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I wish I could tell you that one day you’ll pick up a cupcake and savor every flavor without an overbearing shadow of guilt or personal disdain; one day you’ll enjoy food like a normal adult. While this may be the silver lining of your particular journey, I will always struggle with this disease. I will never have a normal relationship with food, and part of my eating disorder recovery process is coming to terms with that. I’ve had more relapses than I care to remember– but each one has only made me respect myself and my tenacity more. In moments of weakness, we find our strength. We find the willpower to turn a relapse into a mild setback– not failure. I’ve been beautifully broken, and it’s made me who I am at this very moment.
This food-centric season can be really difficult– and not just for those in eating disorder recovery. With social media highlighting only the happiest moments of others, it’s painfully easy to fall into a dangerous downward spiral of loneliness and depression. Even when we’re surrounded by family, it’s hard to erase the images of other more perfect families– families without dysfunction and complications. Please remember that the Hallmark-worthy scenes you envy aren’t reality. They don’t show the screaming children, overwhelming mountains of debt, or relationship problems. Unless you’re a professional body language expert, they also don’t depict the despair of mental illness, which currently affects 1 in 4 Americans. When you find yourself comparing your life to the lives of others, return to the present moment and identify something you’re grateful for. Maybe it’s the roof over your head or the fact that you still have both your parents. Maybe it’s the first Christmas in a while that you and your siblings have all been together. Find ways to appreciate it. Even if it takes you a while to think of something, try to interrupt your holiday anxiety with gratitude. It’s easier said than done, but it’s like chicken soup– it’s just good for the soul. Practicing gratitude has also proven to be one of the best methods for reducing stress and increasing feelings of joy, pleasure, and happiness.
For those of us who are still susceptible to relapse, holidays or no holidays– gratitude or no gratitude, support will be our saving grace. We can’t do it alone, and speaking from experience, if you try, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Compassion and encouragement from counselors, doctors, friends, family, and fellow recovery warriors are your batteries when your mind and body lose power. I come from a loving, albeit dysfunctional, family, and I’m very blessed; however, trying to verbalize the adverse effects of struggling with an eating disorder has been very taxing, both mentally and emotionally. My feelings are almost always dismissed, since the idea of a successful former beauty queen turned fashion blogger being insecure about her looks is difficult to understand or empathize. “Just eat” is the automated response I usually receive– if I even get a response at all. The truth is, though, that they don’t get it. The idea of self harm– and yes, Anorexia and Bulimia are methods of self harm– is scary for those who’ve never experienced the urge.
My advice is to reach out and connect with others in eating disorder recovery. Listen and be supportive. Open up and be supported. I wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t confide in a solid group of what can only be called my “well-being advisors.” It’s they who helped me muster the courage to seek professional treatment– and to see my outpatient and post-treatment commitments through, as well. If you’re not in a position to afford professional help, and I understand if you aren’t– cause it’s expensive and rarely covered by insurance (an issue I’m hoping to help tackle in 2016)– check out any of these 12 books for better understanding mental health, find a nearby Eating Disorder Anonymous support group, or join in an online community, like Stamp Out Stigma or Proud2B Me, where you can connect with fellow recovery warriors. I’m not, nor do I claim to be, an expert on psychology, health, nutrition, or eating disorders, but I’m always here to help, as well. Shoot me an email if you need a push in the right direction or a quick jolt of encouragement. You’re never alone.
I say this to myself every morning– You are loved. You are worthy. You are enough. Always. Merry Christmas! Oh, and for more articles about my journey to continual eating disorder recovery, click here.