Battleground: Holiday Edition – the Importance of Preparing for the Holidays in Recovery

The holidays are a battleground. Stressors rain down like bullets from a jet, and triggers line the ground like a minefield. Everywhere you look there is overwhelming people, events, words, and actions that add to the dysregulation building in your soul. How will we ever make it through?

Just like any battle, the key to success is preparation. Fortunately, you have some things on your side if you start early enough. You have your generals (your team) who will help plan attack strategies (preparing for triggers and planning coping mechanisms), you have your ammo (your skills and resources) and hopefully a few men on the inside (familial supports or maybe even a pup). Starting early and preparing for the holidays by analyzing how you may be triggered, what the circumstances will bring, and how you can get through makes a HUGE difference in terms of how dysregulating holidays can be. Holidays are stressful even for normative people, and adding on the ED triggers surrounding food and diet culture talk can be even more overwhelming. But a good plan can keep you in your window of tolerance even with all that coming at you.

I did not plan enough with my team this year. I had been doing so well with ED stuff, feeling so stable, that I thought whole-heartedly I would be fine. I was thriving! What could bring me down? But the holidays are a beast that should not be underestimated, and they did bring me down. Hard.

I had made some preparations. I made sure to have food options that felt safe, ordering in some Daily Harvest smoothies to my parents house ahead of time so I knew I would have solid meal options in a pinch. I discussed my needs with my mom and we made plans to shop as soon as I got there for food for me so I didn’t succumb to and be triggered by a scarcity mindset. I knew I had my team if I needed them. I was really looking forward to seeing my family. I felt like I would be fine. 

Two days in we had to put my beloved childhood dog down. She was nearly 13 and it was necessary, but it was hard. Fortunately it was an emotional burden shared by the three of us, and that made it a little easier. Then I found out my Daily Harvest was delayed. Suddenly my safety net of meal replacements was gone. By the weekend I was beginning to feel anxious, and this was amplified by everyone else arriving. Six people in the house, buzzing with activity, was more than I was used to and was super overwhelming. But I was happy to see everyone and was really enjoying my time with them. Then my period hit me like a on of bricks, filling my body with pain so severe I was stuck on the couch for two straight days glued to a heating pad. I started having GI issues, probably due to the increased anxiety, and all around wasn’t feeling good. I could feel my anxiety increasing and depression seeping in, but I just wanted to enjoy time with my family. By the end of my 10 days I was a mess, and had had the worst panic attack I have had in years on the floor of my parent’s kitchen after a very bad experience at a restaurant. I had been so depressed I couldn’t help but sob to my mom at the breakfast table. But most of all, I was angry.

I was angry that I couldn’t just enjoy my time with my family, which I so so wanted. I was angry that my disorder and my mental illness was keeping me from being able to connect and celebrate and be with my family. Disordered thoughts came into my head. Why do I not get to just have a good holiday? Why do I have to fall apart, like I always do? I just want to be happy. I just want to enjoy myself. Why do I not deserve that? These questions come from a desperate place of longing for normalcy. Of wishing my stability wasn’t so fragile as to keep me from the experiences I crave. 

Unfortunately, even though I am doing so much better and I experience long periods of stability within the confines of my carefully constructed and excessively supported life at home, Holidays are hard. They are stressful. They are full of triggers you don’t even realize consciously are there, affecting you, until you are so far gone you are falling apart. For me, that was the fact that a year ago I celebrated the holidays at my parent’s right before going to treatment, in a much smaller body, with my then partner of two years, and using behaviors multiple times a day, every single day. I never even considered this would affect me the way it did, but that plus everything else was just too much.

And sometimes, thats how recovery works. You want so badly to be able to be the person you know you can be so you can live and enjoy the life you know you deserve. But you can’t – yet. You aren’t there and that is okay. I so desperately wanted to be okay this holiday, to be able to enjoy my time with my family and to not fall apart the way I did. But I’m just not there yet. And that is okay. It was still better than last year — I fought with my family less, I was healthier, I wasn’t using behaviors, and I had so many skills to deal with what was coming up. That is worth celebrating. 

