how to cope with thanksgiving? reach out before you feel too crazy

there’s this big american holiday coming up. thanksgiving is centred (usually) on food, family, and togetherness. it often involves travel, with a dollop of american football thrown in for good measure (the sport where they run at each other and throw bodies to the ground, and they’re dressed a bit like water buffalo).

You? You’re not drinking this year. This might be your first sober Thanksgiving. how to cope? yes, let’s brainstorm.

I’ll start:

1. advance warning: If you can gently let people know in advance that you’re not drinking, you may find it easier. You can say something like “i’m bringing salad and cranberry juice since i’m not drinking these days, can i get anything for you?”

2. replacement drink: then bring the above mentioned cranberry juice. duh.

3. story: have a version of the story ready that you can tell. You can borrow Caro’s version: “i’ve found that alcohol – no matter how little i drink – makes me feel depressed and melancholy. so i’m taking a break.”

4. arrive late / leave early: this is my favourite advice for all things that make you twitch. you can ‘have another stop you need to make’ or ‘have a headache’.  if you start to feel weird, then make a graceful exit. even a non-graceful exit.

5. sober support: if you start to feel wingy, you can text / call some sober supports. you can go into the closet and log onto the sober blogs. you can go in the backyard and listen to an audio.

6. reach out before you feel too crazy: honestly, the sooner you reach out for some kind of sober reassurance, the better.  email before you leave the house, listen to audios on the drive there, and log into the blog upon arrival 🙂 ok, email whenever you want, but you do NOT have to wait until you’re desperate to say “i’m feeling weird about this.”  If you’re home alone for thanksgiving and you’re feeling weird or wingy or spinny or freaky — same rules apply!

7. stay in a hotel: you’re not required to stay overnight in someone’s house. you can (suddenly) be a light sleeper who needs to stay in a hotel just to get a good night’s sleep … This is me. i never stay in someone’s home. i always want to have a place where i can ‘retreat’ at the end of the visiting. i need alone time.

8. play dysfunctional family bingo … I’ll do a whole post on this tomorrow.  It’s sooo much fun and anyone can play!

9. more ideas? post a comment below and share you ideas on how to deal with thanksgiving.

from my inbox:

Brett: “I’ve realized that I have withdrawn so much, and become so scared of so many things, because I have been keeping this secret. That makes it even harder to do some of the things I know will help, such as exercise. I have been working so hard to stay in my boozy comfort zone and to protect my drinking that I lost all motivation to do any of the other things that I love.  Getting the motivation back and overcoming the fear of being ‘found out’ are going to be the hardest things for me.”

me: “here’s what I say. you go from today forward. you don’t have to socialize and you don’t have to tell anybody. you just have to work (as little as possible), eat take out, drink tea, and go to bed early.  the rest of it can just wait.  Honestly. the first 30 days is about tucking yourself into a safe and protective space and just waiting, bobbing along like a cork on the water. not swimming, not drowning. just bobbing. motivation comes later. ease and relaxing both come later. for now, just do this thing. this one thing. what worked for me, really and honestly, was going to bed as early as 8 pm just so the fucking day would be finished! every day forward is a day away from that time ‘back there’ and into a new time ‘over here’ where you get to be somebody new, a better version of you. many hugs from me.”


I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • This will be my first sober Thanksgiving in over twenty years. Fortunately it will be a quiet day, just me, husband, and the dog. Had the drama of a family get together two weeks ago and survived, barely. It’s been over 2 months sober now and I’m so grateful but still having cravings for sweets, and so tired . Is that normal?

    • I, too, have been so tired since I have quit drinking. I was expecting to be springing out of my bed each morning since there were no more hangovers. I AM waking up earlier and most times without an alarm but I can easily sleep 10-12 hours a night if given the opportunity. I was really hoping to be able to wake up at 6 am with no problem. It takes a good hour to feel AWAKE. Hoping this changes soon. I am on Day 21.

      • I think it does change, but in the first month or so – yes it’s all about sleep. get as much as you can. your poor body is resting, recharging, repairing : )

  • Will be with my children who have rarely known me to come to the dinner table without at least a half a bottle of wine in me…wine was my cooking companion and best friend….looking forward to being “there” as opposed to in the bottom of a bottle. I think I need to ask for help, companionship, community in the kitchen as meals are prepared. That will be my goal…make it a communal experience to share. And, I just bought two cases of Pelligrino for the holidays…lemons and limes….perfect, festive drink!
    Thanks for the advice Belle…and the laughter….

