For the first time in my whole adult life, I'm spending Thanksgiving by myself. No traveling, no cooking, no family. Just my chosen people, a karaoke bar, and some ramen. I'm doing this not because I'm a dick who hates her mother, but because I'm a tired woman who knows her boundaries, who understands the guilt of not seeing her niece's fourth Thanksgiving or her refusal to help baste the turducken far outweighs the resentment she might have that following Monday for doing something she could not really afford to do this year. In other words, over five years into this journey of not drinking, I finally know how to listen to my body, what good boundaries and self-care look like, what Compassionate Nos feel like.
This is a recycled article, and the first time I wrote it was on a Megabus traveling from San Francisco to LA. That Megabus broke down on the way from here to there, making it a nearly 13-hour trip home for the holidays. I got into Los Angeles late at night, went to my sisters and sat on the couch until 3 or 4 in the morning to finish that original blog post. Then I slept on the couch in my cloths, got maybe three hours of sleep, woke up, went out with my family, and somewhere between lunch and shopping went blind in my left eye. I'd been up writing and working on my business until the wee hours of the morning for some time and had ignored the sharp pains and visualizations I was getting in that same eye. I'd written it off to a Kundalini awaking because that was how I rolled in 2014; partial blindness from work-related stress and exhaustion was a little too far-fetched but a snake rising through my sushumna nadi and fucking with my vision made perfect sense.
Anyway. The point is: I have a long history of ignoring my needs. My fabric has always been the kind that pretends it's self-cleaning, everyone else is made of a fine silk deserving of special care. It has taken me five years to come to a place - in all facets of my life, not just holiday-themed ones - that truly believes that listening to my gut and my instincts and my needs and my yes and my no is fundamental, more fundamental than, say, being a good daughter/aunt/sister/cousin/niece on Thanksgiving.
Below is a list of things I think are incredibly helpful to make it through a holiday that has the potential to take so many of us down (what the actual fuck is up with Thanksgiving), but the most important thing I can tell you is that listening to your needs (especially if you are newly sober) and heeding them - no matter what that means or who it disappoints - is the most important.
In other words, what I am saying is that you don't have to read all this shit below, or come up with a battle plan. If Thanksgiving is not something you can do this year (or any year!), you do not have to do it. Even if that means canceling the one you are hosting.
But: if you're In like Flynn, the tips below will help you survive it.
7 Tips To Survive Thanksgiving Sober.
1. GO INTO IT KNOWING YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DRINK.
This I cannot stress enough. Drinking doesn't begin with drinking alcohol. As all actions do, It begins with a thought. A seed is planted in our mind, and our bodies carry out the action. If you're on the fence as you go into the holiday about whether or not you are going to drink, you are planting the seed that you might, and therefore, setting yourself up for some major battle of will, unnecessary guilt, and - most likely - a not so sober holiday. The strength to do comes from your undivided decision. So make up your mind now by eliminating the option altogether and tell yourself you are not going to drink. No matter what.
2. GET EXCITED ABOUT IT!!!!
Holy hell this is a thing! You can get excited about it and it's kinda fun. Start by visualizing yourself sober and drinking fizzy water as the rest of your clan becomes inebriated, and feel the smug sense of pride in your restraint. Imagine remembering the whole night, what it will feel like to not be hung-over with the weekend ahead of you, and returning to work on Monday refreshed. If you need more inspiration, check out this piece on 103 Benefits of Sobriety.
3. GET YOUR TOOLBOX READY.
Come up with a list of five things that help you manage stress, keep you happy, and in your peace. Some of my favorites to take with me on the holidays:
Lavender oil or peppermint oil. When I feel overwhelmed or on edge or disconnected or even depressed, I place a drop on my hands, rub my palms together, cup my nose, and inhale deeply a few times. Instant mood change. Use a citrus based oil like grapefruit or lemon if you struggle with holiday blues. You can pick up essential oils on Amazon, doTerra online, or at natural foods stores like Whole Foods.
This meditation. The Tattva Balance Beyond Stress and Duality meditation is my favorite. Doing it for just 3 minutes brings me back to my center immediately. It's great for escaping a negative mindset, centering, grounding, and also feeling my spirit and aliveness. It can be done in bathroom stalls standing up if needed.
