Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Em is an adventure seeker, soul searcher, writer, poet, passionate advocate, and an individual determined to be successful in eating disorder recovery. Em loves baking, travel, live music, and campfires. After developing an eating disorder in adolescence she became determined to grow professionally in the field of eating disorder research and pursued higher education in the counseling field. Through the recovery process she also developed a passion for writing with the purpose of emotional processing, knowledge sharing, and human connection. Her hope is to be vulnerable in sharing experiences with those in recovery, to provide support and resources for those supporting loved ones in recovery, and to build hope for a future free from eating disorders.
When ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ Really Isn’t
The holidays are touted as the most wonderful time of the year. Celebrations spent with family, friends, and food. For someone in recovery from an eating disorder, they may find that during this time of year there are higher expectations, increased exposure to previous triggers, and less opportunity to engage in helpful coping mechanisms. On my own path to recovery, the holidays (or any celebration) has often led to feelings of loneliness, isolation, fear, anxiety, and sometimes even straight up dread.
I have made the promise to myself that this year I am going to do the best that I can to respond differently. I am going to have self compassion. I am going to ensure my own needs are met. I will engage in any and all self-care practices (no matter how ridiculous). I have an amazing team of professionals, friends, and family around me, and I will allow myself to ask for help. Here’s how I plan to approach the upcoming holidays:
Find a partner (or two) that you trust. This person can be a friend, parent, sibling, significant other, or anyone who you can be vulnerable and completely honest with. If they’re going to be with you in person, have a plan for both asking for support and an exit strategy. My partner and my sister in law play this role for me. They deflect comments, redirect conversation, find reasons to leave early, and make decisions for me when I’m overcome by decision paralysis. We use code words, hand signals, under the table text messages, even something as simple as making eye contact when conversation becomes difficult. It is much easier for me to go into a potentially stressful situation when I know someone has my back.
Know that it is okay to take a break. Gatherings are stressful. Gatherings are even more stressful when you’re in recovery and are constantly bombarded with decisions about food. When you are dodging comments about food and body that nobody else is even aware of. And when you’re struggling with something that nobody around you really gets it. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Have an out. It’s okay to take 15 minutes to go to your childhood bedroom, or your car, or to sit outside alone to collect yourself. Breathe. Show yourself compassion. Recovery is an overwhelming process and it is okay to rest when you need it.
Plan ahead. Know what your triggers are and have a plan for how you want to address them. Do you want to challenge these triggers or are you deflecting and moving on. Take anything and everything with you that you use to cope. For me this means traveling everywhere with a book, journal, and my favorite stuffed animal. If food decisions are overwhelming, have options that you know you are comfortable with. While challenging food fears is encouraged (and can be a joyful experience), holidays are already challenging enough. Safe food is better than no food.
Give Yourself Grace. You are not a bad person for experiencing anxiety around the holidays. You are not failing because you are struggling. There is nothing wrong with you because you can’t find that joy or holiday cheer that everyone else is constantly singing about. You are doing wonderfully for showing up. These are mantras that I will repeat over and over. Set simple intentions for your day. Maybe you want to ignore grandma’s comment about the size of your meal or the inevitable ‘You look good’ remark. Or spend the afternoon playing cards instead finding movement. Maybe your goal is not at all related to food or body at all; but to watch your favorite movie, read a comforting book, or recharge with a nap. Do whatever you need to do for you.
I am approaching this holiday season with excitement for everything my future in recovery holds. Joy for finding the things in life that make me smile. And appreciation for every battle I’ve fought and all of the growth that I have made over the past year. I can’t wait for you to join me.