Sometimes the Christmas/holiday season is not a festive time for some people. People struggling with eating disorders and addiction find this season especially triggering and difficult. People who have gone through a major loss or facing a tough season of life, find that the celebratory parts of the season reinforce loneliness, loss and sadness. So how does a person navigate these seasonal waters when they seem increasingly unfriendly?
FIRST — for those who have an addiction or eating disorder:
Make a plan. Waiting to see is never a good idea when it comes to recovery! If you have an event or party to attend and you are feeling vulnerable or at risk, plan ahead as to how you can have a successful day in recovery.
Identify the biggest challenges. What feels the most difficult to you — lack of structure and routine or dealing with your triggers (alcohol and food situations, certain people)? If you know you are going out for a big meal later in the day, don’t restrict and make yourself overly hungry. This puts you at a higher risk of having binge urges and can set you up to overeat and then feel like you might as well keep going because ‘the day is ruined.’ If you are full or even stuffed, stop and work to get back on track with the next meal. Don’t use it as an excuse to keep going. It IS worth stopping!
What will help? Take a few minutes and think about what will actually help you. What do you most need — to put some structure into the day regarding meals? Who can you use for support — don’t determine that others can’t help you. Let them say yes or no. Those who love you and know about your struggles, are your best supports. Use them! What supports can you tap into? Would it help to attend a meeting or support group event? Do you need to touch base with your therapist?
Don’t judge where you’re at. The point you are at with your recovery isn’t wrong, it’s right where you ‘should’ be! Struggling and slipping are two very different things. Struggling is a part of recovery and fully expected. Slipping doesn’t have to be. You CAN do this, even when it is very difficult. When we judge our progress as being wrong/less than/not good enough, it creates shame and fuels the addiction or eating disorder. Don’t let that negative, harsh critical inner voice dictate where you are ‘supposed to be.’ I am where I am — how do I move forward? What is my next, immediate step. Just one.
Make it easier, not more difficult. So often people in recovery get caught up in a perfectionistic or unrealistic assessment of themselves and their situation and add too much onto their proverbial plates. Don’t think of all that you can do or ‘should do’ — think of what is absolutely essential and necessary. Period. Nothing more. Make this as easy as possible.
SECOND — for those watching someone struggle or knowing about the loss/addiction/grief that someone is facing at this time of year. Holidays have a way of heightening and magnifying painful emotions.
Watch for the Signs. If someone you know and love is struggling or going through their first season of loss/death or recovery, stay in touch. Even if they don’t want to join you for festive events, check in with them. They may very well not have the emotional and mental bandwidth to come to an event that reminds them of what they no longer have or are tempted by.
- Watch for signs of withdrawal and isolation. Are they engaging with anyone — even just a best friend or support group? If so, that’s great. Encourage them to do so.
- Check in — preferably with a way to gauge the non-verbals (in other words, ideally in person or on the phone, not by text or email).
Assume that this IS Difficult. I was taught ‘never to assume’ but in these cases, we can pretty safely approach our loved one with an understanding that what they are facing is difficult. Validate that. Affirm the fact that the ‘firsts’ are hardest and you are there to help and support, and that you care.
Don’t Pretend or Ignore the Loss/Grief/Disorder. If you act like nothing is going on and place your head in the sand, it can feel very invalidating and enhance the person’s perception that ‘see, this shouldn’t be such a big deal?!’
Don’t Make it a Big Deal. That may sound like a bit of a contradiction from the last point. Acknowledging and validating are important. Focusing on something and blowing it out of proportion is not. If you have gone through something similar, do watch the comparisons as they can end up invalidating the person’s own personal journey. We can never fully understand how someone feels. We might be able to relate, or even better, empathize but really don’t know ‘exactly how they feel.’
Best Questions Ever — How Can I Help? What do you Need from Me?
If they don’t have answers, that’s okay. Tell them to think about it and let you know. If you have an idea or a gut sense of what might be helpful, run that past them. If they shoot you down saying, ‘you don’t need to do that,’ let them know you are aware of that but want to do it anyway. People who are going through rough times often feel like they have ‘burdened’ others enough and can end up missing out on receiving critical help that could prevent relapse or worsened struggles. Reassure them that you are freely offering to help because you want to and choose to.
The Reasons Why — because we care. “Because I love you.” “Because, I want to help you the way I know you would help me.” “Because we all need each other!” Because. Just because.