Sometimes we want something to be a certain way so badly we are blinded to the progress we have made. I may not yet be able to get through a holiday without a panic attack. But I did get through without a behavior. With less fighting. With enjoying every second even though it was hard and painful. We have to remember to celebrate our progress, even if it isn’t where we want it to be. Especially if it isn’t where we want it to be. Because that recognition is so validating, and it is the fuel for the journey towards the next step.

Next year I will prepare more thoroughly with my generals. I will have had the experience from this year’s battle to season me, and I will fight the good fight even better than I did this year. And even if it is hard again, I will relish in the little victories. Because recovery is not a linear path. And because I am a warrior.

Hungry for the Holidays – A Rant on Diet Culture Mentality Surrounding Holiday Indulgence and Guilt

Chestnuts roasting on a fire. Warm cocoa being sipped under the tree. Pink, flush cheeks thawing cheerfully after a romp in the snow. These images epitomize the Hallmarkesque “Holiday Cheer” trademarked to this time of year. For me, the holidays always make me think of red – red stockings lining the mantel. Matching red aprons and pies in the oven. The red of Santa’s oversized jacket as he flies through the sky on a red slay led by a red nose. Holidays are meant to be filled with celebration and connection as people come together who don’t often get to be with eachother. But unfortunately often times this brings its own stressors. Even for normative people, the holidays can be overwhleming with travel, lack of routine, and an overwhelming amount of people and events. But for those of us in Recovery, there is yet another added layer to this struggle.

Why? Because holidays are all about food. Any celebration is usually accompanied by food, but the holidays tend to go all out. Indulgence is the name of the game, and we excel at it. As a culture, the holidays are looked at as a time to be bad, as though enjoying your favorite treats and delicacies is somehow wrong and something to feel bad about. Our diet culture obsessed society posits two main themes surrounding food during the holidays: Indulgence and Guilt. We are encouraged to go overboard, gorging ourselves on a meal that took 3 days to cook and only 20 mins to eat, then straining to have pie afterwards because when else do we get to do this? Its the Holidays, right? Then comes the guilt. “I’ll have to work this off after the New Year!” they say, preparing themselves to work off their sinful indulgence with a New Year’s Resolution and a Planet Fitness membership as soon as January hits. I want another one, but I don’t need another one” they say as they pick at a cookie, self-deprecating and feeling guilty with every bite. “I’m being so bad” They say as they eat food they enjoy with people they love. 

What is so wrong with our culture that people are expected to restrain themselves all year, only allowing themselves to enjoy their favorites “because its a holiday,” and then feeling bad about it until they can “make up for it”? Why do we have to feel bad for enjoying something? For having sweets or bread or anything. Why do we have to wait until a special occasion to enjoy ourselves? To be satisfied? This cycle is so toxic, and it is so pervasive in our world. Fitness and dieting companies make so much money off of our guilt come the new year, as we sign up for memberships and shakes and cleanses that simply restrict what our body needs and make us feel terrible about ourselves when we eventually lapse. Our bodies are not meant to take this! 

You do not have to buy into a culture that encourages you to deprive yourself throughout the year only to binge at the holidays so you will make up for it by subscribing to their weight loss programs. My friends, this is a trap! Eat the damn cookie! No matter what day it is. If you want it, eat it. You don’t have to feel bad for enjoying something simply because its ingredients have been villanized.

You do not have to earn the right to eat. Ever.

You do not have to subscribe to cultural rules that tell you you have to earn the right to eat (and only at special times and only if you promise to make up for it). EVER.

You deserve to be happy. To enjoy yourself. To nourish yourself. Nourishment does not simply mean meeting your caloric needs. It means nourishing your tastebuds and your soul. It means feeding yourself what you crave and making sure you are satisfied and enjoying what you eat. It means thinking of food as a gift meant to enhance your living, not as a utilitarian box you have to check off.

