Though the Halloween buzz (and your sugar hangover) may be over, the time between now and Thanksgiving can be just as electric and stimulating. Autumn is not only a visually stunning time of year, but also one for sober introspection, cozying up with layers, yummy company, and grounding foods and warm non-alcoholic drinks. However, the upcoming holiday season can be really triggering if you’re not spotchecking your emotions and feelings throughout the day (hours if need be), which may lead you to fantasizing about picking substances up. If the thought of a booze-free autumn gives you chills, rest assured that New York City has got you covered with sober-friendly indoor and outdoor autumnal activities that will enrich your recovery. Read on to get a sense of the adventures available to you in this gorgeous season of color and change, before the magic and mayhem of December hits.
Outdoor Sober Activities
Though it may be nippy and crisp outside, pile on those layers and head outside for visually stunning sights available to in this mad, marvelous city.
Fall in New York City
Group Fall Activities
Despite the touristy and clichéd sound of it, for a group activity, gather friends and go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, Brookfield Place, Bryant Park’s Winter Village, Wollman, Lafrak Center at Lakeside, or City Ice Pavilion (just be sure to avoid Fridays and weekends, unless skating with crowds is your thing). Just note that adjacent to a lot of these rinks can be fully stocked bars (which doesn’t make sense, but what can you do), so check in with yourself (especially if you’re newly sober) as to whether that might be a comfortable place for you to try to relax and have fun with friends. No ice skating excursion is complete without hot chocolate, so head over to Blue Stripes, Max Brenner, Martha’s Country Bakery, or Snowdays after for your fix.
In its 92nd year, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which runs from the Upper West Side to Herald Square, is always an option for those brave souls who are willing to be up early and ready. It’s also worth the effort for your inner child who will delight in all the character balloons and floats.
Solo Fall Activities
Check out an outdoor holiday market to stock up on gifts, or simply treat yourself to the joy of browsing all the vendors. Manhattan boasts three main markets: the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park, the Union Square Holiday Market, and the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. Be sure to check their websites for hours, dates, and to get a sense of which vendors will be there.
Fall foliage is one of the best parts of autumn. Some say getting sober is like going from living in standard to high definition (HDTV), or from living in black and white to living in color. Increase your already-heightened sensory enjoyment in sobriety by spending time among the fall leaves. Go for a run or brisk walk through Central Park’s Reservoir, Prospect Park, Fort Tryon Park, Alley Pond Park, and take in the changing colors and sounds of the leaves crunching under your shoes before winter arrives. Spending time in nature is calming, improves mental health, and helps to alleviate anxiety and stress. It’s importance to cultivate wonder and bewilderment with the nature around us (though it can be hard to come by in NYC), so don’t miss your chance when nature is bright and loud in the fall.
If apple-picking at an orchard isn’t your thing, hit up a local Greenmarket for a variety of local apples like Honey Crisp, Empire, and Gala from regional farmers that you can incorporate into a pie, crumble, or another equally delicious autumnal dessert. Plus, apples are full of fiber (helping keep you regular) and antioxidants that reduce inflammation and improve brain health. It’s a no-brainer.
Indoor Sober Activities
Learn A New Skill
Try a new recipe incorporating grounding ingredients like butternut squash, acorn squash, or pumpkin either baked in the oven or cooked over the stove for a hearty, simmering soup or stew. Though recipes can seem intimidating at first, try to reframe them as creative opportunities to experiment and make mistakes if need be (cooking tends to be more forgiving with measurements that aren’t exact, as opposed to baking a dessert). The satisfaction of attempting a new dish is inexplicable and one worth experiencing every now and again.
If you are in desperate need of some indoor puppy therapy, head over to Citipups in Chelsea, where visitors can sit in small gated areas on the floor to play with puppies of their choice (just be sure to wash your hands before!) It’s easy to see the two-way benefits of this activity, especially for the puppies who are otherwise in cages for most of the day.
Try your hand at a new craft like knitting to start mittens and scarves with BIGVISION for their free, monthly knitting workshop on the first Tuesday of the month. BIGVISION is a community of sober 18-35 young adults in NYC; BIGVISION events range from rock climbing and trapeze, to art workshops and comedy shows. Or take a holiday-themed class at Brooklyn Brainery (Pie-making? Herbal Gift Giving? Check!) that can last a few hours or run for a few weeks.
Interior Home Adjustments
One important but overlooked topic of conversation may be revamping your own home. Invest in making your living space more cozy, which could look like incorporating more pillows, fleece blankets, and seasonal smells. Smell is the strongest of all our senses, so why not indulge yourself a little in this understated yet impactful househack? Try candles consisting of cinnamon, nutmeg, pine needles, amber, balsam fir, or vetiver. The options are endless, but some notable brands that carry beautifully aromatic blends include Byredo and Diptyque. If candles aren’t your thing, invest in an essential oil diffuser, many of which turn off automatically after some time (no need to worry about fires!) These are subtler yet just as potent, if not more–the negative and positive ions released interact to improve memory, cognitive function, and focus. Try a blend of Cedarwood, Nutmeg, and Juniper essential oils from Young Living or the “Holiday Peace” blend from doTERRA.
