Thank yourself later.
You matter. Your life matters more than this one day. It matters more than your family’s temporary puzzlement. Your life sure as hell matters more than what your jackass cousin who has never left his hometown but still somehow knows everything about everything thinks of you.
Say it over and over. Write it on your palm and look at it under the table. Change all your passwords to Y0uM@tter for the week so you’re forced to type it to get anything done. (Let me know when you do this so I can hop online and run up your Nordstrom tab. I need shoes, a lot of shoes.)
Also practice saying “I don’t drink.” Not “I’m taking a break from drinking” or “I quit drinking.” Those could prompt well-meaning people to say, “But it’s Thanksgiving and we always have Mom’s prickly pear mangoritas on Thanksgiving, just like the Pilgrims did. Can’t you quit again tomorrow?”
No. You are not going to just quit again tomorrow. Because you don’t drink, so you don’t have to quit tomorrow. You don’t ever have to quit again. Say it. I don’t drink.
That’s all the explanation you owe anyone, by the way. You can say more if you like, but there’s no need. If someone presses the issue and you don’t want to just intone “I…don’t…drink” over and over like a scary mannequin come to life, you can always add “I’m allergic to alcohol.” Because if we apply a liberal definition of “allergic,” you are. And we will apply whatever definition we goddamn want to because your life matters.
What if that doesn’t do the trick? What if hearty Uncle Barnaby says “But you weren’t allergic to alcohol last year”? In that case, just smile and say “Medical science!” in a whoa-what-a-crazy-world-huh voice. That should be the end of it unless Uncle Barnaby is the kind of person who would hear someone say “I’m allergic to shellfish” and still insist they eat an entire bucket of crawdads because it’s Thanksgiving and your family has a Thanksgiving bucket-of-crawdads tradition. I don’t think Barnaby will push it that far, though. I know he gets a little intensely competitive at Pictionary time but he’s basically a sweet man.
If you’d like to avoid interrogations altogether, focus on being helpful. Keep your hands busy. Dice the hundred carrots for the hundred-carrot stuffing. Tug one end of the dining room table so the leaf can slide in. Not only will no one notice you don’t have a drink in your hand, it will also be easier to deflect topics and questions that might make you forget you don’t drink. Let’s practice:
YOUR MOM: “You know, they say if you don’t lose the baby weight in the first two years you probably never will.”
YOU: “Did you know that carrots were originally grown as medicine, not food?”
YOUR COUSIN: “I saw online where instead of pardoning a turkey, Barry Hussein Obummer bites its head off and sends it to ISIS as a loyalty offering.”
YOU: “Remind me — is this table maple, or walnut? I would like to know its entire history, if anyone can fill me in!”
Also, if possible, bring another sober person with you for silent support. Ideally someone you know or have at least met before — you are legally allowed to guilt your spouse or partner into being this person, if only for the day. But if you have to make an emergency run to your hometown mall to stand in the food court and scream “Paging Bill W.! Paging Bill fucking W.!” and then beg whoever shows up to spend six hours with your blood relatives, then hey. Your life matters. (Or I suppose you could look online for an Alkathon, the 24-hour meeting-cum-sober-party offered by many local AA groups on major drinking holidays.) Either option is also an excuse for getting out of the house for a while, just in case you’ve regressed to your teenage self and need to step away and remember who you really are. Which is, among many other things, someone who doesn’t drink.
And when it’s all over, which I promise at some point it will be, do something nice for yourself. You did something that I also promise will get much, much easier, but that right now is really hard. You deserve thanks.