Houses along our streets are twinkling, party invites are beginning to arrive, and we worrying that months of treatment will go awry because the holidays are here.
For many individuals in recovery for an eating disorder or addiction, holidays present a distinct apprehension. We want to be with loved ones and be part of the holly jolly but the enormous focus on food and alcohol, not to mention the expectations that can come with holidays – our own and others - can feel undeniably overwhelming.
We worry endlessly about aspects our recovery and how people will respond to changes in our appearance, what we will eat or drink, whether dinner tables will offer safe and healthy food options that support our personal meal and sobriety plans, and how we will manage those dreaded comments from grandparents and distant friends that are meant to be loving yet, under the toil of all that tinsel, feel ever so intimidating.
But fret not! Though getting through the holidays seems hard it is far from impossible! When worries set in, the first thing we can do is sit down with a trusted support - a counsellor, parent, a friend – and gain a clearer perspective by sharing our concerns and openly exploring some of the options we have for managing these problems, or triggers as to call them in therapy, so we can maintain our recovery and peace of mind.
The next step might be sitting down and creating a plan. For instance, if we recognize that Grandma Ruth’s comments, our skinny cousin Jessica, the plethora of cookies and flowing drink trays are potential triggers we can come up with a step by step plan on how to respond to these more effectively. That planning might look something like this:
Meet Mark and Megan. To reduce holiday pre-party anxiety and manage triggers more effectively, Mark and Megan decide they’ll do gentle yoga earlier in the day to feel calmer and centred. Later they’ll shop for some festive non-alcoholic drink options such as sparkling water, Italian flavoured sodas and ginger beer, and food items that fit Megan’s existing food plan that they can take to the party - her baggie back-up, which is totally acceptable. Mark and Megan also decide to work out an exit plan and options for communicating with each other across the evening. If anxiety or urges become too great, Megan tells Mark that she will step out of the party for 30-minutes, catch her breath, ground, and wait for the urge to pass before returning. Mark agrees. Because Megan is concerned about aspects of party triggering a binge episode or restricting behaviours the next day, she sets out a pre-planned plate of goodies that she permits herself to eat when she returns home and agrees that she will not purge. Megan takes an extra step to write a supportive affirmation on a post-it and place it on the plate of goodies, next to her journal and a crossword puzzle - her favourite distraction. Mark decides he will take a mindful shower, then enjoy a warm, soothing cup of tea before settling in and counting Reindeer. If sleep evades Mark, he will call or text his sponsor.
Of course, what works for Mark and Megan may not work for the rest of us. Our lives, our triggers, recovery skills, and supports are highly individual. Some of us may need to choose alcohol-free environments, or attend dinner parties with people we know to be supportive and understanding of our recovery. Others may opt to use Mindful eating or grounding techniques, such as 5-senses, to reduce anxiety, slow down, and recreate our experience at the dinner table. The holidays may also be a good time to practice identifying and asserting healthy boundaries in response to those annoying comments from Grandma Ruth and tiresome conversations about calories and the latest dieting fads. In fact, setting a boundary around that last one may be a gift to everyone at the table!
Realistically we can’t force people to behave differently; they are who they are. But, we can notice and ask for what we need. It is also helpful to remember than we are human and if things go sideways it is important to keep perspective and to not berate ourselves. Mistakes happen. We can book an appointment with our counsellor or sponsor and get back on track! In the meantime, we can maintain self-care and gift ourselves with a 1-minute of mindfulness each day to inspire inner joy and calm.
The more we know about ourselves, the context, and our capacities to institute an effective plan that can help us feel safe, grounded and empowered by choice, the better our opportunity of managing holiday havoc, preserving our recovery goals, and being part of the holly jolly.
For more support around recovery and making the holidays merry and bright, visit a few of these fantastic websites below!
May the Force (of Nature) Be With You!
Eating Disorders Support & Resources During the Holidays
Alcohol & Substance Support & Resources During the Holidays