Holiday Challenges: the usual suspects Yes, holidays are a challenge. The presence of family can be triggering. The absence of family can be triggering. The pressures of your own internal fantasies about what holidays should be and how they actually are may be strikingly different pictures. This can bring up anxiety and deep sorrow.
A different way of coping - measured doses of pretending Dealing directly with your life in a healthy way is an indirect way of addressing your eating disorder. As you learn to live a life that is more satisfying and worthwhile to you the eating disorder behaviors become less necessary. This is an especially powerful approach during the holiday season. Yes, this is easy to say, and not easy to make happen. But not easy doesn’t mean impossible. If you can be kind and compassionate with yourself you can create an environment for yourself that allows healing. If you can’t be kind and compassionate with yourself because your self criticisms are too constant and severe I invite you to try something as part of a holiday experiment. Every day, take a moment or an hour – more if you can – and pretend you are the giving spirit of the holiday. In this pretend state give yourself a bit of freedom, power and time to make a move in the direction of fulfilling your holiday goals. Your goals are basic and are NOT about eating, or not eating or gaining weight or losing weight. Such goals can trigger your harsh self criticisms and launch you into fear. During a vulnerable time, such as Christmas and Hanukkah.
Holiday goals for a person with an eating disorder are these:
- Stay alive (I mean it. No risky behavior, no desperate measures. Stay here and see it through).
- Maintain physical health (Don't get too hungry, tired or thirsty. Don't put toxins in your body.)
- Maintain recovery program –whatever that means for you (Stay in contact with your psychotherapist, support group, OA meetings, etc.)
- Maintain law abiding behavior (Don’t get into trouble)
- Maintain your car and keep it in good shape (Translation: no automobile accidents or fender benders. And no food wrappers or clutter or crumbs in the car either.)
- Maintain valued relationships (No temper tantrums or crying jags or stalking, Show up when you say you will.)
- Maintain personal freedom (Don’t do anything to get arrested or be put in a hospital)
- Maintain your financial balance (Don’t binge on spending or giving)
- Maintain a clean and orderly home (Clear out the clutter. Even if no one visits you, give yourself a nice holiday space whether it's a house, an apartment, a room, a couch in someone else's place or another kind space you have made your own.)
- Maintain a clean and healthy body (Bathe, shower, dress nicely)
- Maintain minimum and adequate responsibilities: a. At work b. At home c. With family d. With friends e. With projects f. With personal goals g. With pets and plants h. With community associations i. With any and all commitments
- Do at least one task however small, every day that is related to your heart’s desire. (Even if your heart’s desire seems out of reach, do little things that make your deep desires more real to you).
What's this goal list got to do with eating disorders? If you honor these 12 goals even minimally this holiday season, you might be pleasantly surprised to see how your eating disorder doesn’t flare up as strongly as you feared. It’s not easy to honor these 12 goals. But it’s not impossible. It’s just hard. Struggling to resist a binge or a purge, hanging on when you have nothing to hang on to can set you up to overreact later. Honoring these 12 goals, however imperfectly, actually builds core strengths inside you. You provide yourself with opportunity to grow. You create more warmth in your life and develop more self trust. When you have a base of warmth and self-trust within you, you don’t need an eating disorder to get through the holidays or any other time. You can rely on the core you have nourished to see you through your challenges. Yes, I know this list sounds formidble and out of reach if you have an eating disorder. But, please know that doing just a little every day, even if you don't do it very well, will help you be more stable during the pressures of the holidays. That also means less mess to clean up afterwards.