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The Thanksgiving Memories That Are Haunted by My Eating Disorder

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It’s 2:00 p.m. on November 24, 2016, Thanksgiving. I’m sitting on a red, leather couch with my elbows resting on my knees and my face resting on the palms of my hands. I’m staring at the floor. I can hear happy chatter, wild laughter and festive music coming from the next room over, but I’m not listening to any of it. I am lost in a world of memories of past Thanksgivings.

In my mind, it’s 2:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving in 2004. I’m celebrating the holiday with my parents, my sister, my aunts, my cousin and my grandparents. Except, I’m not actually celebrating because Thanksgiving isn’t a celebration to me. It’s a time of extreme anxiety. The stress of being surrounded by so much family absolutely drains me.

Then, there’s the food. I want to eat all of it. I want to eat a lot of it, and I do. I eat extra servings of mashed potatoes, turkey and rolls. Then, I sneak a second piece of pie with lots of whipped cream while my mom isn’t looking. Then, the shame hits me. It smacks me in the head making my brain fuzzy, and it punches me in the chest repeatedly making me lose my breath over and over and over. My palms sweat and my mind races. All around me, my family talks and laughs, oblivious.

Then, my brain takes me to November 25, 2010. Again, I’m spending Thanksgiving with my family at my parents’ home. I feel weak, dizzy and shaky. I haven’t eaten anything yet today, and I don’t plan to eat more than a few bites at Thanksgiving dinner. I also haven’t had anything more than a few sips of Diet Coke to drink for days, and I’m definitely not going to drink anything at dinner.

I have already been to the Emergency Room twice this week needing IV fluids, and my mom and I are planning to drive two hours to a medical eating disorder unit early tomorrow morning. We probably should have gone today, but it’s Thanksgiving. My eating disorder shouldn’t ruin everyone’s Thanksgiving. My family doesn’t bring any of this up, but I can see their sideways glances. I wish they would just leave me alone.

Next, I’m in November 2012, eating Thanksgiving dinner at a round table with 20 other women. We are in a residential eating disorder treatment center. We’re all talking and laughing, but we’re not actually having a good time. We are masters at trying to distract ourselves from the food we’re forcing ourselves to eat.

My mind pulls me to 2:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving 2013. Now, I’m in Chicago surrounded by 15 young men and women, whom I’ve been in treatment for depression and anxiety with for three months. My parents and sister are there, too, because they wanted to have Thanksgiving with me. It feels really strange to be melding my treatment world and my family world together. I don’t like it.

I’m extremely depressed, but I don’t want my parents to know. So I force myself to smile and giggle around them. In the moments when no one is paying attention, I sneak off and sit in my room by myself. I dissociate. The whole ordeal is too much for me to handle.

Suddenly, it’s November 26, 2015. I’m eating Thanksgiving dinner in a big house that is actually another residential treatment center. I just arrived at the center yesterday, having been driven the three hours from a psychiatric hospital by a woman hired to keep me safe on the short trip. My depression is all-consuming. I can hardly feign a smile or interest in conversations. All I can think about is death. I feel so heavy.

I’m also intensely anxious. My heart is pounding, and my breathing is rapid. I’m searching the room for an escape route, but there isn’t one. There are too many people enjoying their Thanksgiving. I’m starting to panic.

Finally, something pulls me back into 2016 where it’s 10 minutes past 2:00 p.m. on November 24. I’m back in my friend’s home surrounded by other friends. I lift my head from my hands and sigh. Those memories make me sad, but thankfully, they’re just memories.

Today, I’m solidly in recovery from my eating disorder, my depression and my anxiety. Today, I’m happy. Today, I am an independent woman. Today, I am excited about life.

You know what? I think to myself. It’s time to make new, fun Thanksgiving memories. Then, I walk into the kitchen, and I chat and laugh with my friends.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 12, 2017
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