    • : ) I think asking for help has the ability to transform the event for us… someone else can peel the potatoes. yes, they won’t do it the way you do it, but you’re cooking for family, not for the pope. everyone loves to help if it’s done with fun and laughter. I can’t WAIT to hear how this goes for you : )

  • This will be second Thanksgiving sober, though the last one was 6 years ago! I drove myself and was very proud of myself at the end of the evening. No one really noticed but me (: On the drive home I watched the moon rise over the mountains and I remember that beautiful moment very clearly to this day. In fact that Thanksgiving was a lot more memorable than the subsequent ones have been. The ones that involved lotsa boozing and schmoozing, and feeling like absolute death warmed over the next day. Looking forward to experiencing this one clearly and calmly.

  • Lovely Thanksgiving poem from Thich Nhat Hahn:

    Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
    I join my hands in thanks for the many wonders of life;
    For having twenty-four brand new hours before me.
    The sun is rising.
    The forest becomes my awareness bathed in sunshine.

  • I want to hear more about dysfunctional family bingo!

    my response for being being booze free is going to be simple and easy when asked – “drinking even a bit makes me feel like total dogshit the next day nowadays… oh well, must be getting old. So I am giving it a break for a while”.
    I have found that others don’t really care about if I drink or not as much as I thought they did… even those that are heavy drinkers or former drinking buddies. Just a quick to the point answer and move on I found works best, as opposed to some complicated explanation.

  • Holidays are hard and Belle’s list is gold to those of us whose families drink, are dysfunctional, where we are the black sheep (that’s me!), where it goes late into the night… Get out for some air and leave when I have to has saved me for three decades of holiday bullshit. Now I live so far away that No One expects me anywhere and it’s perfect. No flashbacks, hard times, fast exits, family quarrels…

    Life is better sober and far from the family that drove me to drinking at 14…

  • Well for my first ‘holiday’ since mine is not Thanksgiving (as we celebrated in October here in Canada) – I’m attending my first holiday social – our Winter Gala (dinner and dancing) and I’ve already made plans about being sober. While I can’t get there late or leave early as I’m the event coordinator, I’ve signed myself up to take care of many details which will make not drinking ok and in comparison to last year’s event – I’m looking forward to it. Last year, I was sitting alone at my table, had a few drinks in me and found myself crying feeling sorry for myself being single and feeling alone. It was embarrassing when people came back to the table and noticed. This year will be completely different. I even got a free hotel room as part of the deal and will bring my AF drinks for back there and snacks too to ward off cravings. It’s all about pre-planning and my reason – I am part of a group that’s all about healthy living – so I’m telling them I’m giving my body a break and looking to lose weight so booze is off limits.

  • these are all fantastic ideas~ Family Bingo can’t wait to read that…. I think going into the event, have a sober friend on text or email standby. Arrange before you head out and so each of you have their phone or iPad handy to check in. I think this is especially important for newbies or anyone who is uncomfortable going into the holiday season of many social events.

  • #4 is great advice. I will be going to a house with a long driveway so I plan to arrive late and make sure I am not blocked by other cars. This way I can make a quick exit if I wish.

  • Regarding your number 4 – always have an escape route planned. By that I mean things like – you are the driver, you have the keys and can leave when you like, if you have others with you then they need to know that you may leave early and are ok with that etc.

    For example – I used to travel to the USA on business both when I was drinking and then sober. My company travel policy was that for trips less than a week you used taxi’s or got lifts from the hosts in the location – i.e. you couldn’t get a hire car. My boss knew of my issues and he generously let me always have a hire car – therefore I’d follow my hosts to the bar/restaurant/casino etc. But I could then just go – “I’m leaving” and there was nothing to stop me. Honestly more than once in the early days that was an absolute God send – as was staying in the Residence Inn – which didn’t have a warm snug hotel bar but did have a great coffee maker in the room!

    Tbh – I still always have the escape route planned these days – I don’t rely on anyone when I’m entering a drinking environment I make sure I can just go if I need to.

    • oh you know, I’m the same but I never realized it. I always go in my own car, I always want to leave when I want to leave… good point. super good point!

  • Dysfunctional family bingo? Oh man, I can’t wait to read that post : ) Good advice all of it. I especially like the hotel one. Yes it costs a bit more, but no one can put a price on sobriety, which can get tough when friends/family are boozing until all hours.

  • Yes… its coming up to silly season for everyone. Last New Year I stayed with friends, I didn’t drink a drop for the first time NY in my life since I was 16! It was weird at first…. but fine in the end. Proves getting hammered in holiday season is overrated . I woke on January 1st 2013 with a clear head and went for a big run, the first one of the year!

    And regarding collecting days to put behind you… I can totally relate to that. The past is the past and every day coming will be a better one. Day 4 and counting….