While you’ve gotten the perfect scents wafting through the apartment, indulge yourself in the endless variety of festive hot drinks available to you that go beyond basic year-round teas and coffees. If you have a penchant for sweet and spicy, try Harney and Sons’ Hot Cinnamon Spice or Williams Sonoma’s Mulling Spice Sachets. If you’re all about the sweetness, try Carrot Cupcake or White Cranberry Bark from DAVIDsTEA. If flavored coffee is your thing, bring home some beans from The Sensuous Bean on the Upper West Side, which boasts flavors like Apple Crumb or White Chocolate Mousse (stay away from Buttered Rum, in case that might be a trigger–you never know).
Sober Thanksgiving Toolbox
Thanksgiving can be an emotionally heavy holiday for some, but especially for those newly sober. Be sure to shamelessly equip yourself with additional tools and support, like going to extra recovery meetings or checking in more frequently with your therapist or sponsor, which will help you navigate what may be a multitude of triggering environments. Know who you can reach out to, whether it’s via a text, voice memo, or phone call when you might be feeling triggered.
Old friends who still drink may invite you to take part in traditions like “Blackout Wednesday” on Thanksgiving Eve. or getting hammered the night of Thanksgiving. While “Friendsgiving” is a great alternative for those who don’t have the opportunity (or simply wish not) to see family, it can be tricky if the group of friends you’re with are not emotionally safe and supportive to be around. The same applies to family. Will they be drinking? Do they know you’re sober? Ultimately, it’s your prerogative as to who you will let on about your recovery and how much explaining you’d like to do (not needing to explain is a perfectly fine response as well). If it feels good to do so, bring along your favorite non-alcoholic drinks. Martinelli’s sparkling ciders are a great option and come in flavors like apple-cranberry, apple-marionberry, and white or red grape, among many others.
Looking for ways to be of service around the house, such as setting up the table or doing the dishes, is a great way to step away from what may be constant, exhausting company, and to build some self-esteem while you’re at it (double bonus if you can do these tasks focusing on deep breathing, which can serve as a mini meditation pick-me-up).
Though the origins of Thanksgiving can be polarizing, incorporating gratitude at the dinner table is a practice that is universal and can easily be agreed upon. Before eating, it can be a nice gesture to acknowledge the conditions that allowed the food in front of you to reach the table. If that feels uncomfortable to do out loud, a private mental acknowledgment works as well, and you can tack on an additional bit about how it feels to be sober for the holiday, especially as you think back on what old Thanksgivings used to feel like.
Autumnal Emotional Shifts
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
One of the major downsides of autumn for you may be the fewer hours of daylight as the sun starts to set before 5PM. You may experience fatigue and gloom to a debilitating extent, or like there aren’t enough hours of daylight to explore and partake in activities you might otherwise. For some, this shift can manifest as autumn-onset Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a kind of depression informed by the changing seasons as your body’s internal, biological clock (circadian rhythm) has to adjust to colder temperatures and reduced levels of sunlight. Less sunlight can cause serotonin and melatonin levels to drop. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical that affects mood, whereas melatonin affects mood as well as sleeping patterns.
Though it might be easy to write this off as “autumn-into-winter blues,” it is very real and may affect you more intensely than you might know (or want to admit). The good news is you can take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the season and reclaim your agency as you pop back into the driver’s seat of your recovery. It may feel nice to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier in order to experience more daylight. Try to get outside as soon as you can upon awakening, even if that looks like a short, quick walk around the block, preferably in a sunny area. During your walk, actively seek out small moments of joy, however fleeting, and make a list of these to refer back to you in moments when you’re not feeling so great. It’s possible to take care of complacency and low motivation. For some, using a “sad” lamp for light therapy (“phototherapy”) can be really helpful; choose one that emits at least 10,000 lux. Make sure it’s made specifically for SAD, depression, or other mood disorders (as opposed to skin disorders like psoriasis).
A good practice to put things into perspective can be reflecting on the year so far, with one month left to go, while keeping in mind that things don’t have to wrap up nicely just because the end of the year is near. Journaling can be a tangible, tactile practice that you can always refer back to. Some questions to consider include: What are you proud of from this year? This month? This week? Are there any areas of your life–be it mental/emotional, spiritual, or physical–that you’d like to pay more attention to? How can you go about making those changes, and do they require the help and support of others? Would enlisting accountability, such as sharing this intention with a friend, help you stay on track? Change can be difficult at first, messy in the middle, and incredibly rewarding at the end, so don’t get discouraged if it feels like the going is getting rough initially.
Experiencing autumn is a very visible reminder that the only constant is change, as clichéd as that may sound. The changing sights, sounds, and smells can be comforting or caution-inducing, depending on the angle from which you arrive at it. Getting sober is one of the landmark lifestyle changes of one’s life and this season is a beautiful metaphor for discarding old behaviors in order to renew and regenerate through incorporating new belief systems and behaviors, as you prepare for the onslaught of December festivities.
— Marina R. for Avenues NYC