Starting Treatment During the Holidays? Read This First

The time has come. You have made the decision to enter treatment for your eating disorder. Maybe you’re feeling ready. Or maybe you’re feeling completely unprepared – but otherwise option-less. Maybe you are being strongly encouraged by your friends or family.

Whatever the reasoning, you have taken the leap and will be entering treatment within the next few weeks.

The major downfall? You will be there for the holidays.

Instead of decorating the tree this year, you will be sitting in art therapy writing down the metaphorical gifts that recovery will provide to you on a pre-outlined drawing of an evergreen.

Rather than opening presents with your family, you will be playing bananagrams with your fellow patients.

Instead of lighting the menorah, you will be lighting up with rage at the phrase “time’s up” during meals.

Is it worth it?

Yes, on the surface the situation may look bleak. (Heck, even as I write this I’m experiencing pangs of empathy). No one would ever describe your position as easy.

In fact, I might venture to say that you are about to embark on one of the most difficult experiences of your life. But please know this- it may also be the most rewarding decision that you ever make.

I love this quote by Sheryl Sandberg,

It is the hard days-the days that challenge you to your very core-that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.

You will be putting this quote to the test in the next coming weeks. With the decision to go to treatment, you are putting down your “armor” and agreeing (even if begrudgingly) that, “Yes, I need help. There must be another way.”

In doing so during the holidays, you are acknowledging that your well-being is at stake. It’s gotten to a level that means getting better comes before celebrations.

This is a most courageous and radical act of self-care and self-preservation. Please know this.

Stepping through the doors of treatment is a decision made with a birds-eye view of your life. You are giving up momentary short-term contentment in favor of a life free from the claws of your eating disorder. This is truly a step towards the life in color that you so deserve.

Learning and growing

Also know that the experiences that you will have in treatment will likely not be as negative as you fear. You may experience the healing element of finally being surrounded by those who “get it”.

You will laugh with these people, cry with these people, and perhaps even ahem lovingly ahem poke fun at the staff with these people. Hopefully, you’ll walk away with the freeing feeling of finally being seen and heard. This alone can be invaluable to your recovery journey.

Additionally, you will learn. If you choose to fully “jump in” with both feet, you will find yourself feeling like a sponge, absorbing lessons and education about what you have been going through and how to take steps towards feeling better.

Speaking of feeling better, you may find a sense of relief at the fact that you have educated therapists and dietitians around to help you in this battle. These folks will be your allies encouraging you to “pick up your sword and fight” when you find yourself tired and aching to give up.

This will indeed be a time when you learn a great deal about yourself. You’ll learn what has led to the development of your eating disorder, and what your strengths and grow edges are. You will learn to use these strengths against your eating disorder, and to bolster yourself against your ED seizing upon your growth edges.

Reframe your thoughts

I also urge you to reframe your thoughts about treatment- instead of focusing on the bleak aspects, consider how this may be the safe place that you are in need of during the holiday season.

Family parties, constant anticipatory New Year’s diet talk, disrupted routines… Let’s face it – the holidays can be a high stress time for anyone, but especially for those struggling with a disordered relationship with food.

So consider this: being in treatment will allow you a respite from some of those variables. Instead of listening to Aunt Jill tote the virtues of her new ketogenic diet, you will be sitting in a room full of folks trying to heal their minds and bodies.

Rather than finding yourself at a near panic-attack level of anxiety at your family holiday dinner, you’ll be learning about how to cope with anxiety and challenge your ED. So, this time next year you’ll be able to be fully present during that same dinner.

And finally…

I leave you with one last word of encouragement:

As a psychologist working with individuals struggling with eating disorders, I have had the opportunity to listen to many individuals reflect on their time in treatment. Many of these folks have had the experience of being in treatment during the holidays at some point or another.

I have heard time and time again that this experience, while most difficult, actually catapulted their recovery process.

Some have described it as the “wake up call” that they needed. Others have said that they have used it as a motivating factor moving forward (i.e. it encourages them to forge forward in recovery because they want to be able to experience holidays from that point on).

I can confidently say that, overall, there is a general consensus that the positive aspects of this experience outnumber the downfalls.

So, to the warrior entering eating disorder treatment right now, I want to commend you. You deserve recovery and are actively taking steps in the right direction, which is inspiring. Your bravery and vulnerability should be celebrated just as much as any annual holiday.

The next few weeks or months are likely going to be incredibly challenging, brutal, beautiful, and life-changing.

So now, go. Life in color is waiting for you.

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