My First Sober Thanksgiving

drawing of woman facing a door on one side and the other staring at the turkey trying to deal with sober thanksgivingThis Thanksgiving will be my first sober Thanksgiving. I have many thoughts about what this means to me. It is a milestone on the path of recovery (?), self-discovery (?) being the best version of me (?). All of the above? Whatever it is, it is my journey. Of course, journeys are fraught with challenges. I had so many thoughts about my first sober Thanksgiving I wasn’t sure how to start, so I Googled ‘sober thanksgiving.’

I don’t know what I was expecting. Google is usually my savior when I am stuck on what direction to gear my writing towards but not this time. The search results for ‘first sober Thanksgiving’ were many lists of ways to cope or survive your first sober Thanksgiving. I am not saying that those are not helpful; I didn’t or don’t feel that I have anything to add to that. Those websites had great ideas and tools to use to help people at any point in their journey.

With their great tips and advice, those websites talked a lot about how many traditions, especially around the stressful holidays, are triggers. My typical Thanksgiving certainly would have been a triggering event. I would have been drinking all day. No joke. We started in the morning with mimosas, and then sometime around mid-morning, the wine would start flowing and would not stop for a long time. But not this year.

Unusual Thanksgiving

My sobriety this Thanksgiving is not the only thing that makes this Thanksgiving different and unusual. Yes, the pandemic is the one thing that comes to mind. And that is very much a unique situation this year. The pandemic has affected people on a global scale. Yes, the pandemic, but my unusualness is on a more personal note. Some things have changed in my life that contribute to this being an unusual Thanksgiving. They are:

  • I am sober (yay!)
  • my husband came back from deployment, so he is here (yay!)
  • we have moved to a new state (yay)
  • We have moved away from our friends (boo)
  • Wholly new and short-term things, like new doctors, therapists, gym, etc., (yay and boo)

Why is the last one a yay and a boo? The use of both the positive and negative represents how I feel about new things in general. It is exciting and anxiety-inducing all at the same time.

When I don’t know what to expect, it is a trigger for me. Oddly, what wouldn’t be a trigger is being around the same people I used to drink all day. Why? Because I knew what to expect. And I knew what my friends expected of me.  This year’s expectations would be different from before as far as my alcohol consumption is concerned. But other than that, I knew what my role was in the Thanksgiving traditions that we created. Here, in this new space, I am at a loss.

Sober and Present Thanksgiving

I have been thinking about all of the advice that I have been reading online—the different ways to ‘survive’ your first sober Thanksgiving. There are excellent coping skills that I have read. Here is the thing with coping mechanisms. They won’t work if you don’t know why certain things trigger you. It is a rocky road to travel down, but it is the number one thing missing from what I have read so far.

One of the most significant changes is *gulp* having to get to know and understand me. To do that, I had to ask tough questions. Even more challenging was telling myself the real answers. Why do I have the triggers that I have? What does alcohol do for me? And not what I think it does, or what I attribute to alcohol, but how is it helping me? The answer was interesting and a bit daunting.

Once I had asked and answered those types of questions, I was ready with the question of ‘what does a life without alcohol mean to me? Even thinking about that question makes me want to run and hide. Alcohol had been my partner in crime most of my life. In part because I kept myself stuck in the past. I am still keeping myself stuck in the past, except now I am aware of it. And I am working on moving towards being in the present.

Being Present Triggers

What I mean by being present is staying in the moment and taking it all in. Although not at once. There is a filtering process that I am working on because I can’t take it all in at once. If I did, it would overwhelm me. And that is one of the many reasons for my heavy drinking. I had to become numb so that I could sort of be present. Although being physically present and intoxicated is not being present. I know that now, but then, I thought it was the same thing.

I think being present is the most anxiety-inducing situation. I could not emotionally, psychologically handle being in the present. The holidays are incredibly hard for being present. There are so many stressors with the mass amounts of people, the prepping, the anxiety around getting everything done. Being present for someone like me includes opening myself up to experience all of those things. Except for me, all of those things are also triggers.

For many folks like me, people places, certain behaviors are triggers to reach for the alcohol.  A friend of mine could not hang out with me when she became sober because being around me was a trigger. For me, it feels like life, in general, is a trigger. Not every day, just the times that I think most people don’t get so wound up, I do. And this year, I don’t have my crutch.

Sobering Thanksgiving

My crutch has been alcohol. Throughout my whole life, I used alcohol to cope with life. Actually, no, it wasn’t a coping tool; it was a numbing tool. Alcohol was a way that I escaped my reality. The thing is that I don’t need to do that anymore.

Yes, life is still loud to me; people are loud, both in that they talk and the emotions that they are projecting. And all of that bombards me from all directions. I used alcohol to turn the volume down on all of those things.

And this holiday seems incredibly loud to me. With all its shiny newness, it is almost blindingly loud. There are so many new things that I need to adjust.  I am not sure how I feel about all of it. Exposed? Yes. Tired. You bet. I am tired most days just thinking about it. I am tired of thinking about it. Why can’t I just be without all of this extra stuff?

Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to it, but I have no idea what to do and how to get through that day. I think it will be like any other dinner time activity at the family’s house, and so far, I have been fine not drinking during those. But this is a holiday with such deep associations with alcohol because of the level of stress. I suppose merely for that; I have to think about what that means.

I think at the very core of this is that I am beginning to really understand myself. I have been hiding for so many years from myself. And now I am fully coming into myself. And especially this year, that means that there are a lot of firsts. And yes, those firsts are potential triggers, like my first sober Thanksgiving.

First Sobering Breath

drawing of women meditating finding forgivenessI am writing this section a bit off the cuff. As I was prepping this to go live, I realized it was missing something. Deciding to live a life without numbing agents (drugs, alcohol, etc.) is hard every day, not just the holidays. The holidays do seem to be a culmination of a year spent struggling. And those struggles are under a magnifying glass, or so it can seem. 

And as you sit at the table there is a part of you that doesn’t feel you have done enough that year. Accomplishment seems to always be outside of your grasp. Nevermind the struggles to get to a better place and to be a better person. It is an unspoken weight that pushes you, envelopes you, and keeps you from being a part of something. 

That is what I was numbing myself for, to keep that feeling at bay. And this year, I had to do something different. What I discovered is breathing. Yes, we all breathe, but when do you pay attention to it? I know that I didn’t. And I am not talking about taking a deep breath and holding it, counting to four and releasing it. I am talking about paying attention to your normal breathing. Feeling the air entering and exiting your body on its own rhythm. That breath, its natural rhythm, is your life. Sit with that a moment. 

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