With Thanksgiving, we kick off about six weeks of celebration and family-focused holidays, including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. In recovery, it is a good idea to start things off as positively as possible, intentionally focusing on what we have to be grateful for instead of getting too wrapped up in the expectations and difficulties that often come with the season.
Here are just a few ways to improve your sense of gratitude this Thanksgiving and remember what matters most:
- Stop. We are often in a rush in recovery. We have to get to the next 12-Step meeting, respond to texts or emails, find a job or get to work, and deal with one issue or another with people at home. The holidays do little to ease the hustle and bustle of life. The work necessary to repair close relationships with loved ones, make progress in mental health treatment, and feel solid in recovery often feels more overwhelming during the holidays. In order to practice gratitude in the middle of all this, it is often necessary to stop, look around, and notice the many wonderful things in your life.
- Listen. How often do you actively listen to your friends and family members when they are talking to you? Do you instead judge what they are talking about or how they appear as they say it, plan what you will say in response, or mentally leave the conversation and think about something else? Part of being grateful is being present, and actively listening is a great way to be in this moment right now, noticing what the people around you have to bring to your life.
- Look. Similarly, when was the last time you really looked at the things you use every day? The surface of the table where you eat breakfast? The texture of your phone case? The fabric of your jeans? It sounds like a small thing, but noticing the details reminds us that we are lucky to have clothes to wear, a phone to communicate with people, and a place (and food!) to eat.
- Write. When was the last time that you picked up a pen or pencil and took the time to write something beyond filling out a form? On Thanksgiving, consider handwriting a note to someone and tell them all the ways they have positively impacted your life.
- Hug. Are your parents, brothers or sisters, or children in your life? Will you be seeing extended family members who you have not seen in a while on Thanksgiving? Take the time to hug the people you love and let them know you care.
- Eat. Mindful eating, like active listening, is a great way to be truly thankful for food, especially on Thanksgiving when you may be more likely to have a smorgasbord in front of you. It can also help you to avoid overindulging in unhealthy food; a single mindful bite of pumpkin pie can be more enjoyable than a whole piece when you really live in the moment of eating something amazing.
- Walk. At Thanksgiving, the cooler weather is just beginning to settle in in earnest, but here in Texas, it can still be a great time of year to get outside and take a walk. Especially on Thanksgiving, with big meals and lots of people in tight spaces, if you need a breather, taking a walk will give you the time and space you need to re-center and refocus on gratitude.
- Sleep. When doing self-scans throughout the days, or mental check-ins to see where we are and how we are doing, we often use the acronym HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. On Thanksgiving, you have the latitude to stop and take a nap if you are feeling tired, eat if you are hungry, connect with others if you are lonely, and take a break if you are agitated. In fact, all of the above, including sleeping, are not only allowed but encouraged.
- Clean. Thanksgiving can be a huge mess, if not for you then for the person hosting the dinner you attend. But cleaning up does not have to be a dreaded task. When you do it mindfully and/or with the people you celebrated the day with, it can be one more thing to be grateful for – the opportunity to take care of yourself and others, and bond.
- Breathe. If you, like some people in early recovery, feel you have nothing to be thankful for and your life is defined by overwhelming physical and/or emotional pain, you can focus your gratitude on your breath. Every breath is an opportunity to cleanse, to pause and take a break, and to refocus your life on a forward positive trajectory. All you have to do is choose to take that opportunity.
What are you grateful for in recovery this Thanksgiving?