Holidays

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    How are you really doing as we leave the holidays behind?

    <p>How are you really doing as we leave the holidays behind?</p>
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    Community Voices

    What movies or shows are you queuing up tonight?

    <p>What movies or shows are you queuing up tonight?</p>
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    Receiving a Holiday Gift That Is Triggering to Your Eating Disorder

    “I finally got my secret Santa gift!” I was so happy when I saw something sitting in my box at work. I had been waiting patiently for my secret Santa to leave me something this week. I thought I had been forgotten or I was too complicated because I wrote no food due to my allergies. As soon as I opened it up I was mortified. In my gift were packets of hot apple cider and a magazine titled “Clean Eating.” I was thankful for my apple cider, but the magazine triggered something in me. I tried to chalk it up that the person was trying to help me find other recipes for my allergies, but I felt like I was being judged. There are many reasons why I stay away from magazines like “Clean Eating” because of my previous eating disorder. Magazines like this usually involve a type of restriction. Although I am weight restored, I still have trouble with negative thoughts and body dysmorphia. I started to think maybe it’s because they see me eating and think that I should be eating healthier. I was upset by the gift all week. I kept thinking that they must think I need to be on a diet. I joked with some of my work friends, but internally I wanted validation that I didn’t need a magazine to tell me if what I was eating was considered “good food.” Diet culture often surrounds the holidays. People tend to eat things they don’t normally eat and often gain weight. I hear people say how they will diet after the holidays and that they’ve gained weight. There is nothing wrong with holiday weight, with eating and being full. Society fills our head with the idea that we have to lose weight or that gaining a bit of weight during the holidays means that we are less than. When I was a teenager I often would beg my mum to buy the newest magazine that had the latest diet or a celeb who had lost weight. Now I do my best to ignore the headlines. Clean eating is one of the diets that is promoted as a healthy lifestyle. While clean eating has its benefits, it also sets a mindset that there is something unclean about eating foods that aren’t homemade and made from unprocessed foods. When it was finally revealed to me who my secret Santa was, I realized that the person was trying their best and didn’t intentionally try to give a gift that was offensive. They honestly believed they were giving me a gift that would help me with my allergy food restrictions. Unfortunately, as much as we try to put down things we like and things we don’t on secret Santa forms, many of us have had the experience of getting a terrible secret Santa or getting an unwanted gift. I’ve realized that sometimes these gifts don’t have an agenda. They aren’t usually given out of malice or because they want you to lose weight or because they wanted to remind you of a triggering event. Most of the time we can’t control what gifts we receive. If you feel triggered by a gift understand that the gift has nothing to do with you, it’s a reflection on the mindset and the person who is gifting it. The best we can do is acknowledge the trigger and know that we don’t have to keep the gift. Have you ever received a gift that was triggering?

    Community Voices
    Michelle Tetschner

    What Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Teaches Us About Disability

    My son loves to drum to Christmas songs. One of his favorites is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” A few years ago, I heard a version of the song that really stuck with me. Now, every time I hear the song, I get teary-eyed! Santa picked Rudolph. Rudolph wasn’t the most popular. Rudolph wasn’t the leader of the pack. Rudolph was picked on. Rudolph was made fun of, yet Santa picked him. He picked him for his talents, his bravery, and his willingness to step forward.This brings tears to my eyes. Rudolph, just like my son and many of his friends, was often overlooked and considered unworthy. But Santa recognized and saw Rudolph and his special gift. He truly saw him! That is huge in our world! It is not often that people understand and take the time to see how awesome my son and his friends are. So yes, this song brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it! I hope next time, you hear this song differently — and take the time to see someone’s hidden gifts and talents!

