Maybe you have been wrestling with the decision for a while, or maybe you’re being propelled forward all at once. Maybe you’re feeling hopeful and empowered, or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure. Maybe you are being strongly encouraged by friends and family, or maybe you are doing this on your own.
Whatever the reason, whatever the context, the time has come – you have made up your mind and will soon be entering treatment for your eating disorder.
The major downfall: You will be there for the holidays.
Instead of creating Amazon wish lists and searching for the best deals on the Nespresso you have your eye on, you will be creating a list of things you need to bring to treatment with you.
Instead of lighting the menorah each night, you find yourself in group therapy at the same time each day, casting light on some of the emotions and experiences you’ve been avoiding for so long.
Instead of filling the spaces under your Christmas tree with carefully wrapped gifts for your loved ones, you will be sitting in art therapy writing down the metaphorical gifts treatment will provide to you under a printed outline of an irritatingly symmetrical evergreen.
Well, things are sounding a bit . . . grim at the moment. As if entering treatment isn’t already challenging enough, you’re facing the fact that you will be doing it during the holidays? Cue a knot forming in the pit of your stomach. You may be having moments of doubt. Your mind starts to wonder:
Is it worth it?
Oh, how I can empathize. If I could, I would sit across from you at a local coffee shop to contemplate these questions and intently listen to all of your feelings of uncertainty. You are not alone as you wrestle with the dissonance you may be feeling. No one would use the word easy to describe entering treatment during the holidays.
In fact, I might say that you are about to embark on one of the most difficult experiences of your entire life. But, please hear me -– it could also be one of the most rewarding decisions that you ever make.
As I sit here reflecting on the poignant truth that the treatment journey can be equal parts challenging and rewarding, I am reminded of some of the words from one of my favorite modern poets, William Bortz:
“One day I decided to take a step, and it hurt less than standing still.”
You have taken this step, and while it may have been excruciating, you have just taken a step toward healing, a step toward wholeness. By deciding to enter treatment, specifically in doing so during the holidays, you are recognizing that your physical and mental health come before shopping and decorating, gatherings and parties.
You are peeling back layers of yourself, revealing the vulnerability that allows you to say, albeit maybe through tears or gritted teeth, “I need help. There must be a better way.” By entering the doors of treatment, you are giving up short-term contentment in favor of a life free from the bondage of your eating disorder.
If no one has told you today, I am so proud of you. This is a courageous act of self-care and self-preservation, and it is a step toward a life full of peace, satisfaction, connection, and joy that you deserve to live.
Learning, Growing, and Looking Ahead
The idea of treatment may feel daunting right now. That’s understandable. Know that, while there are probably many emotions and questions swirling in your head, the experiences you will have in treatment will likely not be as negative as you fear.
You may experience the unexpected healing element of finally being surrounded by those who “get it.”
You will laugh and cry with these people. You will share some of the most raw parts of your story and maybe even bond over *lovingly* poking fun at the staff with these people. Before too long, you will find that these moments will knit themselves together to form a community of belonging. Hopefully, you’ll find freedom in being with people who truly see and hear you. This alone can be a vital part of your recovery journey.
Additionally, you will learn. If you commit to diving in and fully immersing yourself in treatment, you will absorb lessons and information about what you have been going through and steps you can take towards feeling better and healing.
Speaking of which, you may find that you feel the release of a burden when surrounded by educated professionals to help you fight this battle. These therapists and dieticians will be your allies, encouraging you to fight when you are tired and worn down, when you feel certain you can’t muster up the strength to take another step forward.
Some of the most important information you will gain in treatment will be the things you consider, uncover, and learn about yourself: what contributed to the development of your eating disorder, what can be triggering for you and the reasons why, what your strengths are and where your growth edges lie. You will learn how to use your strengths in the face of your eating disorder. And the clarity you gain about your growth edges will help provide you with the armor you need to combat your ED’s attempts to secure its grasp upon them.
A shift in thinking
I also implore you to shift your thinking about treatment. While it may be hard not to fixate on the gatherings, events, shopping, and annual holiday traditions that you may miss this year, do you think you could try to reframe your thoughts?
Consider how this may be a place of refuge for you – the safe space you need in order to survive this holiday season.
A season full of family gatherings, disrupted routines, unsolicited and intrusive questions and comments from some well-meaning (and some not-so-well-meaning) family and friends, inboxes and ears flooded with all of the talk and messages about New Year’s diet “opportunities”. . . I find that I am holding my breath and tensing up while just writing all of that. And that list is just the beginning. Exhale. Deep Breath. Let’s face it – the holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, but especially for those struggling with a disordered relationship with food.
So, let’s consider this together: entering treatment will allow you a reprieve from some of the above variables. Instead of listening to Aunt Beth explain all of the benefits of the latest diet trend she has latched onto, you will be in a room full of others who are seeking healing and wholeness for their minds and bodies.
Instead of trying to contain and manage the anxiety that wells up in your chest at your annual family holiday dinner, you’ll be gaining strategies to help you cope with and combat your eating disorder. And in doing so, at this time next year, you’ll be able to be present, at ease, and hopefully even enjoying yourself during that same holiday dinner.
And finally, before we part ways . . .
I want to offer you a few last words of encouragement:
Dr. Colleen Reichmann has walked alongside many individuals as they reflect on their time in treatment, many of whom have been in treatment during the holiday season at some point or another. She explains that, in several of the experiences she hears about, entering treatment during the holiday season is described as catapulting the recovery process.
Some who have been in treatment during this season indicate that it was the “wake-up call” they needed, while others have said it served as a motivator to continue to trudge forward in hopes of having the opportunity to experience holidays differently in the future.
I can say with confidence and compassion that, overall, the general consensus is that the positive aspects of this experience you are starting outweigh the downfalls.
So, here is to you. You have taken a critical step in your recovery journey. Your decision to enter treatment, especially during the holiday season, is valiant, inspiring, commendable. Your courage and vulnerability deserve as much of a celebration as any annual holiday.
The next few days, weeks, months may be some of the most challenging days of your life. They may feel insurmountable at times, but they will also be beautiful and transformative.
So now, go. Take another step. Life in color is waiting for you.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildlflower Therapy LLC