The difficulty here is that everyone is so entrenched in this mentality that even if you are fighting the good fight against ED and his disordered diet culture, you may still be surrounded by comments and food guilt and fear and all of that. That’s where preparing for battle comes along, and where the importance of your team and your skills shines bright.

But the first step is simply rejecting the belief that holiday food is something to feel bad about. You deserve to be happy and healthy and satisfied. Hold onto that thought.

Returning to “Real Life” after Treatment Discharge

Transitions are hard. Even for normative people, transitioning to a new state, a new job, a new life is beyond challenging. It tends to be disruptive emotionally and physically, causing exhaustion and frustration not only during the actual move but in the aftermath as one adjusts to the newness of it all. Dealing with these transitions in recovery is exponentially worse.

Treatment is all about structure. In Residential, every hour is planned, every meal is made for you – there is little autonomy, which can feel both aggravating and freeing. Fighting ED takes all your energy, and the rest that you have is dedicated to getting through programming and to working in therapy and – let’s be real – to simply nourishing yourself! You need that structure, and you need the support. Making decisions would only add to an already incredibly overwhelming process.

By the time you step down to PHP, you have a bit more autonomy. More independent living, more choice in how you spend your time. Most of your time is spent in programming still, and you still have much support around meals, but there is choice. And its overwhelming! And hard. And such a struggle. But you get better at it. And by the time you (hopefully) feel like you’ve got it, they start decreasing your days and dropping you to IOP. And again, that feels like getting pummeled by a ton of bricks.

But none of those step downs compare to life after treatment. Discharge is such an exciting idea – the chance to finally get your life back! To be more than your ED. But the truth is, leaving the bubble of treatment is like entering another world. Especially when treatment was states away from where you need to build your life, as is often the case. I discharged and spent 4 days driving across the country to get back to home. The drive itself was hard, as was dealing with hotels and not having all my stuff – the usual moving woes. But no one warns you the once you get to your new life, you don’t know how to live.

For over a decade my life was my ED. It told me what to do and when, and I did it while trying to smush in what I could of my other responsibilities around it, always leaving ED as my priority. In treatment, ED is still your whole life, but from a different perspective. Now instead of bowing to ED you are fighting it, tooth and nail. Every. Single. Day. By the time you discharge, a lot of life still revolves around ED as you continue that fight and transition to out-patient care. But there is so much new time and space available for the rest. For life. And having not had a life outside of ED for so long, I didn’t know what the hell to do with that.

Treatment teaches you how to be less sick, but it doesn’t teach you how to be more alive. They try, focusing on your values and helping you think of what you might want for your life outside of the bubble. But it’s not the same as actually being thrown into it and having to live.

So the first few months were a struggle. Dysregulation from the move combined with dysregulation from being thrown into life, and was compounded by a summer of failed housing and repeated moves and just straight up struggle.

The following post was made in my first week since discharge, and I think it captures the feeling of this transition really well. Everyone on the outside acts like getting your life back should be wonderful, and that getting out of treatment is like graduating high school – fin and now you are on to the next stage. Check off the box, done. But in reality its just the next stage of struggle in a saga of struggle. Being better doesn’t mean life is all sunshine and daisies all the time. It’s fucking hard, every day. But it is worth it, because recovery represents the life you have the opportunity to experience now. Be grateful for that struggle, because every hard day in recovery is a million times better than the best day in ED.


