Until I got sober, I hated Thanksgiving.
For most people, Thanksgiving means turkey, NFL blowouts, family gatherings, and these days, racing to the mall in the early evening to shop or just to keep one’s job.
Not every Thanksgiving looks like Norman Rockwell or Currier & Ives.
Ours certainly didn’t.
My father’s mother would spend endless hours in the kitchen, where she had a magic touch.
Then the meal would be served, and out would come the alcohol and the long knives.
And not the ones for carving the turkey.
The booze would flow and the mood would quickly turn from The Betty Crocker Cookbook to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
My Uncle Mike’s acerbic tongue would cut everyone else down to size.
My grandmother would soon be sobbing and would then pass out, her face literally in the turkey and cranberry sauce she had worked so diligently to prepare.
The drive home would be long and silent; God knows what words my parents had exchanged.
My sisters and I would sit, clueless, in the back seat, wondering what happened to Grandma.
Now, were we the only ones whose family holiday was ruined by family drinking?
It’s just not something people discuss.
And yet, it wasn’t until my early thirties that I recognized my own alcoholism and took steps to treat it.
By then, I’d turned into my own version of Uncle Mike, drinking too much at other people’s tables and cutting people down with cruel remarks.
I thought I was just being funny; he had probably thought the same thing.
Today, 24 sober years later, Thanksgiving isn’t a just a holiday; it’s the foundation of my life.
Buried under the mounds of turkey, stuffing, football, booze, pie, and shopping is the real meaning of Thanksgiving – gratitude for what we have and who we are.
The essence of sobriety is maintaining an “attitude of gratitude” – not once a year but constantly.
A grateful heart doesn’t drink.
And when you don’t drink, you don’t ruin your own day or the days of the people around you.
You practice what the Alcoholics Anonymous literature calls “restraint of pen and tongue.”
You realize that even if the only thing that happened on Thanksgiving Day, or any day, is that you didn’t drink, that’s enough.
Everything else is a bonus.
In basketball, when a team steals the ball, or catches its own rebound off the rim, the announcer exclaims, “They’ve got a new 24!”
He’s referring to the 24-second clock, but for sober people, every new day is a new 24.
A set of 24 hours in which we understand there’s no situation so terrible that a good, stiff drink couldn’t mess it up beyond all recognition.
Twenty-four hours in which we get to act like citizens instead of walking cries for help.
During which time we can be of love and service to others, instead of ruining our own day and the days of everyone around us.
Twenty-four hours in which we can build and not destroy.
Because we stay grateful.
Grateful to be alive…sober…and living in freedom and dignity.
Grateful to be a positive force in the lives of our loved ones, our colleagues and clients, and our society.
Grateful to have loved ones and a job.
Grateful to be contributing, to be in the flow of life, instead of being a user and a taker.
Grateful to model sobriety, gratitude, and the joy of living to those around us, instead of creating memories for them like the Thanksgivings of my youth.
Above all, grateful to be accountable, responsible, emotionally present, aware of one’s connection to and reliance on God, and grateful to love and be loved.
In that sense, these days, Thanksgiving Day is no different from any other day on the calendar.
When I open my mouth, it isn’t to take alcohol in or spew venom out.
So bring on Thanksgiving.
And bring on Norman Rockwell and Currier & Ives.
It took decades, but I no longer hate Thanksgiving.
I can’t because, as much of a cliché as it may sound, every day is Thanksgiving Day.