Ahh, Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Well, that is…unless you’re in the early stages of recovery from an eating disorder.
This is my 15th year celebrating the holidays in recovery from anorexia, and though I am in a place now where the holidays are full of joy and excitement and glee…I will say, it was not always like that.
Let me preface this by saying: recovery from an eating disorder is much like being in sobriety from alcohol: once you’re in recovery, you’re always in recovery.
There is no magic pill that just *poof* makes you all of a sudden completely healed and unaffected by any temptations or triggers. You just get to a point – like where I am now – where you’ve moved on and have the strength and tools at your disposal from year of “practice” where you live a beautiful, ED-free life, in the freedom of full recovery.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t stay diligent and protect my recovery at all costs. But that’s a different post for a different day.
Back to Christmas.
Boy, do I remember just the paralyzing anxiety and fear that surrounded this time of year when I was first starting out on my recovery journey.
For one thing: this entire holiday season is centered around food. I am of course, not talking about the actual meaning of Christmas: the birth of Christ — but rather referring to the cultural and social climate of this time of year. Starting with Thanksgiving, and then perhaps a second Thanksgiving with the “other side” of your family, leading into Christmas cookie season and hot chocolate, and Christmas ham, and figgy pudding and shared meals and Christmas parties. For a young warrior who is just starting out her (or his) recovery journey where certain foods can still bring up apprehension or fear, this time of year can feel suffocating and insurmountable.
Couple that with the fact that this time of year, you’re seeing just a boat load of people you don’t normally see. Christmas parties, high school reunions, extended family gatherings, Christmas church services where the people who only come once a year attend. You’re seeing people who, perhaps you haven’t seen since you were in the throes of your eating disorder, and…let call it how it is…looking significantly different.
The common sense, and visibly noticeable elephant in the room here — is that recovery from anorexia involves gaining weight. There’s no easier way to say it. So yes, you are going to look different than perhaps the last time these “once-a-year” acquaintances have seen you. And let’s face it: well-meaning people can say really dumb things when it comes to eating disorder recovery — and particularly anorexia recovery.
Because let’s face it: when you’re in the throes of anorexia, your body is a walking billboard of your illness. No matter how many baggy clothes you wear to try and conceal the skeletal frame underneath, your body cannot hide your struggle. And people notice, because not only are they concerned for you…but it makes them feel uncomfortable.
I remember when I first got back from inpatient, I dreaded going to Mass. During my anorexia, I got down to 78 pounds. I was truly frightening to look at. And so when I got back from inpatient, clearly, having gained nearly 30 pounds, I looked different. (And thank you, Lord). But, going to Mass, afterwards, everyone would come up to me and my family afterwards, and say thing that were coming from such a sincere, good place, but were absolutely horrific to hear, in my fragile state: “Oh, you look so much better now!” “You look so healthy! I was so worried!” “Oh, your face has filled out, you look so beautiful!” And all I could hear was, “You look fat.”
Or, you may even have a bone head experience like I did, at my first Ulcerative Colitis doctor’s appointment after inpatient: the doctor walked in an exclaimed, “Wow, look like someone found McDonalds!” — I mean, can you imagine saying that to someone in anorexia recovery who still had weight to gain? We never went to him again.
But whether it’s after church, at a family reunion, at a holiday party — these comments will come.
Which leads me to the point of this post: How to Navigate the Holiday Season in Recovery.
1) Realize that people are going to say dumb things.
Here’s the thing: an eating disorder is difficult to navigate to all parties involved. And not everyone knows how to react to your visible progress…tactfully. People are going to say dumb things. And just let it roll off you. You’re beautiful. You’re healthy. And you’re reclaiming your life.
2) Give yourself permission to take a breather.
There can be a lot of stress and togetherness during the holidays. And sometimes, you just need to take a minute to yourself. And that’s okay. Know your limits. If you feel like, “I can’t take another minute of Aunt Ruth talking about how relieved she is that I’m doing better” just politely excuse yourself, find a quiet corner of the house, or step outside, and take a little break. Deep breath. I am loved. I am worthy. Jesus, be with me right now.
3) It’s just a cookie.
Thanksgiving and Christmas time are full of delicious goodies. That’s the long and short of it. Pumpkin spice lattes, Christmas cookies, eggnog, hot chocolate. For someone in recovery from an eating disorder, thinking about consuming those things makes them go into a cold sweat. But you know what? They’re delicious. And they’re not going to hurt you. Having a cookie or a treat in moderation is part of a healthy lifestyle. Enjoy it! Partake in the festivities! You’re worth it.
4) The Power of Positive Thinking.
Sometimes, thinking about going to a party can bring on the anxiety. Before hand, close your eyes and envision yourself having a blast. You’re talking, dancing, wearing something that makes you feel confident, and truly enjoying yourself. Embody that girl of your dreams! Channel her spirit! You have overcome so much and are reclaiming your life. You are a hero!
5) Have a support person.
Sometimes it can help to have a confidant at the party, with whom you can share your trepidations. Just give them a heads up that you could need a little extra support at the outing. Knowing that someone is on the same page and knows what you’re going through goes a long way.
6) Be Present With Those You Love
Focus on the people you love. The less you’re thinking about yourself, the more you will enjoy the best season of the year. Honestly, at the end of the day, people love you for who you are. Not what you look like. Not what you’re wearing. Not how you perceive your body to be. People love you for you. Love them back.
7) Pray your way through it.
Finally, there really is power in prayer. Sharing with Jesus your fears and anxieties and allowing Him to love you is the best thing you can do to navigate a difficult situation. Embrace His peace. And remember that your worth comes from Him.
This is the best season of the year, and remember that you’re alive to enjoy it. Keep that in perspective. You’ve chosen life. You’ve reclaimed your health. You’ve won the battle, and sadly, not everyone does. Remember how blessed you are.
You survived. Celebrate that.
For more recovery advice, and a guided recovery companion journal, you can order my book, Bloom: A Journal by BeautyBeyondBones by clicking on this link.
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