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The Christmas season is one where both food and alcohol seem to be plentiful. Champagne at New Year, mulled wine, and liqueur mixed into hot chocolates or coffees. Sometimes, there’s a glass of sherry left out with a carrot for Father Christmas and his reindeer. These are just the first examples that spring to mind; the list could go on almost endlessly.
We are constantly being sold the idea alcohol is necessary to enjoy the holidays.
Advertisements, social media, and sometimes even friends and colleagues make it seem alcohol is needed to fully participate. This concept, however, is not the truth.
While some do enjoy partaking, there are multiple reasons many of us feel uncomfortable drinking alcohol. For some, it is an unhealthy way of coping. For others, the voice of the eating disorder convinces them it is a ‘waste of calories’. The fear of feeling as though they are out of control is another reason. It might also be a decision based on your religion or values you have grown up with.
References to drinking alcohol in this article are regarding consuming amounts within healthy guidelines and in social situations during the holiday season.
If you are worried you are dependent on alcohol or are using it in an unhealthy way, make an appointment to see your GP or other healthcare provider.
Be sure to discuss with them how you can receive help for this. Difficulties with alcohol can often coexist with eating disorders and it’s important you get specific help for both aspects.
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When making choices about alcohol over the holidays, it is important to consider the underlying reasons for the outcome.
If I am unsure of the reasoning behind my decision, or believe my judgement could be skewed by my ED, I try to ask three questions:
1) Is the decision based on truth?
Any decision based on lies is unlikely to be a good one. If I believe I am worthless, I am likely to make decisions in line with that belief. The results will be harmful to me. Choices require a solid foundation of truth in order to be healthy and useful to us.
In this context, I need to ask why am I abstaining from alcohol at Christmas dinner. Is it because I know it is not helpful for me to drink, or is it because I believe it will cause me to gain weight? Am I drinking champagne at New Year because I like the taste and want to celebrate with friends and family, or because I want to numb myself out?
We can make sound decisions when looking at underlying beliefs and assessing their truth or lack thereof. Doing this enables us to be less swayed by the lies of anorexia or bulimia.
2) Does this decision ultimately bring joy and life?
Many unhealthy choices provide short-term relief like reducing anxiety or distracting from other difficult emotions. However, it is very rare that they genuinely bring you joy. These decisions might seem small but they can be significant in impacting your mood, thoughts, and relationships.
Are you choosing to abstain from alcohol because you don’t like the taste? Or, is it because you fear consuming any liquid calories?
Feeling less anxious when you give in to your ED and restrict can feel good in some ways. I would never describe it in my own experience as bringing joy though. Especially in the long-term, it does quite the opposite.
When considering whether our choices bring life or joy, we are more capable of seeing the consequences and recognising which thoughts and behaviours are healthy or unhealthy.
3) What would I say to a friend?
I am sure I’m not the only one who finds it easier to give good advice than to take it myself. Like all things, we can turn this around, using it as a tool in recovery simply by looking at it from a different perspective.
I try to remove myself from the situation, instead thinking of a friend making the same decision under similar circumstances. My response to their thoughts and questions is guaranteed to be more compassionate, thoughtful, and loving than it would be to my own.
Obviously, I hope I will one day be able to treat myself, too, with this level of kindness. For now, mentally replacing my part in the situation with someone else works well while my journey continues.
In this context, I find it helpful to imagine conversing with a friend who is recovering from an eating disorder. What advice would I give to them about consuming alcohol during the holiday? What would I consider to be the most important factors in making that decision? I can then turn back my responses towards myself and my own specific situation.
Ultimately, whether or not you drink alcohol, as well as how much and the context of your drinking (if you do decide to partake) is completely your decision.
But, make sure you know the underlying reasons for your choices. Are they based on truth or on people-pleasing and anxiety? Do the decisions sit right with you in terms of your core values?
There is absolutely no need to consume any alcohol over the season, despite the pressure, but, equally, it can be enjoyed as part of a healthy celebration of Christmas and New Year’s.
Having said all this, it could be you’re already at capacity with coping with food in the holidays, let alone alcohol. Be gentle with yourself and treat yourself as you would a close friend. I hope we can all look beyond our difficulties with food to enjoy this season of togetherness.
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