Holidays and celebrations can pose some significant and specific challenge to those of us in treatment or recovery from an eating disorder. Let’s face it- nearly every holiday has some sort of a core basis around food. Christmas, Hanukah, Thanksgiving, and even the Fourth of July have traditional foods that are as integral to each day as the presents and the ceremonies. Halloween is no exception. In fact, the emphasis is on candy, which can be especially challenging.
Awareness and planning is vital to staying strong and focused in your recovery during any holiday. Planning ahead, practicing, and seeking out support can make the difference between an enjoyable day and a potential relapse. Hence it is absolutely vital to develop a very specific, detailed plan for managing any and all stressors that may occur throughout the day. This may involve pre-identifying triggers or triggering situations that may occur. Write them down, and then write down how you will ideally handle the situation in a recovery-focused manner. Also be sure to write down triggering thoughts that you may have- then be sure to write down challenging statements to those thoughts. The more specific you are in this journaling process, the more likely it is that you will be better prepared to defend against these irrational thoughts on the actual day.
Make sure to only say “yes’ to gatherings or events that you feel confident in attending. Also, if it helps, RSVP with a time limit. For example, say, “Thank for inviting me. I can make it from 4:00-8:00.” This will take some of the pressure off, because it provides firm boundaries, and an opportunity to leave if the anxiety becomes overwhelming.
Write down your favorite coping skills on a notecard (or in your cell phone) and make sure to keep them close by throughout the day. This way, you will have concrete examples to turn to should you become overwhelmed or upset. Also, write down three things that you used to enjoy about the holiday. You can use these to remind yourself of why you are trying, should you become upset or negative during the event.
Talk to your supports. Identify those people in your life that feel safe to turn to with struggles and let them know about your concerns. Brainstorm ways to make sure that the day goes well together. Tell them specific ways that they can support your during the event/gathering. These things are not always obvious to our loved ones, and chances are they are eager for information on how they can help in any way.
If you have a meal plan, make sure that you plan out how to attend the gathering/event and still make your meal plan work. Ask ahead of time about what type of food may be available. Make a commitment to yourself to follow through with your specific goals. Avoid getting into any type of “bargaining” with yourself about swapping out food. For example, during Halloween, this detrimental bargaining could manifest as “I will have some of that candy but maybe cut back on my dinner.” Chances are, if you make a commitment to hold yourself accountable ahead of time, you will be more likely to follow through.
Lastly, remember that the holidays are meant to be fun. Being in recovery does make them trickier to navigate, but this does not mean that they are unmanageable, or that they should not be attempted. There are many ways to make the holidays easier on yourself, so take advantage of them! And finally, remember that holidays, much like ourselves, are not meant to be perfect. People will spill drinks, burn cookies, and talk too close to your face. Family members will step on the dog’s tail, music will be played too loudly, and friends will show up late and early. Find a way to embrace the mess, in all of its perfect imperfection, and you will find yourself at peace. Because, after all, embracing imperfection is one of the most important pieces in the journey to recovery.