A Mindful Approach to Thanksgiving Eve

By Kenneth England, MFT, Primary Therapist, Malibu PromisesDrinking too much on the eve of Thanksgiving has become a national pastime. It’s a tradition that is treacherous for many people, especially those in recovery.
thanksgiving drinking

What Is Blackout Wednesday?

Alcohol is consumed in such epic proportions on this day that it’s nicknamed “Drinksgiving” and “Blackout Wednesday.” Binge drinking is associated with the evening before Thanksgiving for a number of reasons:

  • People typically have off from work the next day
  • It kicks off a four-day weekend and they have days to recover
  • College students on break often return home to visit family and friends ― and drink
  • It’s the official start of the holiday season

What Is the Busiest Day of the Year for Bars?

Blackout Wednesday beats out New Year’s Eve for busiest bar night. Some people become so intoxicated from Thanksgiving eve drinking that memories and moments are lost, hence the term “Blackout Wednesday.”

  • Excessive drinking leads to irresponsible and unconscious behaviors
  • It is blamed for more traffic accidents than any other holiday, some attributed to alcohol
  • Some cities with higher rates traffic deaths have holiday checkpoints

Mindful Planning for People in Recovery

Thanksgiving eve drinking traditions and activities can wreak havoc on recovery, and can also lead to blackouts and accidents for recovering alcoholics, so it is essential to create a mindful plan for Thanksgiving eve.

Mindfulness in recovery may include meditation and breathing techniques but it is essentially about being in the moment and being aware of things in a new way. This promotes breaking or altering routines.

Turn Blackout Wednesday Into a Sober Celebration

Here are some mindful strategies for coping with holiday pressures.

  1. Prioritize self-care. Holidays take energy and can be emotionally draining. Maintain the best health possible so you can feel strong and have stamina.
    • Get extra sleep, rest or time out from frenetic activities
    • Eat mindfully and avoid foods that can impact your behavior, such as excessive sugar
    • Take multiple times in a day to meditate for 10 minutes or focus on your breathing
    • Stay present and in the moment
    • Reach out for help if things become too overwhelming
  2. Assess the stress. There may be challenging relationship situations to face, such as an abusive or angry parent or a family member who is active in an addiction. Be honest with yourself about potential emotional landmines.  You can’t predict every moment, but being aware of pitfalls is the first step in preparing for a mindful approach to Thanksgiving eve drinking.
  3. Buck the old tradition. Drinking and partying may be a positive tradition for friends and family and may have once been for you, but now it's a negative. Your tribe may not be educated enough about alcoholism to understand the challenges you are facing.  They may think you don’t even need to be in recovery. Prepare yourself for the moment that they try to coax you to “just have one drink” and insist that holiday drinking doesn't count.  And get clear on your intention not to drink so you can stand up to anyone who tries to foist a libation your way.
  4. Gather with supportive friends. You may have loving and supportive old friends you’d like to hang out with but it’s important to be conscious of pitfalls and setups that could lure you into old behaviors. If you meet them for dinner, try to do so in a place that doesn’t serve alcohol. Have plans to go to a movie or play afterward so there is something to do other than drink.  Or try lunch, brunch or breakfast, which are generally outside of drinking hours.
  5. Bring a sober pal, or stay in touch with one. If you have a recovery friend who is available, bring that person to quietly support you. Alternatively, remain connected with your sponsor and recovery friends by phone. If you get upset or triggered, step away from whatever is happening and make the call. Check in advance for local AA meetings; some cities have multiple get-togethers on big holidays.
  6. Plan accountability measures. It helps to commit to something the next day for which you know you cannot show up drunk or hungover ― like an AA meeting.  Take it a step further by committing to make the coffee or bring the donuts so that people are relying on you. Making coffee may not seem like a big deal, but it gets you committed to coming back. And you don't want to be embarrassed when people see you and say, “Hey, where were you last night?”
  7. Be grateful. Expressing gratitude on Thanksgiving eve, or planning it for the dinner table the next day, is a novel approach to the holiday. Think of ways people have helped you and loved you; make a list of what you are grateful for. Just taking the time to reflect on this will be a positive experience.  Recognizing that you are thankful acknowledges your progress and anchors your intentions to see things in a new way.

Mindfulness in recovery can be about seeing even the most basic things in new ways. Make sure to also appreciate and be thankful for your own willingness to try something new in order to maintain your sobriety on the biggest drinking night of the year.

Posted on November 3rd, 2017

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