It’s that time of year again – the sweet smells of turkey and alluring elixir of pumpkin pie can leave us happily mangled in a food coma of tryptophan and sugary indulgence. However, on the flip side – the same savory scents of Thanksgiving can trigger high stress and anticipated anxiety of seeing family we may have not seen since the year prior. Maybe we have Grandparents that always are giving us their biased opinions – or the overly-political Uncle who gets under our skin. Whatever the case may be – we must be prepared to deal with potential triggers – especially in sobriety.
We were fortunate enough to sit down with Brandy Price Klingman, LCSW, who is the Clinical Administrator at St. Christopher’s Addiction Wellness Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and she was able to give us some of the most common tips that her client’s getting sober need the most – and well, we do too.
God Grant Me…
Dust off the old Serenity Prayer. Remember that we most often feel stressed over things we cannot change. It is best to make a mental list of these things (grouchy grandparents, your overly-political Uncle, or judgmental siblings) and practice acceptance in advance. We can speak with our sponsors or our support system about this in advance and begin practicing acceptance of those things in which you cannot change. This will go a long way. This can also be used as a breathing exercise during dinner – and the great part is, nobody has to know.
Focus On Gratitude
Of course, we all know that Thanksgiving is focused on gratitude. And while in recovery, we typically have a bigger emphasis on staying grateful, on this day we can show our gratitude to our family members or friends by giving them the simple gift of grace. In recovery, we’ve received the gift of grace by friends and loved ones – who forgave us and accepted our failures even thought we may have not deserved it. We can give out the gift of grace too – no matter where we are in life. By forgiving other’s weaknesses, failures, or granting them a pass on their faults for the holiday gathering, we are simply showing grace for those in our family.
By giving grace, it grants us freedom from all of our duties of judgment and burdens of resentment and allows us an openness for gratitude. Think of a way to give five different acts of grace this week to others. In turn, this will be easier when it is with family. And, while you are at it, practice giving yourself grace. Forgive your faults, failures, and shortcomings as it related to the stress of the holiday. (Maybe you burnt the turkey, couldn’t afford to bring a gift, or forgot to pick up the dessert). Giving grace to ourselves is saying we are still lovable even if we mess up.
Lighten Up and Laugh
Many of us can find humor even in the most stressful of times. Take a step back and look for the quirkiness and uniqueness of your family and your holiday schedule. No family is perfect and family events like these tend to be breeding grounds for drama. Remember that this is only ONE day out of the remaining 364 of the year, and the drama will pass – but remember to stay out of it.
Finding some humor in the stress can become helpful when things seem rough. Lighten up and laugh a little. Time is precious and if the walls could talk I bet they would tell some funny stories. Look for that and find a way to connect to joy and playfulness.
Prepare An Exit Plan
It’s always good to know when and how to leave. Prepare ahead of time a schedule and a reason to leave early if you know that the family event or party is particularly uncomfortable. (Perhaps you may need to go to another meeting or have another gathering). Have a friend or sponsor on speed dial and an excuse to go back to where you feel most comfortable. This way if things are bad you already have a way out.
Like we mentioned above – this is one day a year, especially if you’re with family that you don’t see often. Remember, you don’t have to engage in every conversation or relationship – the most important thing is to take care of yourself and your own path. When a conversation starts going down a path you don’t want to travel, remember you have the power to disengage – excuse yourself, change the subject, or even say “I’m not going to have that conversation.” When a relationship or conversation is doing more harm than good, take a break from it. Your well-being, your health, and your sobriety are your responsibility, are more important than getting into a tizzy or a head-trip from a controversial conversation or argument with a a family member.
Stay accountable for yourself and the things you can change or control such as how you behave, your reactions, and your recovery plans. Remember that what anyone says to you or how they act towards you is never about you. It’s about them and their perception of the world, their judgments, their story. However, your reaction to them IS about you. Keep the focus on that, because the way you react is the only thing you have control over.
Be sure you are aware of your triggers ahead of time. If you know that your sibling or Mother gets under your skin, create a plan to find balance and composure in the middle of chaos. Walk away and center yourself. Practice deep breathing or go to the bathroom and pray – find some alone time. These tools give us pride to be able to maintain our integrity.