    Community Voices
    Mr. Antares

    Powerful Lessons at the Holidays as an Abuse Survivor

    Merry Christmas. Yes, it is that time of the year again. The holidays, a time in which you see these happy and loving families everywhere. Sitcoms show compassionate humans who smile at one another while gathering over the holidays. Everyone else looks so goddamn joyful and peaceful at home. Yet, you are anxious to the core because of the horrors that await you. Your life is far from being this holly jolly Christmas sitcom. Your holidays are toxic family structures that manifest in an abusive feast of gaslighting and smiling at the people who gave your therapist a job. What Valentine’s Day is for singles, Christmas is for children of toxic and dysfunctional homes. Except that it’s more accepted to be single than to abandon your family during the holidays. That’s unacceptable. At least that’s what you, me and many others are thinking. But do you have to visit this abusive environment that causes nothing but pain and trauma? You Are Not Alone Hammering something like “I don’t want to go home for Christmas” or “I hate coming home” into a search engine feels hauntingly evil. Trust me, been there, done that. Thoughts about staying away from home make us feel like ungrateful, broken or generally horrible people. But don’t believe everything you imagine. There is nothing wrong with you. Why should you feel any different towards the people that cause so much stress in your life? I have not seen my father in years now, and I have never been better! Why I Am Avoiding Home I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I don’t have a place to feel safe or at home. Therefore the holidays have always been rough for me. I had suicide attempts after Christmas and many lonely drunken nights. Every year I put myself through the horrendous pain of visiting my father. Smiling in his face and pretending that everything is fine. Although everything inside me tried to pull away from him, I forced myself to show up on Christmas. Because I refused to be the outcast who spends the holidays alone. In 2016 I tried to avoid the commitments of the holidays by suicide. Just thinking about the holidays made me have a panic attack. In the end, I blamed myself for everything. I thought that I was the problem in the family. That I had been the failure and disgrace. Although my father is a toxic narcissist who sexually abused me as a child. Consider that the hate and shame you feel towards yourself for avoiding the holidays might be a false belief you learned in your childhood. After everything your family has put you through, are you really the one to blame? Common Reasons for Not Going Home Other common reasons for staying away from home on Christmas might be: Everyone will judge my way of life. My family doesn’t accept my sexuality. My family pressures/threatens me to come home. I don’t feel safe or good at home. There will be huge arguments. I stopped drinking. No one knows about that, and I am afraid that I will start again. There will be nothing but silence. I have my own family/kids now and preferably spend time with them. I’m in recovery from an eating disorder, drugs or any form of addiction. I’m afraid my family will push me over the edge again. Whatever your reasons might be, they are valid 4 Lessons I Learned to Cope With Toxic Holidays 1. You don’t have to be happy Everyone seems so freaking happy on Christmas, right? Advertisements, music and the media portray these perfect families living their best lives. Those images are so omnipresent and overwhelmingly strong that we start questioning ourselves. Why don’t I want to go home for Christmas? Most people assume the holidays are a time of peace, joy and happiness. Yet countless children and adults live in abusive and destructive houses. But images of broken homes are bad for holiday sales, so no one shows it. Therefore, you feel alienated, isolated and alone with the shitshow you have to deal with at home. Santa Claus isn’t a magic wizard who makes all our problems disappear for the holidays. For example, Terry Crews got into a fight with his father, almost killing him with his bare hands. Yes, the same guy smiling at you on TV. Many people fight demons at home, but hardly anyone talks about it. Hence, I am deeply grateful for Terry Crews talking about his troublesome holidays. And that is why I am sharing my struggles. It’s OK that you are not happy! Whether it is in general or during holidays at home. Feeling pressured to be happy is destructive denial. No one can expect you to smile just because of the holidays. 2. You don’t have to go home First of all, no law or obligation forces you to spend the holidays at home. In addition, you are not a horrible person if you distance yourself from toxic and hurtful people. In fact, you are brave for doing so! Nonetheless, I know it does feel crushing to spend the holidays apart from your family. So here are some obstacles and demanding thoughts I had to deal with over the years. 2.1 Crushing loneliness During the first holiday season away from home, I sat in an empty boulder gym to distract myself from the loneliness. To be honest, I was crying alone and ashamed in the bathroom. So if you do not go home, what do you do during the holidays? Ask a friend or your partner if you can spend the holidays at their place. People are generally open and caring during the holidays. You could even enroll in some programs to help others who during these days. 2.2 I’m not as strong as you are Do you feel like you will never be able to escape home? Here is an article on how I escaped my abusive father’s basement in 30 days without a single penny in my bank account. Hopefully this story will inspire you. Honestly, I am not a particularly brave person. For example, I have never been on a rollercoaster, and I’m afraid of unstructured days. Not convinced yet? I learned to tie my shoes at age 12, but that is a story for another time. All I want you to know is that I am far away from being a superhero. If I can do it, so can you! 2.3 Other people are going through worse Do you feel you should just get your shit together and stop crying about it? After all, there are people out there going through worse stuff, right? Wrong! Adversity, pain and sadness are no competition. We all have the right to feel what we feel. This is not the Olympics of obstacles in which only the winner gets to cry. Acknowledge the fact that you are not feeling safe at home. And by the way, having no safe home to return to is a pretty serious condition. In the end, your first and most essential relationships in life had been torn apart. Nothing you just stop crying about. To sum things up, if you feel an overwhelming obligation to go home, remember: No one can force you to spend the holidays at home. You have the choice of where you go and how you spend your time. Taking care of yourself makes you a loving and brave person, not a terrible one! 3. Christmas is nothing like the media tells you The image of everyone being happy on Christmas is nothing but a false advertisement. They will not show the abusive uncle or relatives with alcohol problems. Holidays are not a sudden relief from all the toxicity in your family. Especially not from the years of abuse and mind games you survived. A happy father who treats his loving kids with presents drives sales up. But there is no business showing the abuse millions of humans go through every year. Don’t assume that things will change because it’s Christmas. Getting your hopes up and thinking that this year will be different can be crushing and devastating. That being said, the holidays are not doomed to be abusive and destructive. You can make a change by openly talking about it. Maybe you can address the problems at home. For example, telling your mother that you don’t want to hear anything about your relationship status this year. 4. You are in control! You are in control of pretending to be happy or be your true self. And you decide whether to go home or not. Little to nothing will change because of Christmas, but because of the actions, you take! But how do you regain your control and survive Christmas at home? You can set boundaries and talk openly about how much your family hurt you. Maybe they don’t even know. Just because we mean well doesn’t mean we do good. Humans are imperfect, and after all, your parents are humans. Maybe they do not realize how painful your childhood has been for you? Of course, this has limits, and I’m not telling you to forgive abuse and trauma. Another good way is to bring some support with you back home. I am not talking about drugs or your favorite stuffed animal. You could ask a good friend to come with you or call you every day. Even if it’s just the first day. An ally by your side will help you win those battles at home. Just because you came home doesn’t mean you have to stay home. You are always free to leave. For example, if someone crossed your boundaries. Or you simply can’t take it anymore. You can prepare for this scenario by developing a backup plan. For example, asking a friend to stay with them if anything goes sideways. Before or while going home for the holidays, please remember: You are in control! Only you can decide if you go home or not! You are not alone! You are not the only person on this planet who is afraid to go home. Furthermore, I want you to know that it is OK to be not OK. The holidays can’t change this fact. You don’t have to pretend to like the people who abused and traumatized you. So before thinking about going home for Christmas, remember the four lessons for toxic holidays: You don’t have to be happy (it’s OK to be not OK!) You don’t have to go home (no law forces you to go home!) Christmas is nothing like media tells you (they just want you to buy stuff!) You are in control (your life, your choices!) If you decide to go home, please prepare yourself. Nothing will change unless you make a change.

