these triggers. In these weeks before Thanksgiving, consider the different forms in which triggers may appear; think back to the last Thanksgiving you spent with family.
Did an argument with family members trigger you to use a substance to escape? Perhaps you used to spend the holiday using with a certain friend or family member. You might also want to think about the unexpected things that can trigger you; for instance, a seemingly benign holiday dish containing alcohol that you can taste can be an emotional trigger.
Tell Them You’re Staying Sober
Letting friends and family know in advance that you will not be drinking alcohol or using allows you to be in the driver’s seat before you even arrive. Once your family is aware of this, you are free to mix your own variety of delicious alternative beverage to bring with you. When you arrive, ensure you always have your special beverage in-hand, and be ready to remind anyone who tries to offer you a drink that you have one already.
Dealing With Toxic Family Relationships
The key to avoid relapse due to toxic family relationships is to plan how you will handle them in advance. The first thing to realize is that your sobriety cannot and will not change a difficult relationship. Concentrating on your response to those relationships, however, will make all the difference to your stress level, and therefore your likelihood of relapse.
The only person you can change is yourself, so with that in mind, plan how you will change your response to a difficult situation or family member. Make sure that you have several options to choose from, and remember that you and your sobriety are number one; there is no reason to feel guilty about taking any of these actions to protect yourself.
Excuse yourself from the room if you need a break. Even this can be done in many ways; you can ask the host if they need help in the kitchen, or say you need a glass of water. You can also excuse yourself out of the house completely by saying you need some air, and then take a walk around the block, remembering to breathe deeply.
Having a rescue kit on hand can also help you deal with family stress; ensure you have your sponsor’s, crisis line, and safe friends’ numbers handy to call should you need to. Include other inspiring items in your kit, such as a list of positive memories associated with your sobriety and uplifting music to listen to while you’re taking your walk.
Dealing With Cravings
It’s a good idea to remind yourself about how long a real craving actually lasts, which is around 20 minutes or so, and make a plan for what you’ll do if this happens.
The first thing to do is to physically remove yourself from temptation. Remember those sticky notes you put everywhere? The next step is to call on them; keep repeating that sobriety makes you feel good.
It may also help to remember how horrible you may have felt after past Thanksgivings spent using; maybe you ended up with a bad hangover, or felt embarrassed about your behaviour toward friends or family while you were under the influence. These memories can significantly reduce how long cravings last.
Handling Nostalgia and Acquaintances Who Use
Another important tip for avoiding relapse triggers during your sober Thanksgiving is to be prepared in the event that you experience emotional triggers such as those from being back in your home town or running into old friends you used to use with. These can both be significant triggers.
To handle these in a healthy way, begin by reminding yourself once again that sobriety feels good. Then, reminisce carefully by being selective; think about past pleasant times you had in your old neighbourhood that didn’t involve using, and then focus on the present, where you are enjoying a brand new and sober life.
As much as possible, limit the time you spend with old friends or romantic partners you used to use with. Seeing as it’s a family holiday, you can tell them your family is going to be playing games, eating dessert or engaging in some other kind of activity soon, and that you need to get back.
You Have Many Choices
Now that you’re sober, your world is full of choices. You can choose to have a plan for this Thanksgiving. You can choose how and if you will engage with others, and you can choose not to use.
In these few weeks before the holiday, take some time to consider how well you think you’ll handle the experience as a sober person. If you think that going home, even for a day is going to be too much for you, then it probably will be. Where this is the case, not going at all is another choice that’s perfectly reasonable and healthy. And any friend or family member who truly wants only the best for you will understand and support your choice.
Being by yourself during Thanksgiving can also be a trigger. Suddenly, you’re alone, all your sober friends may be with their families, and you’re bored out of your mind. If you will be staying home this Thanksgiving, you have several great opportunities for creating new holiday traditions.
Giving back to your community is a healthy and fulfilling way to celebrate Thanksgiving and your sobriety. Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter; many are in need of people to help serve Thanksgiving meals or even just sit and talk with those who come in. Local nursing homes and senior centres also benefit from volunteers during busy holiday times.
Maintaining long-term sobriety includes ensuring your list of support network numbers is nearby if you begin to experience the nostalgia that can lead to depression and relapse. Remember that these are the people who promised to be there for you whenever you need them, and they may already have demonstrated this on more than one occasion.
Don’t let the holiday cause guilt about bothering them and deter you from protecting yourself and your sobriety; if in doubt, make that call.
Get Help to Prepare for the Holiday
Another way to prepare for Thanksgiving when you’re newly sober is to share with others who are also experiencing their first sober holiday. The Canadian Health Recovery Centre is dedicated to helping men from all walks of life with comprehensive addiction treatment in a safe and peaceful setting. Get more information about our facility by giving us a call: 1-705-535-0636.