Christmas is a time for giving gifts, spreading cheer, and singing loud for all to hear. This is the formula most traditionally adhered to in the run-up to Christmas, where the focus is on showing your appreciation and love for others. This has always been important to me and not just in the festive season. I am a pleaser. I enjoy making other people happy by giving them gifts, making them food, and tiptoeing around in order to avoid confrontation. I always believed this formula worked for me, until I started my recovery process.
It has been less than a year since I sought help; this will be my first Christmas ‘in recovery.’
Surprisingly, it is not the eating and drinking I am afraid of. Instead, I am dreading reverting back to my pattern of emotional instability. I have to admit using the word ‘reverting’ seems false because it suggests that as I write this article I am free from this. This is not the case.
Of course, being emotionally stable at Christmas can be hard in itself. The excitement of the holidays mixed with family stress, weepy films, and too much sugar can result in emotions running high. It is easy to get overwhelmed in situations like this. It is easier still to forget to check in on yourself and how you are doing.
I find when you forget to do this–to make sure you are coping mentally–a domino effect begins. First you become more emotional and a comment from a family member made in jest translates to you as an attack. Then comes the paranoia: no one likes you, you are so annoying, and eating this will make you fat. Then you stress, you cry, people get exasperated, and the self-loathing begins.
This cruel game of dominoes continues until you crumble.
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So how do we avoid this? We do the unspeakable. We put ourselves first.
This doesn’t mean you have to play the part of the Grinch. In fact, I find when I take time for myself and put my needs first, I am happier, more relaxed, and more ready to get into the Christmas spirit.
As with all things in life and in recovery, balance is key. Even if you have a lot of social events to attend, remember to take an evening for yourself, whether its to do yoga, read, or just curl up and watch television. When it comes to facing the array of festive food and drinks offered, do not deny yourself. Christmas comes once a year for a reason. Balance it out–eat your veggies, but also eat whatever you want.
A big thing for me in recovery was getting over my bingeing habit.
I always said “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” when I was in the mood for something I deemed ‘bad.’ Then I would end up bingeing and feeling so low about it. When I began recovery, I ate what I wanted. And the most liberating thing about it was I realised I did not want chocolate all the time. I actually found myself saying “no, thank you” when offered dessert. Why? Because when I stopped seeing food as forbidden, it stopped being so tempting.
It is a major paradox to say having an eating disorder means you are in control of your food. For me, it was always the opposite: I felt out of control. My obsession with calories, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, sugar, etc was running my life.
Beginning recovery was taking the first step in getting control back.
My advice for the holiday season is to show major love and appreciation for yourself.
Be kind, compassionate, and understanding towards yourself. Recovery is a long process. Don’t beat yourself up if you have an off day–this is completely normal. Take time for yourself and balance things out. Remember your family and friends love you and they want you to feel better. Let them support you.
Finally, if things are getting too stressful or you feel out of control, go somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and just breathe. Take a few minutes to recentre yourself, and if need be, remind yourself why you are on your path. Christmas is a time to be thankful for what you have and where you are.
You are on the way to recovery. You’ve got this!
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