Thanksgiving is coming.
And so are your relatives.
You should probably make some decisions about how you are going to talk about your recovery if it comes up over turkey and stuffing. And who are we kidding? It will come up over turkey and stuffing.
Here’s something to be thankful for: your recovery is yours. So are the decisions about what to share and with whom. There’s no denying that addiction can affect whole families, but that does not mean every member of the family—all the way to the uncles and nephews and cousins twice removed—gets to talk about it at Thanksgiving dinner.
But just like you can’t serve up the perfect holiday meal without significant preparation, you can’t be prepared for potential awkwardness if you don’t make a plan in advance.
First Course: Are You Willing to Talk Turkey?
Thanksgiving may be a time to make amends to family members who have suffered as a result of your substance use disorder. Acknowledging mistakes and working to correct them is an essential part of 12-Step programs, and the holiday may give you the opportunity to take that important step. If so, you’ll want to think about your apology in advance so that you can be clear and honest when the moment arrives.
Alternately, you may be hoping to address some issues in your family’s past that could have contributed to your struggles with drugs or alcohol. Perhaps it is time to deal with the past so that your family can move forward together. That, of course, is heavy stuff to try to tackle as you pass around rolls, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Even if you feel ready for it, you’ll want to have a plan in place.
All of that said, it bears repeating that your recovery journey belongs to you, and you should not feel obligated to engage in conversation about it at Thanksgiving (or any other time). If the time isn’t right for a conversation about your ongoing recovery, you should feel comfortable letting your family know. If they push too hard, be prepared to make a little space for yourself—even if it means leaving the festivities a bit earlier than you expected.
Second Course: Can You Stomach That Heaping Helping of Advice?
Even if you politely shut down inquiries into your recovery, a well-meaning relative may still decide to offer advice. You might make it through the meal only to find yourself listening to questionable advice while you dry the dishes or while you’re trying to watch some football after the feast.
The key here—as with the huge holiday meal—is salt. As in: take your family’s advice with a grain of salt. Your official treatment plan—carefully crafted by a healthcare professional with expertise in substance use disorders—is the guide to your recovery. You may have to listen to the advice (just like you have to at least try the sweet potatoes with marshmallows), but you don’t have to make a meal out of it.
Dessert Course: Controlling Portion Size
Remember, you get to decide what questions you are willing to answer and with what level of detail. When necessary, you should always feel comfortable saying something like, “I’m not able to answer that right now.” Taking that approach may keep emotions—yours and your family members’—from boiling over and spoiling the meal.
A stressful holiday meal with family can feel never-ending, but the pie and coffee will make it to the table eventually. But the truth is this: you don’t have to make it to dessert. If the questions and advice become overwhelming, it is appropriate to excuse yourself. At the end of the day—even Thanksgiving day—maintaining the conditions that make your recovery sustainable is the most important thing.
Besides, your family will save you a piece of pie.
We’re Ready to Talk About Talking to Your Family
Difficult conversations are often part of the recovery process—and part of the holiday season. At The Aviary Recovery Center near St. Louis, MO, we can connect you with the resources that might make dinnertime conversations a bit more manageable. And wouldn’t that be something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?