What I Learned During My First Holiday Season In Recovery (Part 1)

By: Sarah Braun

*This blog was written by an individual with lived experience with an eating disorder. Content may by triggering for some people and the advice provided is based on the author's experience and should not be taken as professional or medical advice.

1. It’s Not Bone-Chilling Cold  

Living with an eating disorder brings with it an unbearable cold. For many years my body was unable to keep itself warm and regulated in the summer months, let alone the colder ones. I had always dreaded the dark and chilly days of winter. I would drape layer upon layer of clothing each time I left the house and nothing would suffice. Being inside wasn’t any easier. The thermostat would constantly be set at what others would call ‘sweltering temperatures’ and even then, my hands were ice and my body shivering. I would try my best to erase the continuous chill in hopes that alcohol could warm me up, but it was never successful. Nothing was able to comfort me from that bone-chilling cold. 

This year is vastly different. My body is now in a place that is able to sustain warmth. My blood circulates properly and I have a healthy amount of fat cushioning my bones to protect me from the elements. I have found myself numerous times venturing outside in nothing but a light jacket or sweater in what are supposed to be winter months. My wardrobe has greatly expanded and activities now seem unlimited. Sometimes it feels as though I’m experiencing a whole new season. As any winter, there are still cold days and I have to remind myself that it’s not just me experiencing them - that’s a true reflection on the weather and I am grateful that I am alive to feel it. I sometimes find myself waiting for that relentless and unbearable cold to return, but it hasn’t and I don’t plan on letting it. 

2. Having People To Shop For Is A Blessing

I have always enjoyed shopping for others, and as I spiralled more and more into my eating disorder and addictions, that enjoyment faded. Perhaps it was because I felt as though I no longer had anyone left in my life I could shop for. Who would want to spend the holidays with an alcoholic? They’d likely just toss it to the side or into the trash because it would remind them of the girl with the eating disorder. It wouldn’t bring joy to anyone because it came from the sick, lost and dying girl. Perhaps my gift-giving passion began to falter because all I cared to spend my money on was drugs, alcohol and food that would later end up in the toilet. I was self-centred in my thinking and would rather forget about the holidays altogether with my unhealthy coping strategies. Either way, in the past, this time of year always loomed over me. I would spend hours questioning my existence, my sense of belonging and the burden I believed I brought to the lives of those I loved.

Being in recovery for the first time since I was 10 during this holiday season has been so much fun. I spent the weeks between Halloween and Christmas carefully planning, shopping and making gifts for the incredible people I have in my life. I’ve heard it said that giving is the best feeling in the world, and now I can confidently agree. I had never truly experienced the joy that came with it until this year. As I was out in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season it dawned on me what a blessing it is to have people in your life to shop for during this time. I was overwhelmed with happiness thinking of all the special relationships I have in my life today that I would not have if I did not choose recovery. Even more exciting than the planning and effort that went into each gift, was the expression on their faces as they opened them. The time and thought dedicated to each one had truly shined through. As I no longer spend my time and money centred around my addiction and eating disorder, I was able to show my loved ones just how much they mean to me. Something I was unable to do during my struggle, as I constantly pushed people away trying to isolate myself completely. Now, I know Christmas is not about the presents under the tree, but instead about the people around the tree, and this year I’m beyond grateful that I have people around the tree to give to.

3. I Enjoy Eggnog 

The holiday season is very much known for indulging in both food and alcohol. In previous years, I refused to enjoy the snack trays and appetizers set out at parties or even sit down for Christmas dinner with family. Instead I filled my stomach with alcohol and spent my time at whatever establishment was open when I needed to escape.

A well-known holiday favourite of course is egg-nog. Throughout the course of my illness this drink terrified me to my core, and I steered clear of any offerings. Even if it was an alcoholic version of the drink, I would not allow myself to taste a sip, paralyzed by fear of extra calories. I spent the majority of my life telling myself and others that I simply did not enjoy the taste. Being in recovery for the holidays this year, I wanted to re-test that disordered assumption. Therefore one of the goals I made over the holidays was to try eggnog. To my surprise, I enjoyed it. I will admit thoughts of calories still swirled in my mind as I enjoyed the thick and creamy beverage, but I liked it nonetheless. I did not let it impact or dictate the rest of my evening, and more importantly, my meal plan. It is normal to indulge a little over the holidays and I refused to let my eating disorder take control and ruin yet another Christmas. This year I was able to sit down with my family for dinner without a tense and strained conversation. The humour and love in our home had returned.

I wish I could say that I made it through the holidays without an eating disordered thought, or craving for alcohol, but I did not. Even though I am in recovery, I still struggle with thoughts and urges from time to time. The only difference this year is that I did not act on them. Some days were harder than others, but through it all I learned that the holidays can be fun without alcohol and that enjoying the specialty treats, like eggnog, is okay (and delicious!)