When you are living in sobriety, it is important to take an active role in your own life, showing up for things that you may not have previously felt were important or otherwise taking responsibility rather than letting others steer the ship. If you, like many in recovery, feel that family gatherings on Thanksgiving may not be the most emotionally comfortable destination for you, or if you prefer to make sure that whatever you do on Thanksgiving is completely free from exposure to alcohol or any other substance, you have the option of hosting your own Thanksgiving event. Invite the people you want and serve – and don’t serve – whatever you like. By doing so, you can create a new Thanksgiving that will help shape your recovery.
Plan, Plan, Plan
When you throw your own shindig, you have the ability to do whatever you want. Would you like to create the first zombie-themed Thanksgiving celebration? No problem. Are you not a big fan of turkey but really love Chinese food? Most dishes are easy to make, and there is almost certainly a nearby restaurant that will deliver. Do you want to people to dress up as Downton Abbey characters and hold an upstairs/downstairs event? It’s your day. Do whatever you want, but whatever you choose, don’t forget to plan out the details, including:
- A full menu, from appetizers to drinks to desserts
- Seating, dishes, silverware, and glassware for all guests
- A place for kids, if they are on the guest list
- Decorations, if any
- Music, activities, or other conversation objects if your guests will be arriving as you are still cooking or between dinner and dessert
- To-go boxes for your guests if you think you may have too many leftovers to store
Write out your lists, start hunting down what you need, and prepare all your in-advance items now.
Are you more interested in the décor and what you will be wearing than in what is on the menu? Are you looking for a laidback atmosphere that is more comfortable for you and your guests? Do some of your guests have food allergies that you are not sure how to cater to? If so, a Thanksgiving potluck may be the best option.
- From the start, make it clear to guests that it is a potluck dinner and they will need to bring something.
- Take on the main menu item yourself. That is, you should do the turkey and ask your guests to cover sides, appetizers, and/or dessert.
- To make sure that you don’t end up with 10 pumpkin pies and no mashed potatoes, consider asking people to sign up for appetizers, desserts, or sides.
- Notate how many people the sides, desserts, and apps should serve.
- Double check with your guests a couple days before Thanksgiving to make sure people are still coming, how many people they are bringing, and if they are still prepared to supply a dish.
- Have a backup dish on hand if someone doesn’t show up.
- Notice what is left empty and be prepared to fill in the blanks.
If you find that what originally sounded like a good way to celebrate Thanksgiving is turning out to be a stressful event that is complicating your ability to stay sober, ask for help. You can talk to your therapist or support group about how you are feeling and what is going on, reach out to friends for assistance if you are struggling with managing certain details, or if it proves to be too much, cancel the event. Hosting a sober Thanksgiving will not be the fun time you are looking for if it ultimately leads to high levels of stress during a stressful holiday season and/or leads to a relapse.
In early recovery, as people are in the beginning stages of building their support system and/or rebuilding relationships with family members, it is not uncommon to not have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving. This can be a trigger for relapse if it causes uncomfortable emotions, so it is always nice to extend a personal invitation to a couple of new people you meet in recovery in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, noting that it is a sober event.
Emphasize That It Is a Sober Event
From your invite to your follow-up, make it clear to all your guests that it is a sober event and no alcohol or other substances should be brought.
To help facilitate a fun sober Thanksgiving, you can:
- Supply an open “bar” of nonalcoholic beverages, providing clear soda and juices with garnishes and/or fun glasses so people can mix their own drinks.
- Ask people to bring their favorite nonalcoholic beverages.
- Verbalize to any of your guests who are sober, especially those who are new to recovery, that your dinner will be a sober event so they feel comfortable accepting the invitation.
- Check in with your guests who are not in recovery in the days before Thanksgiving to make sure they understand it is expected that they will not be under the influence when they arrive or bring alcohol with them – better to have this conversation before the big day than when they show up to the party.