What’s in a word?
“Thankful” means many things, but this doesn’t mean it’s an easy concept to embrace. One primary reason is that we have to be willing to feel thankful before we can open up to deeper emotion. To be thankful is a terrific first step to understanding the power of true gratitude. And when we feel grateful, we have a better foundation for recovery.
If you’re newly sober this Thanksgiving, you may feel thankful that you’ve moved beyond the complications of substance abuse and addiction. Is this enough fuel to foster gratitude? Not unless it inspires action–action that will strengthen your commitment to your health.
Your first action might be to redefine what the Thanksgiving holiday means to you, and how you can create lasting traditions that deepen your connection with family, friends, colleagues—and with yourself.
Why Should Thanksgiving Be So Special?
When the Wampanoag Native Americans and the European settlers in the New World first shared a meal celebrating peace and a bountiful harvest in the early 1600s, few knew about it. It would take two centuries and a persistent magazine editor’s letter-writing campaign to make the holiday official. By the time Sarah Josepha Hale’s letter about the Pilgrim event reached the desk of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, it was during the height of division and unrest caused by the Civil War. Lincoln admired the concept of togetherness and unity described in Hale’s letter, and declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. It’s been celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November ever since.
Why should a date on a calendar matter to you? Because rituals are important to the progress of society—especially when individuals consider them essential to their quality of life. In an article for Psychology Today, Professor Paul Stoller argues that personal and public rituals have meaning because:
- They provide some semblance of control or security in an otherwise chaotic world.
- They offer “affiliation with a group, religion, or a nation, which reinforces a sense of belonging to a greater whole.”
- They provide the resilience to face our challenges and the confidence to move beyond them in a direction of our choosing.
So instead of looking at Thanksgiving as simply a forced holiday, use it as a way to establish or reaffirm rituals that reflect who you are in your sobriety, what individuals contribute positively to that purpose, and how the power of intention shapes your life.
What many people struggle with during the holiday season are aspects of expectation: what family members want you to do; how you should talk about your addiction—or not—with relatives and friends; and trying to go everywhere and do everything. This often adds a lot of pressure. Here’s where a foundation of intent and gratitude will help you build rituals with stronger meaning and manage holiday expectations more effectively.
- Use Thanksgiving morning to acknowledge and be thankful for any people who show kindness and support during your recovery.
- From this list, write down the top three things you’re most grateful for as a result of such attention.
- Structure priorities and scheduling to enable you to be your best self with these individuals, and set an intention to thank them verbally or through written notes for their efforts.
Follow this ritual to develop a different meaning for the holiday, reflect on how it helps you be more present, and deepen your gratitude as a result of certain actions. Then, you can say “no” gracefully if you feel stressed or pushed beyond your boundaries.
Plan Ahead for Gatherings
The holiday season is filled to the brim with celebration, often accompanied by excessive food and drink. As you move through your first year of sobriety, it’s hard to deny that challenges and even triggers are present. Your practice of ritual and gratitude will help you manage get-togethers with ease as long as there’s a plan in place.
- Talk with your sponsor or another recovery partner ahead of time about calls, texts, and other forms of connection during trying times. Express gratitude for how their strength fortifies your own.
- Prepare to use silence and breath to help regain your composure: find a quiet corner or room and practice 10 deep inhales and exhales, then slowly tap your thumbs to each fingertip twice. This calming ritual helps reduce the “fight or flight” reaction of your nervous system.
- Contact the host ahead of time to discuss why it’s important to attend and how grateful you are to be included, but how you might also need to leave early if necessary. It’s not your responsibility to make them understand your circumstances, but demonstrating graciousness as a guest is totally within your control.
With a plan like this in place, you’re free to enjoy other aspects of the day and positive personal interactions that add to your happiness.
Leave Time for Reflection
Just because the holidays move at a lightning pace doesn’t mean you have to—in fact, your first sober Thanksgiving is a perfect time to make space for reflection and determine what you want not only from the holidays, but also from all the days to follow.
When the day is done, consider not only what you’re thankful for, but also act on that gratitude somehow.
- Will you set a regular lunch date with a relative or longtime friend you reconnected with during the holiday?
- Will you celebrate your health and expand on the concept of self-care by choosing to make exercise and eating mindfully a priority?
- Will you establish more rituals that reflect your positive choices for moving forward in life?
- Will you put aside grievances and learn to forgive others—and most importantly, yourself?
Explore additional concepts of new sobriety, gratitude, and ritual by attending Twin Lakes’ weekly alumni aftercare meetings in Athens, Gainesville, and Monroe. These gatherings are vital lifelines to nurturing community support through the holidays and beyond.