Thanksgiving is a holiday that can either help you feel more connection and deeper love, or increased anxiety and deeper depression. Stress has been proven to be a major contributor to substance use disorder and relapse—but that doesn’t mean you have to give into it. Instead of letting Thanksgiving drag you down into repeating old patterns, use the holiday as motivation to really, genuinely give thanks. By focusing on the good things in your life, big and small, you not only open yourself up to feelings of joy, you dispel negativity that can impede your recovery progress. The truth is, if you are in recovery, you have more to be thankful for than most Americans, and this is the perfect time of year to celebrate your sobriety and all the gifts that come with it.
Being Thankful in Recovery
People in recovery from substance use disorders have all suffered in their pasts, and have all faced enormous challenges to get sober. It can be easy to see yourself as a victim, and the world as a hard and dangerous place—but this is exactly the kind of thinking that makes you vulnerable to relapse. By taking these exact same thoughts and flipping them around, you can recognize the triumph of surviving pain and overcoming obstacles, and realize how much you have to be grateful for in your sobriety.
A range of recent scientific studies have proven the many psychological and physical benefits of gratitude. Gratitude amplifies your happiness and makes you more likely to make healthy choices and avoid self-destructive behavior. People who regularly practice gratitude sleep better, have better self esteem, and have a lowered risk of anxiety, depression, and addiction. Gratitude can even be used as an in-the-moment, quick-fix for sadness and anxiety. Taking a moment to make a list of things you are grateful for, or to write in a gratitude journal, can instantly give you a positive reality check that lifts your mood—it can even be contagious, lifting up the people around you.
If you’re new to sober living, practicing gratitude can help you recognize what a good and important thing your recovery is, inspiring you to keep up the good work, and helping you maintain your sobriety despite holiday challenges. If you’ve been sober for a long time, you probably find the holidays much less challenging, because you’ve successfully faced them for many years now. Feeling confident in your sobriety is a wonderful thing, but don’t let that confidence dim your excitement about the wonders of recovery. Use Thanksgiving to reawaken your gratitude for the miracle of sober living.
9 Things to be Thankful for This Thanksgiving
It’s already been mentioned, but it bears repeating. Just the fact of being sober means you have so much to be grateful for. Even if you’ve only been sober for a few months, or even a few weeks, allow yourself to recognize the accomplishment and feel thanks towards everything and everyone that helped you along the way.
2. Being excited about life again
Although we don’t always feel the excitement of it every day, recovery really is exciting. It is a journey of self-discovery that opens you up to spirituality, deepens your connections with others, forces you to face and overcome your fears, and pushes you towards new people, new interests, and new hobbies—all of which you can be fully present for, because you no longer have drugs or alcohol as a buffer between you and your life.
Without the interference of drugs and alcohol, your thinking is faster and clearer, your senses are heightened, your emotions are no longer numbed, and you can fully connect with loved ones and experiences. Sobriety allows you to see the whole world and everything in it in a brand-new way, and to respond to everything around you actively, truly engaging with your life instead of passively letting it slip by you. Not only is this clarity something to be grateful for, clarity will give you the ability to recognize the many other things you have to be grateful for, creating an undercurrent of positivity that can be self-sustaining, if you let it.
4. Better Health
It is no secret that an active substance use disorder is very bad for your health, both due to the substances themselves, and due to the way people who misuse substances tend to neglect their health and engage in self-destructive behaviors. Detoxing and getting sober lets your body heal and get stronger, and frees up energy that you can devote to taking better care of yourself. Take some time this Thanksgiving to recognize how much better you feel in recovery. Your vigour, your sleep, your digestion and more, have no doubt improved by leaps and bounds—along with your appearance, so go ahead and feel grateful for looking better too!
5. Having a good time without feeling bad about it later
When you were active in your addiction, you probably had a whole lot of celebrations and “fun” nights out that made you feel terrible the next day, both physically and emotionally, as you drowned in shame for behaving in ways you never would have behaved while sober—and that’s if you can even remember what happened. Sobriety allows you to have the kind of fun that you are fully present for, with you fully in charge of yourself, with nothing to regret. As an added bonus, this kind of fun creates the kind of memories that can make you feel good all over again, every time you think of them.
Substance use can violently damage relationships, but sobriety gives you the chance to rebuild trust, restore connections, and become closer than ever to the people who you love most. Recovery also has a way of bringing valuable new friendships into your life, through treatment programs and support groups. These people understand and accept you in ways that allow you to understand and accept yourself. Celebrate all of your loved ones this Thanksgiving, and remember that family isn’t always about blood.