June 7th, 2019 – Boulder, CO (Facebook)

It’s been about a week since I “graduated”. I made it through my 4 day drive from Raleigh, NC to Boulder, Co and I’m all settled into my summer sublet. I’ve unpacked my car, hung all my clothes, tucked away all my belongings. I had so much pride in myself in my journey as I left programming, and I still do. However, I’ve also come to realize that with that transition has come a lot of loss. I’ve lost all my amazing friends I made along the way — connections that have made such an impact of me and that I hold very dear to my heart and am working to maintain. I’ve lost the structure and predictability of not just programming, with all its familiar groups and supports, but also of the town I’ve lived in the last 5 months. All the coffee shops, yoga spots, parks, and other go-to’s I’ve amassed in my time there. Starting over is hard, even when it’s in a familiar place. Having to rebuild my support structure, my daily routine, my favorite spots – it’s hard. “Real life” is hard. I haven’t yet figured out how to fill my time, but more importantly – I haven’t figured out how to be myself in this new environment. Outside the cocoon of programming. Outside of the security of familiarity and friends. I spent all this time figuring out who I am, and now I have to figure out how to be that person in the “REAL” world. And surprisingly, it’s hard. I didn’t expect this part of the transition to be a struggle. I didn’t expect that I would be pulled into so much uncertainty, fear of vulnerability, and insecurity. 

I think leaving programming, I felt this sense of finality – as though in some capacity I had “finished” with recovery. But the reality isn’t so. Every new day is a struggle. A struggle to live by my values, to put recovery first, to be brave and vulnerable in the face of the utter uncertainty that is life. I have felt that struggle this week. I know I will bounce back, that it takes time. And I have had difficulty giving myself that time. I fought SO HARD to earn this life I am now living, I didn’t want to waste a minute of it once I was released into the “real” world. But recovery doesn’t stop. And it’s not a linear path. And I have to take the time I need to over come some of these struggles, root myself in the values and the strength and the vulnerability I forged in rehab, and build my new life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. Future-tripping gets you nothing but grief. 

I have to follow the Joy, submit to Freedom, ignite Connection, dare for Authenticity, and give myself room for Growth. 

I have to remember everyone is worthy. Everyone deserves to be seen and viewed non-judgementally. Everyone deserves the time and space to grow and heal. To discover what they love and make a life out of it, and not settle for anything less. Even me.

Coming Out – Going public with your ED Recovery

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

When I began my journey into Recovery, I never thought I would be capable of the vulnerability required to share my story. Many of my peers in treatment were very public with their journeys, and received a ton of support as a result. And though I craved that support, I was terrified of showing this side to people. I had always been “perfect,” or at the very least had tried to be. ED told me I was nothing, and I didn’t want anyone else to find out that beneath my perfect veneer I was a mess. A terrible, no good, very bad person. A worthless person. For 12 years, ED had convinced me of this, and for 12 years I had hidden my true self, distancing myself from others to keep them from finding out I was a fraud.

Thus, publicly decreeing that fact to the world seemed impossible. ED was still convincing me — even in treatment, even after giving everything up and choosing life — that I still had to pretend. That if others saw who I really was, I would be ostracized. Hated. Shamed. But the truth is, vulnerability is inspiring. It is the ultimate strength. It empowers you to be unapologetically yourself, and to move beyond the limitation of living by other’s opinions. Of living in fear of being who you are, deep down. And until you are able to do that, to be vulnerable and to begin to let go of the fear that you are not good enough in someone else’s eyes, you give yourself the opportunity to really live.

Below is my “coming out post,” the first public post I had ever made about my ED. I was terrified posting it, even though I felt it was so important for me to do so. Initially, I thought going public was another way of changing what others thought of you – of manipulating your narrative inside their heads. But by the time I wrote this post, I realized that that was all ED-mind talking. Going public, for me, was about keeping myself from hiding and taking away the power hiding holds. When you are hiding your struggles, it is so much easier to slip back into them. For me, I felt like if I didn’t go public that ED might convince me to go back to him – to go back to hiding and using behaviors and being sick. So I took that option away. I was vulnerable and honest and terrified, but I knew by telling my story – by telling my struggle – I was finally free from hiding and the shame it brought. I was holding myself accountable to the journey I had sent myself on. And most importantly, I was breaking the facade of perfection that had kept me entrapped for so long.

