"Seeing the Holidays through Recovering Eyes"

{The following is written by a current client that is taking the road of recovery!}


With less than a week before Christmas, the countdown is rapidly gaining momentum, and for most individuals, this is a time of great anticipation and celebration!  Truly, there is much to enjoy: Fellowship, Faith, Fir Trees, and Falling Snow.  But, of course, let us not forget one very essential element – Food.  While most people look forward to these aspects of the holidays, those who are recovering from eating disorders or disordered eating view them somewhat differently.

I am one of those people.  Because I am recovering from an eating disorder, my perception is most likely different from that of my family and friends who partake of the holiday season freely and fully.  Clearly, the holidays are saturated with social gatherings, inevitably including friends whom I have not seen in a while and foods that either I have never eaten or I fear eating.  Nevertheless, as my own recovery progresses, I no longer want to sacrifice the joyous occasions in the name of an eating disorder.  For me, it is not merely enough to be present at such occasions; instead, I want to engage in them whole-heartedly and create memories that are no longer dimmed by the shadow of illness.  I want my smile in this year’s Christmas pictures to indicate that I am not just surviving another holiday season, but, rather, I am thriving in my own way through the most challenging times of the year.  Throughout previous years, the holidays have merged together, and memories have faded as quickly as they were made as I witnessed my eating disorder stealing them from me season after season.  This year is different, though, because I am different.

In an effort to thrive throughout the upcoming Christmas season, which will be followed closely by New Year’s festivities, I am constructing my own list of personal coping skills.  Many people have given me tools to use over the years, but I must admit that I continue to pick and choose those tools that I want in my own recovery toolbox.  I am going to share the top three from my list because my hope is that those of us who are recovering continue to pick and choose from all available resources in an effort to make recovery work for us.  Here we go:

1.) Currently, this season, I am finding it helpful to “branch out” and surround myself with individuals who do not struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating.  Specifically, I joined a Bible study group this semester with a collection of women whom I would have never met otherwise.  This entire experience has proven to be invaluable for countless reasons.  Not only are they “normal” eaters (which was mesmerizing initially for me), the most important thing I have gained from this group is that these ladies introduced me to a life that I had completely dismissed because of the focus on my eating disorder.  These women showed me that life is so much more than the food on my plate.  They focus their attention on faith, family, friendship, and FUN!  With an eating disorder, I have certainly not had the time or even the desire for any of these considerations, and fun has been completely out of the question because there is no fun with an eating disorder, after all.  All this said, I am finding it helpful and enjoyable to gain strength from those who are living – truly living – and realizing the blessings of the season.

2.) Next, I once heard, “In recovery, you have got to clean out your house!”  I did not take this to mean that I should begin scrubbing the floors on my hands and knees in an effort to deep-clean my apartment.  Instead, I am realizing more and more that I need to surround myself with those things that are helpful to my recovery, and to toss out the items that perpetuate the harmful cycle.  For instance, in my apartment there are no longer diet foods, “skinny clothes,” pictures I would rather forget of times when I was desperately ill, rooms laced with tennis shoes and exercise equipment, etc.  After a clean like this, every single person’s “house” will need to keep and remove different things, but for me, I have replaced that which reflected upon my eating disorder with stuff that remind me of health and happiness.  Right now, for example, I have fresh flowers on my kitchen table and decorative (should I dare say fun?!) placemats that I picked out at some random sale.  Also, all of my walls are plastered with meaningful photographs and paintings from a dear friend who I actually met in recovery.  And, although there are a few pairs of tennis shoes in my closet along with my one set of exercise bands, I now use them in healthy, appropriate, life-giving ways.  My apartment, much like me, is an evolving work in progress.

3.) Lastly, the most obvious way that I keep my recovering eyes focused on the prize is to carry a little reminder of that which I am working for at all times.  Specifically, I try to either wear or carry something every day that provides a visual, tangible reminder of my fight toward freedom.  For instance, right now, I am wearing a bracelet that reads, I Chose to Live.  Also, in my jewelry box, I have a charm bracelet with the word Life engraved on it as well as a necklace with an intricately designed Magnolia charm, which I received when I left treatment for the final time.  My little reminders, though, actually extend beyond my physical person.  Currently, in my car posted on the dash behind the steering wheel I have a small picture of my mentor and myself hugging with the words “Thank you for the life that you represent” written beside it.  Also, hanging from my rearview mirror I have two, small hand-painted decorations reading “Believe in Your Dreams” and “Live. Love. Laugh.” I encourage us all to seek out those things that are meaningful to us – no matter how seemingly small or odd – and keep them nearby at all times so that when our eating disorder thoughts flare, we can immediately combat them with sources of encouragement.

Now, that I have shared some of my recovery tools, it is time for you to share yours!  There is strength in numbers, and together I think that we will see through recovering eyes that the holidays have no place for an eating disorder.  And, honestly, neither does any other time of the year!