7. Getting things done
The cycle of addiction has a way of controlling your life and taking over your thoughts, preventing you from setting goals and chasing your dreams. Substance use gets in the way of everything, from getting to appointments on time, to finishing school, to going after a promotion at work. It even gets in the way of life’s little pleasures, like running outside on a crisp fall day, or finishing a jigsaw puzzle. No matter what it is you want to do, big or small, sober living will allow you to be more productive, in more ways, with better results.
8. The ability to see the good in the world and in yourself
An active addiction has a way of making you feel like people are bad, life is hard, and you’re no good at all. Substance use makes you feel this way, and then the cycle continues as you turn to substances to try and relieve the negative feelings—or because you feel like it doesn’t matter what you do. Negativity makes you feel like you deserve to keep using, whether you see it as a reward, a consolation prize, or a punishment. Sobriety renews your ability to see all the goodness you were blind to before. It allows you to recognize the kindness in other people, the strengths in yourself, and all the ways that the universe looks out for us when we start paying attention.
9. Helping other people
When every minute of every day, you are drunk or high, or recovering from being drunk or high, it’s easy to become wrapped up in yourself. You either don’t think of other people’s needs, or you feel like you don’t have it in you to actually make a difference. In recovery, as you build up your own strength, you reach a point where you can start sharing that strength with others. Whether it’s lifting up someone you know from a 12-step meeting, pitching in with the pie-making for Thanksgiving Day, or volunteering at a non-profit, helping other people feels good, and allows you to pass on the many gifts that you have received in recovery.
Supporting Recovery Through Aftercare
A good recovery plan will always take continuing care into account. Successfully completing a rehab program is a great accomplishment, but that’s not where recovery ends, it’s just another milestone along the way. Aftercare is crucial for continued sobriety. Some rehabs have long-term aftercare programs you can take part in, but sometimes you have to take charge of your own aftercare. Here are a few ways to do it:
- 12-Step meetings and other kinds of peer support groups are a fantastic sober living resource that you can turn to, whenever you need it, for the rest of your life. Whether you use it for the sense of community you feel there, for the insights and breakthroughs they provide, or for simple maintenance—renewing your motivation and reminding you of the things you need to do to stay sober—support groups should be a part of everyone’s recovery journey.
- Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy are also vital to recovery success. Counseling helps you discover and work through addiction issues and past traumas, but the benefits don’t end just because you’ve finished working through all the really big stuff. Continued counseling sessions will help you cope with stress and process new challenges before they have the chance to become crisis situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy will help you recognize your personal addiction triggers, learn new coping mechanisms, and figure out new ways of thinking and behaving to support a healthy, sober life.
- Medication can be a lifesaver for many people, whether it’s temporary methadone maintenance, or ongoing antidepressants. Continue seeing your doctor to discuss progress and to have your medications changed and dosages adjusted as needed.
- Relapse prevention care can be found through education, meetings, alumni events, or counseling sessions that focus specifically on relapse. Whether you are trying to avoid relapse, or trying to get back on track after relapse, it’s important to adapt your addiction treatment to suit your ongoing needs. It’s also important to recognize if you’ve left treatment too soon, or given up counseling before you were ready, or are taking the wrong kind of antidepressant for you. Trial and error and try again is part of the process. Recovery can have ups and downs, and it should evolve along with you.
- Sober living homes can be a good option for many people who are leaving rehab but aren’t ready to be entirely on their own, without the supervision and structure of a treatment program. It can also be a good stepping stone for people who don’t have a safe and stable home environment to return to. A sober living arrangement can give you time to make practical life changes to ensure a successful transition back into regular life. A sober living home usually requires regular drug and alcohol testing, curfews, following a treatment plan, going to work or school, and shared household responsibilities.
Practice Honesty for the Holidays
Honesty isn’t just something you do for other people; it’s something that you do for yourself, as well. Being honest and open with loved ones is key, and so is being honest with yourself. If you are having a hard time this holiday season and are in danger of relapsing, if you have relapsed, or if you think you need to check into a rehab program for the first time, find resources in your state.
Over 20 million Americans are suffering with a substance use disorder, but only ten percent of them are receiving the treatment they need. Help close the treatment gap by seeking help for yourself, and start giving yourself more things to be grateful for, starting today.