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How Every Day Became Thanksgiving

By Sarenka Smith

During Thanksgiving of 2014, I ate dinner alone in Baltimore City. My parents and family lived a few miles away, but I was uninvited for the holidays. I wasn’t allowed to enter my childhood home; a few weeks earlier, my mother had told me they no longer trusted me in their house. I had stolen from them -- repeatedly, countless times. But the taking didn’t stop there: it extended to everyone around me. If I spent time with you, it was because you had something I needed.

When I think back on that evening, sitting in a drunken stupor of alcohol and drugs, I feel the simultaneous emotions of shame and gratitude. The latter was something unexpected: I had heard there were ‘bottoms’ in the spiral of addiction that propelled addicts to seek recovery, but did not come to believe it until years later.

When I began my neither linear nor graceful journey of recovery almost 7 years ago, I spent several Thanksgiving holidays away from my family. Thanksgiving of 2015 was in South Florida, in a high-end, luxury rehab center with other alcoholics and addicts. The next Thanksgiving was at a run-down sober living facility for women seeking to stay clean and sober, and the next was still unattached to my family. I grew to attach the word ‘solitude’ to Thanksgiving, and would spend hours pouring over social media. Friends flying home to their families across the country; mothers creating colorful turkeys out of paper with their small children; videos of families making toasts together and going around the table to answer the question: “what are you grateful for?”

But for the past few Thanksgiving holidays, I’ve been at home: surrounded by family, friends, and an overabundance of food. I’ve been able to participate in my own family’s tradition of going around the table and remarking on the gratitude we’ve felt in the past year. For the past couple years, my answer has stayed the same: recovery. I’m grateful to be sober; I’m grateful to be clean.

Although we often mark Thanksgiving as a specific day in which we express and articulate gratitude, gratitude is one of the fundamental virtues that guides my recovery and creates my own happiness. In early recovery, my sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous asked me to text her a gratitude list each day: 3 things for which I felt grateful. At the time, still estranged from friends and family and living thousands of miles away, my answers felt silly. Air conditioning. Netflix. A job that pays my bills.

Today, my answers don’t always feel particularly deep and profound -- but they always include my family. The close relationships, attachments, and friendships I’ve been able to develop in recovery. An enduring gratitude for the programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Gratitude for the fact that I can show up as a loyal, empathetic, selfless member of society. Gratitude that I feel empowered to stay clean and sober.

And so while I cherish and appreciate every Thanksgiving in which I feel an outpouring of love and support, I consider every day to be Thanksgiving. Each day, I make a commitment to myself: to consider the things for which I am grateful. Each day, I remember what it was like, what happened, and where I am now. Each day, my gratitude helps me move forward in my journey.

*Note: This content is reflective of our advocates’ lived experiences. It is intended for informational purposes only. These pieces do not provide medical advice, nor are they substitutes for professional medical diagnosis or treatment.

lived experiences
Written by

Sarenka Smith

Sarenka has been voraciously reading & writing since she was a small child. For the past half decade, she has worked in marketing & communications for healthcare-focused organizations and…