“Coming out” about ED was an act of liberation for me. An act of protection. And I was shocked at the amount of support that poured in afterwards. People were proud of me for being so vulnerable. They were inspired. Empowered. I felt so validated and free. This was one of my first major acts of rebellion against ED, and told me, definitively, that ED was wrong. The world didn’t end. People didn’t hate me. No one thought I was weak or worthless. They were proud. Inspired. Empowered. And so was I. ED was wounded, his facade splintered. And I knew I was on the right path.


May 23rd, 2019 – Durham, NC (Facebook/Instagram)

A week from today I will “graduate” (discharge) from my stay at Carolina House, where I have spent the last 5 months in intensive Eating Disorder treatment. 

For the past 13 years I have struggled with my ED in silence and shame, and it’s not something I want to hide any longer. I was very nervous about sharing this part of myself, but secrets keep you sick and I am so proud of the work I have put in, guided by my amazing team here and supported by my incredible peers. 

Although my journey is just beginning I am so glad I took the step to enter residential treatment in January and work towards overcoming a disease that has taken everything from me for more than half my life. 

My ED turned me into a depressed, anxious shell of a human being who felt incapable of doing or achieving anything. It made me believe I was broken beyond repair and that life wasn’t worth living. 

My Recovery has given me back my self and a chance at a real, fulfilling life directed by my values. It has given me the chance to be what my ED told me I could never be – happy, myself, alive. I am uncertain what that life will hold as of now, but I am so excited to have the chance to live it. 

I am creating a life directed by Joy, Connection, Freedom, Authenticity, and Growth. I am figuring out who I am, what I want to experience, and what I care about. This journey is a struggle every damn day, but everyday is worth it because I am finally living rather than just existing. 

It is never too late to pursue a life worth living. I want to thank everyone who has played a part in this journey thus far and all who will play one moving forwards. You know who you are – I am so grateful for you all. 

I will continue working with my Outpatient team in Boulder as I progress in my Recovery and look forwards to continuing to fight each day for this life, this second chance, I’ve been given.


Resources

One of the best resources that led to my ability to be publicly vulnerable was the author Brené Brown, a researched into courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She was such a huge influence throughout treatment and into my recovery journey, and I recommend her TED talks and books highly. Below are a few of her publications that particularly influenced the developments in this post.

To learn more about her work, visit https://brenebrown.com

Depression lies

When depression has been your life for so long, sometimes you can forget that its not just a normal way of existing. That there is a reason everything exhausts you, that you are constantly overwhelmed, and that your motivation is often lacking even when you’re dying to participate in the things that you love. It can begin to feel like maybe this is just who you are — an unmotivated, lazy, negative person who can’t seem to do anything right. This story can really bring you down. Once you begin believing its the truth, your life starts to fill out around that truth, and you get sucked into a hole, stuck in the misery that your life has become. 

I have been in this place a long time, believing the old stories my ED and depression have told me about myself, when in reality I am struggling because of those things, not because of who I am. It takes fight to question this construct that you’ve allowed to become your reality, and that is something I am battling with right now. And its fucking hard. 

But I am starting to realize that perhaps the depression is the problem, not me. And Ive been in this place so long that I have accepted it as the norm, when in reality it doesn’t have to be. I am working on rewriting my vision of myself and my past under a lens of reality instead of one framed by the old stories my depression, anxiety, and eating disorder have told me for so long.

For everyone out there struggling with these issues, please remember that these are mental illnesses, as real as any physical one. And just like physical illness, they can alter your capabilities, tolerances, and can increase limitations. And that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with who you are. Being depressed doesn’t make you a bad person, or a worthless one. It just makes life harder. Don’t let that affect your reflection of yourself. Don’t let the “shoulds” and “if only”s make you believe that you are not doing enough. 

All we can do is what we are able; some days that’s more and some days that’s less. But you are never less than — you are enough.


Resources

This post was inspired by the below article from PuttyLike, a site which provides resources for and articles for people who have many interests and creative pursuits, deemed Multipotentialites. I highly recommend this article as well as the site in general.