I think it’s safe to say that the holidays are hard for almost everyone, especially here in the US, where I live. Between the cash you feel obligated to shell out, the stress of seeing family you purposely spend the rest of the year avoiding, and the time crunch that obviously comes with trying to fit all the Christmas stuff* into your regular life, it can be unbearable. I’m sure it’s even more unbearable for people who have no friends and family to fret over. This is why the rumor that suicide rates go up in December is so believable (even though it’s probably false). This time of year sucks.
*Christmas being what my family celebrates, as secular as we are. Don’t judge me, Santa is AWESOME.*
As someone still struggling with an eating disorder, this time of year is especially hard for me. The month or so between Thanksgiving and New Years is anxiety ridden during the best years and debilitating during the worst, regardless of how many cocktails I might consume. When I say “still struggling,” I mean that while I have what many would assume to be the “worst of it” behind me,(“it” being the years spent slumped over the porcelain throne with painful, sometimes open gashes on my knuckles from where my teeth would knock against my hands as I purged) I still battles the demons in my head that tell me I’m not good enough, and that food is the enemy. During a season where food is almost the entire point, you can see why this might be difficult to overcome.
Let me paint you a picture: I’m at a relative’s house, someone I love very much and occasionally see, but tend to avoid to circumvent the inevitable discussion about my weight. There is a beautiful spread of food, mostly things I either won’t eat as a vegetarian (one of the few drawbacks, in my humble opinion, of being a second generation Irish American is the lack of good vegetarian options that don’t include the potato) or things I won’t eat because of the anxiety it would produce due to calorie count (which is something I rarely think about anymore, outside of the holiday stress-crunch).
As I mentioned before, here comes the inevitable weight discussion. If I’ve lost weight, it’s all “Looking slim, girlie!” and “What’s your secret?” But if I’ve broken the unspoken rule of society and gained weight? Well, everyone is too polite to say it outright, but the subtle condemnation is there. Or the pity. And when I say “too polite,” I mean just until the drinks start flowing. Then comes the “Have you tried the cabbage diet?”
Don’t get me wrong. My family is actually pretty damn supportive. My parents in particular have had my back in regards to the body image issues I still battle. Compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other ED survivors (and make no mistake, we ARE survivors), my bulimia sounds like a cakewalk to me. Except it wasn’t a cakewalk, at least not to me. And this time of year makes this abundantly clear, once again.
One of the hardest parts of the holidays is the conflict in my mind between falling back into unhealthy habits of either denial plus binge/purse, or making unhealthy choices that will make me hate myself the next day. It must sound absurd to people who haven’t been in my shoes, but the balance of making good food choices and not becoming obsessed with the scale or what goes in my mouth is like a tightrope act. One false move and I’m back there, contorted over the toilet seat in that oh-so-familiar position of shame, trying to flush away my bad feelings (and that last 100 calories, of course).
I’m sure to some reading this, it sounds like over-sharing or TMI. Perhaps it is. But I’m positive that I’m not alone. But there are most likely many people out there who think they are alone. Were these moments of weakness regarding my eating disorder my brightest moments? Of course not. But they are my moments, and if speaking out about them (especially during a time of year where food and family guilt go hand-in-hand) can let even one person know that they aren’t alone, it’s worth it. I refuse to buy into the shame of eating disorders, the same way I refuse to buy into this idea that you must sit and endure shame from your “loved ones” during the holidays (again I’m not specifically talking about my own family here, I love you mom! ). This shame is not mine. The shame should be with the people who allow the stigma of having these issues to flourish.
Over the years, it’s actually become easier to talk about my issues with my family. I guess that is one of the perks that comes along with having your own family and becoming an adult (not that I feel like an “adult”). I know this makes me incredibly lucky, because plenty of people go their entire lives without feeling open with the people they love the most. Will the holidays ever be stress-free? Probably not. Christmas dinner stress is eternal. But we’re all in this together.
Still, DAMN it feels good that the holidays are over.