    Julie M
    Julie M @julie890
    contributor

    Asking For an Authentic Christmas With Chronic Illness

    This year I’m asking Santa for something revolutionary: an authentic Christmas. I’m dreaming of a celebration where there’s no need to pretend to be merry. I’m wishing for a real Christmas, a day when my loved ones and I can wear our hearts on our sleeves and talk about our challenges and heartaches — a day when we can feel seen, understood and supported. I would like a holiday season in which cheeriness is optional. There is a Yuletide fantasy engraved in our minds of a day in which everyone is merry, content, prosperous, joyful and surrounded by a safe, functional and loving family. This daydream is alluring, comforting and toxic, all at the same time. Since becoming disabled, I have learned that the key to my happiness is embracing the uniqueness of my body and my life. I do not have many of the things that society teaches us to believe we need in order to be happy; however, my chronic illness has brought me wisdom, perspective, healthier and more supportive friendships, and a stronger connection with myself and my own spirituality. For the most part, I have let go of my former dreams and aspirations, and embraced the unique gifts and challenges of my new life. Yet, during the holiday season, I seem to backslide into comparing myself to people who appear to be living that Yuletide fantasy. This fantasy of a perfect Christmas encourages each of us to feel like our life is inadequate. This holiday mirage has a way of bringing our unmet needs to the forefront of our consciousness and parading them in front of us. It focuses our attention on what we don’t have and it encourages each person to think about which of their basic needs are unmet. It discourages gratitude. Christmas carols and magical holiday stories can make us feel metaphorically as though we’re standing outside the home of a happy family, looking in the window. This mythical family is part of our collective consciousness and we are all acquainted with them. They have a big, beautiful Christmas tree decorated with sparkly lights and heirloom ornaments. They are all more or less happy, they have food to eat, and they are relatively healthy. In our imagination, we look in the window and think “they look like they have a livable marriage and they don’t look like they ever worry about not having a place to live or not having food to eat and everyone’s there — it doesn’t look like anyone important has died or walked out on them recently. No one in that family got fired this month. None of them are thinking about suicide or gripped by debilitating anxiety. They haven’t been saddled with a disabling chronic illness. No one is dying inside of grief or depression and they all know that if they need help, their family will be there for them.” This ideal, drilled into our heads from the time we take our first steps and eat our first candy cane, makes us all feel like we are on the outside looking in. There is a grief inside, knowing that we’re never going to be part of this family, that we will always be standing outside, looking in the window at them, because the ideal is unreachable for us. It’s all the more depressing because all that family has is a life in which only their most basic needs are met. And this life is out of reach for almost everyone. As a result of this fantasy, people attending Christmas gatherings often put a smile on their face and pretend like they are happy. When people feel like they have something to hide, it can send them to Toxic Thought Land, where they feel like their life is lacking or shameful. It’s time to liberate ourselves from the shackles of toxic jolliness. What we need, in the dead of winter, is a day to unburden our hearts, a day to express our true feelings and be cradled in love, acceptance and support. We need a day to lay down our cheerful facade, to let go of expectations and to relax. That, for me, would be a happy Christmas. This year, I don’t want a merry Christmas. I want a real, human, authentic Christmas. I’m not comparing myself anymore to mythical people with happy families and lives full of manageable challenges. This year, I’m embracing the messy and wonderful life that I have been gifted and saddled with. This story was originally published on my chronic illness blog, Mystical Authenticity. You can see more mystical musings on chronic illness there or on Facebook.

