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What I Learned During My First Holiday Season In Recovery (Part 2)

*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.

By: Sarah Braun

 

4. My Ability To Accept Love (and Gifts)

The month of December is a very busy, exciting and celebratory time in my life. Aside from Christmas, I also have the joy of celebrating my birthday and sober anniversary. My first year in recovery being mere days after my birthday, I decided to celebrate turning another year older and my success by paying tribute to all my hard work surrounded by my loved ones. Up until my 28th birthday, I was convinced I would be part of the “27 club”. In the past I had never wanted to make my birthday a big deal. Partially because I felt I didn’t deserve to be celebrated and partially because I was scared of the shame I would feel, if and when, nobody showed up; I felt as though someone like me, who felt was such a burden with my eating disorder and addiction didn’t deserve to feel loved or be celebrated. Over the course of my recovery, that mindset has changed. I deserved to be loved then, just as I much deserve it now. I only wish I knew that back then. 

As friends and family flooded in and gathered around the table I was overwhelmed with a sense of love and pride. I was swarmed with tight hugs, warm comments, thoughtful cards and precious gifts. A part of me still felt undeserving of these acts and the love being shown, however I’ve learned to combat those negative thoughts and accept reality for what it is. Therefore, I allowed myself to embrace it all. The love I felt in the room that day was something I had never experienced before and it’s all because I was open to accepting it. Had that love been there all along? Maybe, I’ll never truly know. All I do know, is that in the moment, everything I had ever wanted was surrounding me.

 

5. Anxiety & Triggers Are Still (Very) Real

The holidays can be a stressful time of year for anyone, not just those who live with mental illness, although that does (in my opinion) make it that much harder. This year I went into the holidays determined to make it my best one yet, as it would be my first Christmas in recovery and I wanted to prove that all my hard work has paid off. Turns out, the expectations I had for myself were set too high, and they were ultimately unrealistic. In my mind, I had convinced myself that I was far enough along in my recovery that fear foods and calorie counting wouldn’t get the best of me and that I could handle whatever came way. I believed that I could cope with being around those who were using my drug of choice. I thought that the drunken behaviour and words of others wouldn’t effect me or trigger flashbacks to my previous self. Turns out, I was wrong.

I have just over one year clean and sober under my belt, and have been committed to recovery from my eating disorder for the same length of time. I learned very quickly that the addiction and eating disorder do not care. There is no time limit, or finish line - they are relentless. To be honest, I already knew this, and perhaps was in a bit of denial. Or maybe I just hadn’t been exposed to the situations and triggers that I encountered during my time home. Either way, anxiety is still real, regardless of how far along you may be in your journey. It can still effect how you react and handle events in your life, expected or unexpected. I am not as invincible to reality as I once thought. Some meals were extremely overwhelming and I caught myself counting the calories or justifying and minimizing my portions. Some days I hated not being able to calm my nerves with a drink. However, I got through each day.

My holidays weren’t perfect - from from it actually. Looking back, I’m happy that they weren’t. I’m grateful I was put in uncomfortable, unfamiliar and triggering situations. I’m glad my emotions were all over the place and my anxiety sky-high at times. Rather than sailing through on smooth seas, I learned how to navigate my recovery over rough waters I hadn’t yet been through. 

 

6. I Can Survive

With the holidays now over, I have been able to take some time to step back and reflect. And guess what? I survived, I’m here to write about it. My body didn’t spontaneously combust because I indulged in some holiday treats. My heart didn’t explode from what felt like paralyzing anxiety. I didn’t miss out on, or not have fun at gatherings because I’m sober, quite the opposite actually. 

I had my reservations about what the holidays in recovery would look like and what they would entail. This was a whole new territory for me, my recovery and my life. Despite some moments being terribly difficult and challenging my recovery, others were incredibly powerful and I learned more about myself, my strength and my ability each time. The skills I have learned and have been practicing over the past year helped me stay afloat as I used them more than ever during this high pressure, high stress time. I continued to label my anxiety, and all my emotions for what they were, why they were there and what they were telling me. I acknowledged my triggers and rerouted my automatic thoughts. I took time to incorporate some much needed self-care into each day.  Overall I survived, and most importantly I learned that I can bounce back from a tidal wave of emotions and slippery behaviours that I once  was convinced would be the death of me.

The holidays no longer need to be a time of year to avoid or fear anymore. With recovery, they can be enjoyed, experienced and appreciated. It is by no means easy, but it is possible - just like recovery.