10 Long Deep Breaths. If you can control your breath, you can control your mind. You can do this non-ceremoniously (like while in line at a store or even at the dinner table - just inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of five), or you can find a quiet private place and do it meditation style as follows. Sit in easy pose (legs folded in front of you). Breath in through your nose for a count of five, eyes closed and rolled up to your third eye point if possible. Breath out the mouth, exhaling to a count of five. For extra release, stick your tongue out as you exhale and make a "HAAAAAAA" sound, blowing out the air, the heat, and the stress. For a full tutorial check out this post.
Amino Acid Relief. If you feel stressed, drop a GABA Calm lozenge under your tongue and let it dissolve. It's an actual chill pill. If you are craving alcohol just feel like your whole nervous system is "firing," open up an L-Glutamine capsule and empty the contents under your tongue/let it dissolve.
4. ACT LIKE A VEGAN.
Remember that you are a non-drinker, it's a choice you have made, and you are by no means obligated to engage in discussions about your choice. You don't push it on others or ask them why they drink, and you are by no means required to justify or explain your choice. You don't drink. End of story. If it's your first holiday around people who don't know you're a non-drinker, here is a post on Coming Out Sober: 8 Tips To Navigate Your Social Life to help you out.
5. BE PREPARED FOR FAMILY SHIT AND OTHER PEOPLE SHIT.
Stay in your peace and power by employing these four practices.
Remember 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. Your reaction to them - however - is about you. Keep the focus on that. It's the only thing you have control over.
Consider everyone an angel. I wrote about this here, and it's by far one of the greatest tools in my toolbox. I consider every single encounter divine, a perfect lesson designed to help me grow in my own skin and space, and every single person an angel (note: this doesn’t mean I immediately remember people are angles; I typical default to “you fucker’ first). The relationships that challenge me the most as gifts showing me the places where I can still grow, and I use them for this purpose. (Note: this is not advice for abusive relationships; abusers are not angels).
Don't engage and remember your safety lies in your defenselessness. The first act of war is defense. And so it goes that if you find yourself letting someone push your buttons, or find yourself defending something, you are perpetuating the problem. The best way to handle a situation that tends to get your goat is to simply remove your energy from the situation. I always imagine when someone says something to me that makes me want to jump into defense or attack mode that they are swinging at me, and instead of blocking the punch or swinging back, I move out of the way. I imagine their energy floating right past me, and them tiring themselves out when the punches they are throwing aren't landing. Don't defend, don't swing back, and find power in your ability to not engage and perpetuate bad energy. (Again: not about literal punches.)
Set MAJOR boundaries and put yourself FIRST. As I explained in the intro: you don't have to engage in every conversation or relationship, you don't have to do everything you're asked, you don't have to do anything that compromises your sobriety or your path. All you have to do is take care of yourself and keep in mind that YOU ARE IN RECOVERY FROM SOMETHING THAT KILLS PEOPLE. So act like it. One of my favorite blogs ever is Laura McKowen's Pregnancy Principal, which states: (1) Your well-being comes first, (2) If it doesn’t support your well-being, don’t do it. (3) Be unapologetically selfish with your energy and time. To read more on this, check out the full post.
6. TREAT YOURSELF.
Practice EXTREME SELF-CARE and REWARD YOURSELF. Self-care is beyond important - especially during the holiday season where we're traveling, out of our routine, and possibly engaging in stressful relationships. Stay hydrated, take baths, do yoga, keep your meditation practice, set aside time to journal, read spiritual texts or things that remind you how powerful and perfect you are, eat good foods, relax. The reward is even more important. Reinforce the good you are doing by giving yourself a distinct and tangible reward. Book a massage for the weekend, buy a new tube of lipstick, take yourself to a movie, buy that book you've been meaning to read and set time aside to read it, or maybe even just allow yourself a few hours in your pj's watching trashy TV. Decide what it is now, and decide when you'll do it, and put it on your calendar.
7. LISTEN TO THE PODCAST.
If you want more, you can listen to the HOME Podcast Laura and I did on surviving the holidays. It's a few years old now and I don't even remember what we said but it's holiday related so that potentially counts.
EXTRA CREDIT. LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH CRAVINGS.
If you are looking for some extra support on how to work specifically with the urge to drink and how to use mistakes to your advantage, check out the mini-course How To Overcome The Urge To Drink + Recover From Mistakes. It will give you tools on how to prepare for and deal with cravings in social situations + how to recover from mistakes (plus a lot of information about why cravings occur in the first place, and practices to prevent them from happening in the long term).