Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for those who are in recovery. How are you going to survive a Thanksgiving table that may include alcohol, contentious or demanding family members, and the triggering of painful memories?
Many people with drug and alcohol addiction have suffered trauma at a young age and turn to substances to avoid dealing with painful memories. When substances are no longer an option, past or current trauma must be addressed. If any trauma you have suffered relates to the holiday season or to the people it brings into your life, you’ll need to be ready to protect and care for yourself this Thanksgiving. Consider these strategies:
#1: Set Boundaries Beforehand
Establish clear boundaries of what you will and will not do. You do not have to be around people who are specifically problematic for you at Thanksgiving. You also do not have to stay at a location for a specific length of time.
- What are you not able or willing to do?
- How can you limit contact with your biggest triggers?
- What expectations do others have of you that you need to limit?
Be polite about your limitations but firm. It is not your responsibility to help others enjoy their Thanksgiving if it puts you at risk.
#2: Seek Out Your Therapist Early
For some people, the trauma that a holiday can bring is not just a one-day thing. In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, you may be feeling overwhelming stress and anxiety about what’s to come and what can be expected. Set up some time now with your therapist. Talk about your feelings and concerns openly. Allow your therapist to help you devise strategies to get through those difficult moments when they do arrive–and also to manage the stress leading up to those moments.
#3: Focus on Reality
Don’t feel as though you have to conform to a specific holiday expectation. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the holiday celebrations simply because it seems like everyone else is celebrating, shopping, cooking, and generally having a good time. You don’t have to pretend. If you’re suffering–or if you’re simply uninterested in the holiday–it’s okay to admit that. Focus instead on what brings you joy.
#4: Find a New Way to Spend the Holiday
Let’s be clear. If the trauma you’ve experienced is ongoing or still strong in your memory, you do not have to participate in any Thanksgiving events that keep you in a bad situation or trigger powerfully painful memories. Instead, avoid the holiday celebrations or find a new way to celebrate with yourself or with friends and family you completely trust. For example, you might volunteer at a food bank or get together with alumni from your addiction treatment center. Here are some other ways to give back:
- Reach out to neighbors who seem overwhelmed and offer to rake their leaves, babysit or dogsit, or run to the store for them.
- Volunteer at a food bank to serve meals to the homeless.
- Participate in a toy drive or other donation opportunity.
- Reach out to a friend who is going through a tough time.
#5: Get Out in Nature
A stuffy home packed with people is unnerving for many. This year, try to include spending some time in nature as a part of the day’s activities. You can enlist friends and family for a friendly game of football or bocce ball. Or you can escape the crowd on your own to walk the dog or go on a bike ride.
#6: Create a New Tradition
One way to move past trauma is to replace old patterns with new and healing traditions. Even if that means you opt for a frozen dinner instead of a home-cooked family meal, the goal is just to make this year significantly different from the last. Maybe that means you spend some time watching TV with someone who is not going to judge you. Maybe it means taking your favorite relative out for breakfast instead of attending the big family dinner. Maybe it means asking your family to spend some time reflecting on what they’re grateful for.
#7: Be Thankful for Where You Are
It’s not always easy to look back at your recovery journey with gratitude. Yet you know that your decision to get treatment was courageous. You can be thankful to yourself for making that decision. Here are a few other ways to cultivate gratitude:
- Meditate on the goodness in your life.
- Find a way to forgive yourself and let go of the guilt you feel.
- Open your heart to new opportunities.
- Journal about the way you are feeling and your hopes for the next few months.
Are you looking for a way to start on the path to healing? Contact Canyon Vista today. Let our drug and alcohol treatment center in Mesa, Arizona, help you on the path to wellness.