Written by: Morgan Blair, Founder and Creative Director of Unpolished Journey
Those who are in recovery from eating issues, substances, or mental illnesses navigate the holidays differently than the rest of the world. I don’t say this to ostracize those in recovery, but in attempt to validate feelings of misplacement or misunderstanding in your day to day life.
Lately, I have found my mind trying to convince myself to disregard a promise I had made months and months ago- the promise to live a life of recovery. Mental illnesses will use any excuse to try and wiggle their way back into our lives, but when living a life in recovery, this is not an option. Though your mind might tell you otherwise, the gift of recovery will be the best gift this Christmas season and, it is a gift only you can give yourself. Therefore, if you set your mind towards receiving the gift of recovery, it most certainly will be wrapped under your tree this season because you are the one making sure it is there.
I decided to write out some scenarios for different mental health struggles and how they may pan out over the course of the next week or so because I know I have personally found myself feeling overwhelmed with the approaching holidays. I thought some of our readers might be feeling anxious as well and be able to relate with some of these situations. So, here they are:
If you are a recovering alcoholic, the holidays are going to look differently than about 90% of the adult population. They will be about sobriety and navigating triggers that come up as the hours of the night give way to more and more drunkenness among friends and family. The question from your aunt of, “can I get you a glass of wine” will suddenly become an internal battleground between your addiction and your recovery. Wine. Wine. Wine. It will be everywhere, the glasses like bullets trying to shoot at your delicate glass sculpture of recovery. As you politely refuse your aunt’s offer, a victorious chorus will erupt in your mind and you can then plan how to celebrate with your home AA group next meeting. To everyone else at the party this seems like nothing, but you know this is huge. A sober holiday is like walking through open fire unscathed. You fall into bed knowing tomorrow you will get to add a day towards your next recovery chip and congratulate yourself because this year you promised to give yourself the gift of recovery for Christmas.
If you are in recovery from bulimia, the holidays are full of anxiety as you try and prepare for the amount of sweet treats you will be offered and all the holiday feasts you will be attending. Walking into a room full of platters of appetizers, with the smell of dinner swimming in from the kitchen, and the display of desserts in the corner, causes an eruption in your mind between the instinctual mouth-watering- out of control- “I want to eat it all”- bulimic dialogue and the recovery wisdom you have fought so hard to lean into over the past year. Grabbing a plate and giving yourself appropriate proportions seems to the room insignificant, but for you is it monumental, the act being equivalent to finishing an iron man race on one leg. This is one of the hardest things for you and you are doing it because this year you promised yourself that you would give yourself the gift of recovery for Christmas.
If you are in recovery from anxiety, the holidays are the accumulation of everything your illness tries to avoid throughout the year- family, friends, conversations, and unpredictable events. Pulling up and walking into your relative’s Christmas Eve Party becomes the “it” moment, the moment you have prepared for weeks to accomplish, walking up that sidewalk, ringing that doorbell, greeting everyone with a smile will send buckets of sweat down your back. But you do it. You make it. You will soon be at the party. You will notice you breath, taking breaks in the bathroom, keeping your support people nearby. Making it to the Christmas Party is equivalent to winning a gold medal in the Olympics, but no one else will seems to notice. It will be silent victory, a personal victory. You will applaud yourself as you lay in bed because this holiday season you promised to give yourself the gift of recovery.
Whatever your struggle may be this holiday season, give yourself enough grace to render it significant. Don’t compare your experience with someone else’s because it is impossible to do so. We each have our own minds, with our own thoughts, and our own battles. This holiday season, know that their are others struggling with mental health. There are others celebrating small, silent victories. There are others who don’t feel as though their battles are seen, understood, or validated.
And that is okay because the strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.