Sorry, folks. It’s been a while.
Last month, I celebrated what I consider to be my first year in solid recovery. Having been in and out of treatment for years, my recovery journey has been in the making for quite some time, but this past year is the first year I can say I was in solid, sustained recovery. I’m so proud that within the past year I was able to restore weight to where my doctors suggested and that I have since maintained that weight consistently. Has the past year been perfect? Nope. Far from it. However, when I look back at my life this time last year, I cannot believe how far I have come. BEST.FEELING.EVER.
That said, we’ve entered a time of the year that has always proven to be problematic for me: fall/winter. I don’t know what it is exactly about this time of the year, but my battle with the ED voice is always a bit more fervent when this season rolls around. I have ideas about what causes the rekindling of the hellish, ED fire in my brain. Perhaps it’s food-centered festivities and the focus our society has on combatting the holiday weight gain. Perchance it’s the New Year’s resolutions promising a new year filled with exercise and weight loss. Perhaps it’s the freezing temperatures and the normal tendency to gravitate toward warm, comforting foods, many of which used to be off limits in my former ED-obsessed life. Maybe being able to wear fluffy sweaters, long scarves, heavy jackets and lots of layers reminds me of how easy it’d be to hide weight loss… at least for a while. Despite the reason, or combination thereof, I know I have to be more self-aware at this time of the year, and I have to be careful to make conscious decisions that reinforce my recovery. Since the holiday season is often tough for many people battling eating disorders (past or present), I figured I’d share a short, simple list of random things I do to keep my ED out of my holiday season.
- Think of your inner child. I have a picture of myself as a young child that I keep with me in my wallet at all times. In the photo I’m probably about 5 years old, and I’m with my grandmother (the most important woman in my life, hands down). Each summer her hometown (Eatonton, GA) hosts a festival to celebrate the town native Joel Chandler Harris, a writer known for the Uncle Remus stories, a compilation of African-American folktales that he published in 1881. In any case, I am wearing that year’s festival t-shirt and enjoying a red snow cone. My artificially red lips are forming the biggest smile possible for a small child’s face, and l can clearly see how much joy I felt that day. I wasn’t thinking about calories. I wasn’t bothered about how loose or tight the waist band felt on my Umbro shorts (gotta love the early 90’s). I wasn’t worried about the photo being flattering or not. I was happy. Carefree. When I look at that little girl, I see her innocence. I see her value and worth. I see her potential. When I’m tempted to act out in my disorder, I pull out that picture and remind myself that by engaging in my ED behaviors, I’m hurting that little girl. To this day, this trick has always helped me stay on track.
- When you’re having overwhelming ED thoughts, keep your mind busy with something totally unrelated. My current activities of choice have been crocheting, playing Bananagrams, and cleaning. Crocheting has a lovely way of calming my mind. I find that when I crochet, I’m almost meditating in a sense. I’m calm. I’m not thinking about anything in particular. And as an added bonus (especially in the winter), I have lots of warm, fluffy scarves to show for it! It’s pretty easy to learn, so don’t be intimidated to try if you’ve never done it before. More than likely you know several people who crochet or knit and who would be happy to teach you. Otherwise, there are some great YouTube instructional videos. Bananagrams is another go-to activity of mine. Ideally there’d be someone else around so that you could actually play a real round, but I’ve certainly pulled out the tiles on my own and tried to use them all myself on a huge, mega grid of words. It’s actually kind of nice to play alone; there is no time crunch and no competition (which is awesome for the perfectionist I have within!). I don’t know about you, but I can’t focus on ED thoughts and create a puzzle of words. I’m sure other games or perhaps a jigsaw puzzle could have the same effect. Work with what you have! Finally, and perhaps least glamorously, there is always cleaning to be done. Put on some music, wear comfy clothes and clean away! After a few minutes, you’ll be thinking about the task at hand and not the silly ED thoughts. And your home will look great, thus alleviating the stress caused by clutter. Win-win.
- Spend time with an animal! I cannot begin to tell you how much my dog Sheldon has helped me through this past year. He’s such a goofball and can always manage to put a smile on my face. Even when I’m crying or having a freak out moment, he just gently comes to me and curls up on the sofa next to my lap. It’s like he’s saying, “Go ahead and let it all out. I’m here for you when you need me or when you want to cuddle/play/give me a treat.” I love him! If you don’t have a pet, visit your local animal shelter. There are always cats and dogs (and at times other animals) at the shelters who would adore some TLC. No need to adopt an animal if it’s not good timing to you (pet are a huge responsibility); you can certainly just stop by to show love to the animals. Also, shelters are often looking for volunteers to help play with, feed and clean up after the animals. Maybe you can think about scheduling puppy/cat-love time into your life! Plus, it has been shown in clinical studies that when humans pet animals, both the person and the animal release oxytocin, a hormone that evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security. Who wouldn’t want that?! Sounds pretty awesome to me.
- Last but not least, when you’re in a good mood write a letter to your eating disorder and list all the negatives you have experienced. Think of all the social activities you either missed entirely or that were at least extremely uncomfortable because your mind was consumed by your disorder. Maybe you’ve been dishonest to people who are genuinely important to you in an effort to hide your disorder. Have you wasted money on food that was either not eaten or that was purged? In what ways has your physical and/or mental health suffered? How much money have you had to spend with doctors/therapists/dietitians/etc. because of your disorder? What activities did you once enjoy that are no longer in your life because of your ED? How has your personality changed since the onset of your disorder? Spend a while jotting down ideas. This letter isn’t necessarily something you’re going to finish in one sitting. And even after you do “finish” it, you can always add to it. When you’re struggling with a particular behavior or thought, read the letter to yourself. I find it particularly helpful to read it out loud to myself in front of a mirror. Better yet, pull out the picture of your younger self and look at it while you read the letter.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you get through the holiday season a best more peacefully. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope that it can at least get you started on the right track. If you have another trick that seems to work for you, please feel free to share! As always, I’m here for you. Let me know if I can be of any help or support you in any way.