If you’re American, or American-adjacent, chances are you have plans to celebrate Thanksgiving with some delicious, homemade eats. Whether it’s “Friendsgiving” or a full-blown family gathering, Thanksgiving can be a triggering occasion for sober folks.
If you are invited to a Thanksgiving celebration that you know will have booze, you may already be wondering how you’re going to get through it with your sobriety intact. The good news is that you are not alone and you can certainly do it.
I understand the kind of hurdles you’re up against as the holidays roll around, so let’s talk about a comprehensive game plan to ensure you’re set up for success.
Alcohol and Family Functions
Did you know that 49% of Americans say drinking at family gatherings makes the event more tolerable?
That is pretty much half of the population admitting they need alcohol to be around their family. For respondents whose families always drank at get-togethers, that number rose to 63%.
Hop on Pinterest and you’ll find lots of tips for the tastiest cocktails to “survive” the holidays with family. Want a good drinking game to break the ice for when Uncle Ronnie shows up? Here are eight suggestions.
If it isn’t for tolerability, perhaps your family comes from a culture where alcohol is a staple of all celebrations and gatherings. That can be equally triggering, as it can feel like you’re perpetually outside of the fun.
There is an energy to drinking that can be hard for some people to match when sober. It’s okay to admit that.
Regardless of why your family or friends drink, you’re going to need to have a game plan for Thanksgiving to increase your chances of staying sober.
7 Tips for Staying Sober on Thanksgiving
There’s a popular quote from Benjamin Franklin that says, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” And we aren’t planning to fail this Thanksgiving, which is why I want to equip you with as many strategies ahead of the holiday to navigate tricky situations.
1. Anticipate Your Triggers Ahead of Time
Unless you’re a newborn baby, this is not your first family function or holiday gathering. You likely have a clear picture of what is going to trigger you.
Is your passive-aggressive auntie going to be there hounding you about your love life? Maybe your favorite cousin is flying in from California and you already know he’s going to want to go out and party. Does your dad always give you a hard time? Is your new stepdad a douche?
Whatever the issue may be, it’s important for you to be prepared to handle it once you’re there. I don’t mean running scenarios through your head. You need to sit down with a pen and paper and write out all the things you anticipate triggering you to drink.
- WHAT is likely to trigger you?
- WHY does it make you want to drink?
- HOW can you handle it in a healthy way?
Do this for as many hypothetical situations as you can think of.
The process of writing out your feelings and exploring where they come from is therapeutic in itself. It’s also a form of processing the behavior in a way that decreases its power over you.
If you’ve already done some mental work around your dad asking you when you’re going to get a real job, it’s not going to rev you up as much when he asks in real life.
2. Designate a ‘Sobriety’ Buddy
This can be anyone who has and will have your back. For some people, this is a sponsor like in AA. But it can be a trusted family member or friend, too.
Know who you can call or text on Thanksgiving if things get too intense and you feel triggered to drink.
Let them know ahead of time that you might need to reach out on Thanksgiving and what you need from them.
Is it to distract you? Hype you up? Or just listen? Whatever the case, make sure you have someone you can connect with.
3. Keep Yourself Busy
It can feel really awkward to be the only person standing around without a drink.
When is it going to get to you the most?
Is it before everybody eats and folks are sitting around, excitedly popping the first cork on the bottle of wine? Or maybe it’s after lunch when everyone is slamming beers and watching football?
Regardless of when you feel the most awkward, find something else to do. I guarantee you that somebody could use some help in the kitchen.
Make yourself useful.
Does a dog need walking? Volunteer. Got an adorable three-year-old niece? There’s your new best friend.
Find something to keep yourself occupied and if there isn’t something available, create one. Start a card game. Get out the Monopoly board (proceed with caution: Monopoly has been known to destroy friendships).
The point is to be proactive. If dusting out the old Wii in your mom’s attic is going to keep you sober, then that is what you will do, my friend.
4. Keep A Drink In Your Hand (Not That Kind)
Sometimes when you’re newly sober (or even if you’ve been at this for a while), having an empty hand at a social gathering is triggering. You feel clumsy without a drink. Everyone else has one, and you’re just there trying to figure out what to do with yourself.
Try making sure you have a drink in hand, and see if that takes the psychological edge off a bit.
What kind of drink?
Pour a Diet Coke into a fancy glass. Make a mocktail. Purchase some fancy alcohol alternatives ahead of time and bring them with you.
Having a drink in hand might also ward off your uncle or cousin, who would otherwise be interrogating you about why you’re not drinking after they’re on their third beer.
5. Agree To Disagree
It’s not always possible to avoid difficult or obnoxious conversations during family gatherings, particularly after people have had a few. As an addendum to tip #1, brace yourself for the inevitable.
For a lot of people, heated conversations are very triggering. If that’s true for you, then avoid them at all costs.
Uncle Joe has a problem with your recent Facebook posts and now he wants to tell you about it? Or maybe Aunt Maria gets all her news from realnewsforpatriots.blog and is talking crazy at the dinner table.
Whatever the case may be, try not to engage.
Gently steer the conversation in a different direction. If that’s not possible, go take a bathroom break.
You are within your right to set healthy boundaries in sobriety (or any time for that matter). If someone is persistently pushing your buttons or nagging you, tell them, “I’m not discussing this right now.”
And if they can’t respect that, then you should feel empowered to do what you need to do. Even if that means leaving (more on that in a bit).
6. Focus on the Food
Let’s be honest. Food is the real star of the show here.
Think of all the things you can eat now that your belly isn’t bloated with wine and beer. And honestly, it’s another great distraction.
Savor the food. Enjoy it.
Besides, if the party is getting a little too “lit”, guess who gets first dibs on the secret to-go plate? You, that’s who. Get your aluminum foil ready and embrace glory!
7. Leave Early
Unless Thanksgiving is at your house, there is nothing wrong with a good exit strategy.
I recommend having an excuse ready to go before you get there. “I’ve got a work project to tackle tomorrow morning so I’m going to head out.”
It depends on the situation.
If the host is aware of your sobriety and you’ve chatted before about your triggers, he or she can help give you some cover if it’s time to go.
I’ve told friends before, “Hey I’m not drinking, so I might dip out early if I feel too tempted.”
Either people are going to accommodate you by keeping the booze to a minimum (or ditch it altogether) or they’ll understand and be cool with you needing to go.
It’s also entirely possible that people will be too drunk or in the thralls of a food coma to even notice you’ve gone. If you can’t leave, find a room to escape to for a little while and decompress.
Besides, when’s the last time you took a nap on the bed with all the coats?
Getting Through It
Holidays can be tough. If you’re sober and anticipating a potentially rough family or friend function this Thanksgiving, make sure you’re prepared.
I used to feel silly about the amount of effort I put into “preparing” for these things, but honestly, you do what you have to do!
You’re working on something big for yourself right now. The holiday season is not worth your progress. Trust me.
Even if it’s not this year, I guarantee that you will enjoy the holiday season as much as you ever did when you drank. These things take time.
The best part is, even if Thanksgiving all goes to shit, getting through it sober will make you feel like you can do anything in the world. You can look yourself in the mirror the next day and say, “I did that!”
And YOU really did!
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