    Kaden M (he/they)

    Eating Disorder Recovery Tips For the Holiday Season

    Holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Eve can be tough for eating disorder survivors. I consider myself “in recovery,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy. I was first diagnosed in 2014 and have off and on dealt with eating disorders since that time. I have written in another article my main coping skills that help me stay in eating disorder recovery. These same tips apply—and more (it is also important to note that these tips apply outside of the holiday season)! 1. Naming Your Eating Disorder Naming my eating disorder has helped me separate myself from it. I am not “anorexic” or “bulimic” but rather I have struggled with eating disorders. I am not my illness, but rather I am overcoming it every single day. I find it helpful to write letters to “Ed” (and his friends like “Oscar” and “Derrick”—my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression!) in order to get my feelings and urges out without acting upon them. 2. Imagery and Visualizations I recently started therapy with a new therapist who has suggested that I get into imagery and visualizations as a means of coping with trauma and subsequent self-harm and eating disorder urges. What exactly do I mean by this? I have created a “safe space” that only I can enter in my mind. This does take a bit of effort in terms of imagination, so I know this might not be for everyone, but so far it is helping me. My safe space is elaborate, filled with dogs and books and things that bring me comfort. The walls are colorful and there is a pool—and more! However, if you were to create a safe space, it could look completely different. It doesn’t even have to be a room; it could be another planet! Now each time I get triggered into wanting to engage in my eating disorder or self-harm, I bring myself to this imagery within my mind. 3. Positive Affirmations I have a word document in which I am, as also requested by my therapist, writing three things I like about myself daily. Some examples: I am creative. I am brave. I am kind. I am a dedicated dog parent. I am intelligent. I am open-minded. It is very effective to remind myself that I have worth, and so I do not deserve to struggle with an eating disorder. I deserve to cope in healthy ways. As do you! 4. Staying Off the Scale Enough said! This is easier said than done of course, but it certainly remains true for me that staying off the scale is beneficial to my overall mood and well-being. I have a doctor tracking my weight for health reasons, but I request to not see the number. 5. Writing Your List of Reasons for Staying in Recovery I have so many reasons to be in recovery, as do you! This includes wanting to experience a happy and healthy future, realizing that I deserve wellness, and my desire to be an advocate to others who are struggling with similar challenges! 6. Having a Support Network/Accountability This can include family, friends and/or a dietician and therapist. Having a person or group of people in your corner is essential I’ve found. And if you’re feeling isolated and currently can’t be in therapy, then I suggest starting here with The Mighty, where you may be able to connect with others who have similar struggles with disordered eating, mental health and chronic illnesses. 7. Holiday Activities That Are Not Triggering Can you think of at least one fun and safe activity that you’d like to do this holiday season? Perhaps you can build a snowman or do an arts and craft activity related to the season. Or maybe you’ll decide to go to a winter festival or zoo lights (when the zoo puts up holiday lights at night). If you have relatives visiting from out of town, perhaps you can go to a museum together. Lastly, if you’re a fan of the holiday classics, there are plenty of movies to watch! If you’re reading this, most likely you struggle(d) with an eating disorder or are close to someone who does/has. I hope that you have a happy winter and also accept that it’s OK to have down moments too; what’s most important is what you do to manage those hard moments. I believe in you, just as I am working on believing in me!