Scary movies don’t work for me: they clog up my thinking with thoughts of tussling with zombies, and that kind of mental processing is so not necessary for me right now. Life is scary enough. But Thanksgiving is coming, so of course I keep thinking about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
I must admit, I have not watched this movie in its entirety. I was subjected to it in high school and watched some of it wedged firmly behind a blanket and two pillows (I think I escaped to the bathroom for the majority of it). But I do have one part of the film forever ironed onto my brain: the dinner table scene.
You might know it. The freakish family members—including the very, very bad Chainsaw Guy—all slouch around the dinner table. Some hapless blonde with really good ’70s hair sits at the end of the tableau, screaming her head off and the freaky people act like this is just another family meal.
Perhaps this scene does nothing but make you shudder. But, if you are like me, it sets off a teeny-tiny little alarm of recognition deep down in your soul. For me, it pretty much sums up Thanksgiving dinner with my family.
Recovery is tough. We get ourselves pickled and then we have to un-pickle, and it’s about the hardest thing we ever did. And then, we have to go eat dinner with our family.
I know that my family loves me, but they also carry about 50-thousand pounds of baggage with them (as most families do). When I first got sober, I tried to sort it for them. Why not try? Everything now needs to be shuffled and categorized and cleaned. Sobriety would be so much easier this way, if we all tidied up a bit.
Sometimes Thanksgiving with your grandma’s sweet potatoes and that weird green Jello thing your aunt brings also involves a lot of alcohol. Your family might celebrate the day with football and vats of beer. It’s annoying, but I think watching 50 Bud Light commercials on ESPN with all those thin, happy people might entice some people to up their booze intake. It’s a day of television, food and boredom—and beer pairs well with all of that.
Or maybe you have some family members who drink like alcoholics. Watching this hurts your heart. Perhaps it makes you itch for a large tumbler of the hard stuff too. You’ve been preparing for Thanksgiving for weeks, with extra meetings, your sponsor on speed dial and a getaway car with the engine running. Even so, the hours pass so slowly. You grit your teeth, eat three types of pie and mutter serenity prayers like you’re a priest of the Church of Sobriety. It’s a carb-loaded marathon of difficulty.
Sometimes, Thanksgiving is draped with anger and relationships gone sour, and wine added to this only makes the situation worse. But since you are now sober and enlightened, you decide to start lecturing. Lecturing and Thanksgiving don’t mix. Your dad pours a large Scotch and you find yourself wanting one (you don’t even like Scotch). This yearning makes the lecture hall even larger and lonelier, as you have become both the audience and the speaker at the event.
Sometimes, there isn’t even any alcohol at the table—and this is very new. Your family is sweetly trying to support your sobriety, so water glasses and iced tea with extra special lemon wedges are offered and it feels like one of those “Very Special Episodes” of after-school TV. Everyone is full of good cheer, the liquor cabinet is locked and you are being watched like a family version of Orwell’s 1984. This too makes you long—if momentarily—for a side of vodka with your turkey and dressing.
Sometimes there isn’t any alcohol at Thanksgiving because booze has never really been a thing at your house, and your Thanksgiving is fairly normal (as normal as any family gathering can be). Your children are running about, your husband eats too much, your dad likes to talk about politics and the Cowboys are losing. Pretty normal stuff. But you still wish, deep down, that afterwards you could go back to your house, shut the door and drink. It’s a holiday, after all, and holidays mean people and happiness. It makes your brain itch.
Sometimes there is an empty chair at the table. We are all very aware of that chair, but we eat, talk and laugh and then feel a little guilty for the laughing. Empty chairs at Thanksgiving are the worst. We are all so busy and far away for the rest of the year, but now we are here, sitting and eating and staring at the chair. It’s an all-day memorial which feels awkward because it’s paired with football, a parade and pumpkin pie. My Thanksgivings do not include alcohol. They haven’t since I was born, as I am blessed to have a father in recovery. But we have the empty chair for my brother, who tussled with alcohol again and again, and lost.
The holidays are hard: they are frosted with the expectations inspired by the Hallmark Channel and Josh Groban albums, and when our lives come skidding up against these expectations, it’s a struggle. But sometimes when all the skeletons in the closet are clamoring to get out, you do well to just let them out and offer them a slice of your sister’s apple pie, pour another La Croix, reassure your mom that her gravy is not lumpy (even if it is) and hang in there. It’s only once a year.
On Thanksgiving, we get to practice gratitude—one of the Sobriety Superpowers. Thankfulness is easy when it’s just you, your pets, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and some awesome meetings. But when you’re surrounded by people who sometimes annoy the crap out of you, it requires Super-Thankfulness—gratitude in its most refined state. It’s the Evian of recovery.
Sometimes, Thanksgiving means greeting your Uncle Lou, who shows up at the door with some Southern Comfort and inappropriate jokes about cheerleaders. Then when he starts teasing you about your fancy La Croix and asks why you don’t drink anymore. Not even one beer? Just be thankful. For the La Croix and that you are still breathing and will continue to do so—sober—even after all that pie. And Uncle Lou.