When we think of Christmas we think of food, alcohol, Christmas parties … all the things that most people get excited about. For many, having a ready-made excuse to eat and drink as much as they want is ideal.
For me, the anticipation of Christmas kicks in in about October. By the time November rolls around and I’ve answered the dietary requirements questions for celebratory lunches, and booked my place at the Christmas dinners, the fear is really starting to kick in:
‘What if I don’t eat enough?’
‘What if I eat too much?’
‘Are people going to watch what I eat?’
So many questions suffocating me; pushing me down and down, drowning me …
Each Christmas throughout my teens was the same: stress about food, avoiding eating as much as I could, and then making up for the fact I had eaten lunch by making myself sick.
On my last Christmas before I went in to hospital, we got up early and opened our Christmas stockings – it was always so much fun how we did that. I went for a run, and opened more presents when I got back. Then I picked my way through a dinner, knowing that my parents would be watching, fully aware of what was about to follow. I was so naïve back then, and I was still best friends with Anorexia. I loved how “she” made me feel and loved that even at a time like Christmas when I really struggled, she seemed to be there for me.
Little did I know that 11 months later my heart would nearly stop, and I would be admitted to a mental health hospital, where I would spend a year recovering. But on that Christmas in 2005, I didn’t care. I didn’t care about the strain on my family, the upset and the tears. I didn’t care that I probably made everyone’s Christmas so much worse. No, none of that mattered as long as I kept pleasing my best friend, Anorexia. God, she made me feel good, reassuring me when life seemed so rubbish.
But that was then …
I have been out of hospital for 10 years now. Even after all of that time, the anticipation of Christmas still bothers me. How can it still worry me so much this far into my recovery? I’m not sure. It is frustrating that I still think about it. Just yesterday, when an email about the Christmas party (and the pre-party pizza) went around at work, it panicked me.
Last Christmas, I wanted to have minimal stress around food. I had relapsed the summer before and was desperate to not let “her” back into my life. So I took control of the situation. For me this involved hosting Christmas, being hands-on with the food and reminding myself why I wanted to stay well. Cooking Christmas dinner for my family, eating it, and actually enjoying eating it was a huge step forward in my recovery; a step that I was proud to take.
As we approach Christmas this year, I am feeling that worry again. But I know I can control that worry.
Anorexia can make me feel completely rubbish about eating Christmas dinner, and getting involved in the festivities but I am not going to let it. I am not going to let her beat me down. And that is how I am going to keep winning, this Christmas and every Christmas.
I am going to make sure I have some me-time on Christmas Day. Whether it’s a walk or painting my nails, I will take some time out, just for me.
I am going to talk about it too. If I am struggling or feeling emotional, I will tell the people around me. I know they can’t make that guilt go away with a click of their fingers, but they can help me feel so much better about everything.
And finally, I am going to remember how far I have come, and I will let myself be proud that I am still beating anorexia.
I know Christmas can be scary. Scratch that, it can be completely terrifying! But we must not let anorexia build it up into a terrifying monster that we can’t defeat.
If you aren’t very far in to your recovery, do try and enjoy the food if you can. If that feels too difficult, I recommend sticking to food that you know you feel comfortable eating. And remember, just because there is lots of food available, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it all!
Good luck! I know you have the strength to get through this, and be stronger for it. One day at a time, one Christmas at a time, we can beat anorexia together!