This is my second Thanksgiving/Christmas season in Eating Disorder recovery, but my first where I am really working a program. I started in a support group for eating issues about this time last year (Oct 2019) so I was attending meetings during Thanksgiving and Christmas but wasn't actively trying to control this addiction. This year it's different.
I've been incredibly depressed and stressed recently and this morning I figured out at least part of the reason why - the holidays are coming! I'm not that far into my active program and so I'm still learning how to handle food challenges that come up in the course of everyday life. Add to that having social anxiety disorder (where food is the main way I cope with social situations) and I realized I'm dreading the holidays incredibly, especially Thanksgiving.
It still amazes me how I can give advice on recovery to others but totally forget it when it comes to myself. I do a newsletter for one support group I'm a part of and each year the November issue is about how to stay sober during the holidays. There are several great tips that I learned through research and share in the article, but the very first tip I list is, "Before the holidays hit, make a plan."
However, this idea completely slipped my mind when thinking about how I would cope with the upcoming family gatherings that surround food. It took two appointments less than an hour apart this morning - one with my therapist and one with my nutritionist - to be reminded of this simple but important fact.
I still haven't totally fleshed out what "making a plan" means for me this holiday season, but I have started with a couple of things.
To help with my food addiction, I decided to talk to family members to see what will be served. After getting the menu, I can decide what I want to bring that are healthier alternatives for what is already there. I don't plan on bringing a full meal for myself, but having some options I know I will like but aren't horrible for me should make mealtime easier.
Also, my nutritionist gave me permission to give myself grace and to remember that it's only one day. Even if I do "blow it," I don't need to spend the next week beating myself up. All that does is make me feel I should just give up completely. She encouraged me to celebrate each good choice and know that even if I make some bad choices, it's not the end of the world. I can try again the next day, or even as early as the next meal.
Having some accountability before and after a family function can also be useful. If I call my sponsor or another friend in one of the programs I'm in before I walk in (getting a much-needed pep talk beforehand) and then commit to calling as soon as I leave (to hopefully discuss how great I did), then I'm more likely to make better choices. Everyone loves to be praised for the good job they did - or encouraged that it's not the worst thing if it didn't go as well as hoped.
To help with my social anxiety, one thing I do is to park my car in such a way that I can leave if needed without having to move cars around. This "escape plan" reduces my anxiety by giving me an out without having to bother anyone.
Another is a pre-emptive strike. This year I'm visiting my boyfriend's family the week before and including Christmas. I've only met one family member so far because they live out of state. We had planned to stay with family but after deciding that I need to make choices to decrease my anxiety, I realized that the money I spend on a hotel will be well worth it. There are just too many unknowns and by choosing this option, I can control one of them.
During family functions, I have given myself permission to walk outside or find a quiet place to decompress if the noise gets too overwhelming. It's important that I remember that I don't have to be in the middle of everything going on. I also try to help others so that the focus changes from my anxiety to meeting another's need.
I can't predict the future and thus, can't tell if Thanksgiving and Christmas will go well or not, but with a plan in place, at least I have a shot of making them the best they can be - even though I'm an addict with mental health issues.