When asked what you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving, if you’re sober, your sobriety no doubt will top the list. While warnings abound this time of year about alcohol and drug temptations at holiday parties, the holidays — and Thanksgiving, in particular — can nurture sobriety, too. When asked what you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving, you may not answer the question honestly, whatever your reason may be. But most everyone with even 30 days of success in sobriety always places it at the top of their gratitude list, if only secretly, humbly, or anonymously. We already know gratitude exercises can keep you sober. And here’s Thanksgiving, a day set aside for that very purpose. More on that in a moment.
Here are some ways for using the holidays to bolster the foundation of your sobriety:
Consider (humbly) sharing your thanks for your sobriety during opportune moments, such as dinner with family and/or friends. Maybe you are someone nobody ever thought would or could get sober. If so, point that out and explain in a sentence or two during dinner how you got on the path to sobriety. Somebody might be listening, and it could change their life. It also helps you when making a public proclamation that you’re dedicated to staying sober. Such a proclamation carries even more weight in a setting where others may be using alcohol, and at holiday meals, where soundbites go viral among families. Which brings up a second way you actually can strengthen your sobriety during the holidays.
Use each setting where you believe drugs or alcohol may be present (if you must attend such settings at all) as opportunities for setting boundaries. Always be prepared to handle urges to drink or use drugs during the holidays. How? Have a survival plan in place beforehand. If that means calling a host a week before the party to make sure non-alcoholic beverages will be available (and sort of feeling out the vibe) do so. This is called setting boundaries and it is extremely important to maintaining sobriety. Ironically, many sober people find themselves thrust into settings where alcohol is present during professional holiday parties they are expected to attend as part of their jobs. Never hesitate for one second not to attend a party if you have a feeling in your stomach telling you it will be a bad idea. Always trust your gut. If you must attend a work function where alcohol is served, and don’t feel good about it, make it brief. Pre-meditate one great excuse to leave early if you do not feel comfortable telling your boss the truth. It is true that a person in recovery, even someone with several years of sobriety under their belt, can be extremely vulnerable to relapse around the holidays. For a person in recovery, it means avoiding anything that has even a small chance of causing relapse. For those supporting someone in recovery, it means helping them stay diverted from their previous life and any holiday-associated urges to drink or use drugs.
For those simply thankful their child or their loved one is alive this Thanksgiving, and fearful they may not live to see the next, the holidays can be a good time for interventions if all the pieces are in place. Interventions generally have a better chance at success when they are carefully planned in advance. Parents or loved ones of people with substance use problems would be well advised to make sure the addicted has health insurance before the intervention takes place. This will save a lot of money in the long run. Now is a great time to sign up for insurance, with open enrollment in full swing. Your loved one’s addiction or alcohol problem isn’t going to get better as time goes by. Addiction usually only has one outcome when left untreated. Interventions staged around the holidays, with insurance and all the other right pieces in place, can be extremely effective. It puts the family’s attention on the person needing treatment at a time when personal attention usually is limited.
Many people take up cooking when they become sober. There is no better time to try out new recipes than Thanksgiving. Cook up some fun with a sober person. Food and sobriety make good bedfellows. Not to indulgence, of course. But for many suffering from alcoholism and addiction, food has become a thing of the past. Good nutrition went by the wayside long ago in favor of alcohol or the substance of choice. Ironically, when we become addicted to drugs or alcohol, changes occur in our bodies that make food less appealing. Not only do some drugs make us lose our appetites (stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, for example) but drugs and alcohol – cigarettes, in particular — also can damage our taste buds. In the end, we’re often not hungry, or food doesn’t taste the way it used to. Enter sobriety. Suddenly, the love affair of food, which only is human, is reborn. The body also begins to recognize and celebrate the benefits of good nutrition – vitamins and minerals from fresh fruits and vegetables, proper hydration, plenty of protein. Nourishment produces a high in and of itself, especially when it has been lacking for long periods.
Invite other sober friends over for an amateur sober cook-off. Ask around in 12-step groups and other places and you will find many people in recovery who are rediscovering the joys of food. If you’re at an event where other sober people are not present, talk about the rekindling of your food love affair and the benefits of nutrition in sobriety, such as healthy digestion. In her book “Sober Kitchen,” alcoholic and pro chef Liz Scott talks about the intersection of addiction and nutrition. The president of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence exalts the book on its back cover. “The NCADD works to change the stigma associated with this disease, celebrate recovery, and promote a healthy lifestyle,” Stacia Murphy explains. “It is wonderful to read a cookbook that touches on all these issues through practical advice and a series of recipes that are healthy and nourishing to the mind, body and spirit. We applaud this excellent and important resource.” (1)
Create a new mantra for thanks. What better day than Thanksgiving to really distill your sobriety gratitude message down to a few words:
“I am grateful for my sobriety and to have my self-respect back.”
Or, “I am grateful to be heathy and able to care for my children.”
Whether you’re sober and looking to stay that way, or in the depths of addiction and think life never will improve, positivity is the key to success. Thanksgiving’s very namesake – being grateful for what you have – is a powerful force for good. It’s easy, and reasonable, not to see any good in things if you’re always focusing on your problems. So, instead of viewing gratitude as some sort of Draconian, suck-up exercise, look at it for what it is: A powerful force for good. You can always find something you are grateful for. And when you do, you realize there is a force keeping you going, something bigger than yourself. Then you have strength and faith…it’s really pretty simple, the whole gratitude thing.
“With the emergency of the positive psychology movement, now is the time for a renewed focus on gratitude as a valued subjective experience, a source of human strength, and an integral element promoting the civility requisite for the flourishing of families and communities,” wrote C.R. Snyder et. al in “Handbook of Positive Psychology,” a highly cited text. (2)
“Gratitude provides life meaning, by encapsulating life itself as a gift,” the authors continued. “Within such a framework, it can come to dominate one’s entire life outlook, seemingly even when sources of gratitude are absent.
- Scott, L. 2003. Sober Kitchen: Recipes and Advice for a Lifetime of Sobriety. Boston: Harvard Common Press.
- Snyder, C.R. et al. 2002. The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.