This week I had planned on sharing what’s going on with me health-wise, but if I’m being honest, I’m a little too overwhelmed and emotional to talk about it yet. It’s been very difficult and confusing and my eating disorder has been REALLY trying to take over so I’m just too drained to open up and share about it. Hopefully after a weekend of rest and some more distance from the “newness” of it all I’ll be able to share whats up and how I’m feeling about it!
SO, since it is Memorial Day weekend, and this weekend is typically full of parties, bbq’s and hang outs, I’ve decided to write about how I survive parties, family get-togethers, holidays and basically social events in general while recovering from an eating disorder.
If you don’t have an eating disorder you might be sitting there thinking, ummmm, wouldn’t a party be great? It’s fun, a time to relax and unwind. Well, in recovery, they are not great, and if someone you know is recovering from an eating disorder and at a party you are at, you should know that even if they look fine they are probably having a REALLY hard time and doing everything they can to keep it together.
Why are social events so hard? I could honestly write a novel about this one. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you! Social events are hard for a lot of reasons. First of all they almost always are centered around food. Most parties either have a sit down dinner, are at a restaurant, have food out or are in some way, shape or form all about food. Obviously, for someone with an eating disorder this can be torture. I know for me I desired so badly to eat normal, but I just couldn’t do it. I would either feel the urge to compensate before the party or after with exercise or restriction. My mind would be consumed the entire time about what I would or would not eat, how much I should or should not eat, if how much I was eating was normal or not, how may calories I was intaking, if I was bad or would allow myself a treat, and forget it if I was still hungry, I got my plate and that was it, no seconds or returning for more. I always felt like people were watching me eat, (of course in recovery you learn this is ED talking) and the anxiety is so high its just better to not eat. I’ve had friends in my recovery group talk about how they won’t eat at parties and then binge later because they were so frightened to eat in front of people. When you have an eating disorder, food at a party is hard. Point blank.
There is also the fact that you have to be social and talk to people! This is REALLY hard when you are recovering! Recovery isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s very difficult, and I know for me it has left me incredibly drained. It takes energy to make small talk with people and it’s energy that I just didn’t/don’t have. I also found it hard to want to talk to people. Here I am going through a major life crisis with major health issues, really hurting and when people say, “How are ya doing,” it’s appropriate to respond, “great!” so you aren’t the debbie downer at the party. But in all reality you are exhausted, depressed, anxious and praying the party will just be over-with so you can go home and lay down.
Another reason they are difficult is that not all people are nice, especially when it comes to family! Not everyone is supportive and many people are even nosey, opinionated and judgmental. Some people think nothing of mentioning your weight or how much you are eating. They give their opinion based on an article they read or act educated because they watched “To The Bone” on Netflix. Sometimes they seem great and then when you decide to open up about whats going on they zing you with an invalidating comment, or you have the people that know you are going through something and can’t handle it so they avoid you all together!
The last one I’ll talk about before I get to how I survive these social events is, diet talk! I’ve never been to a social event where I didn’t hear a large amount of diet talk. Oh, Sharon brought the no sugar, no flour, no calorie, no taste brownies, and don’t worry, that casserole is KETO approved. Then Johnny goes on and on about how much he hates his body because he is 34 now and really needs to cut back on “insert whatever food group he deems the issue here.” After dinner everyone is talking about how “bad” they have been or how gross they feel for eating, but it’s ok, they will work if off tomorrow or they worked out earlier. This is all VERY difficult to be around when you are recovering. We, in recovery, are trying to eat ALL foods, not compensate in any way and not judge ourselves or the food/amount we eat in an environment that is so disordered it is unbelievable, not to mention the fact that it is likely we are gaining weight or our bodies are changing in some way that makes us extremely self conscious to be seen in the first place.
So, we get it, social gathering are hard. But unless we want to isolate ourselves and live under a rock we NEED to go to them. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to avoid a social gathering but have chosen to go because I NEED to actively work against the isolation that comes with recovery. It is hard, it is overwhelming and it gives me so much anxiety that sometimes I cry before I go, but, over the past two years I have found some things that help me get out the door and get through the party and even (gasp!) have fun!
So here it goes!
1.PLAN AHEAD - I always plan ahead. I write out or think about potential scenarios that might be triggering or cause me anxiety and I assign a coping skill I will use if it happens ahead of time. This way, when the time comes I’m ready! For example, I get anxious about walking into a party and seeing someone I haven’t seen in a really long time. I feel insecure about them seeing my weight gain and this makes me so anxious I pretty much want to avoid the party. Instead I decide that I will go, and if this happens I will take some deep breaths, and remind myself of my thinking errors. I do not know what all people are thinking. I have gained weight, but the reason is for recovery and I should be proud of that and not ashamed. I’ve actually found that planning ahead gives me confidence going into the party AND most of the time what I was anxious about doesn't happen.
2. BUDDY UP - If it’s possible, I tell one person I trust how I’m feeling and ask them to watch out for me during the party. We might come up with a safe word or look if I need help getting out of a conversation, and they will know to come and check in, just so I feel less alone. At first I felt like a burden doing this, but I found that people who love you are willing to help you. I’ve asked my husband, my mom and my sister at different social events if they would hang close until I felt ok. They all did it without a second thought. If you don’t trust a family member, maybe bring a friend!
3. REST - Before a social event I always rest ahead of time. I make sure that I get everything done that I need to earlier in the day and I rest for a bit before I go. This helps me to calm down, take time for myself and be in a good headspace before I go. Also, our bodies are going through a lot, so let’s let them chill out!
4. SET LIMITS - Give yourself a period of time you are ok being at the event and then leave! I’m an all or nothing thinker. (As most people with E.D’s are). So, that means that if I get an invitation to a party and I’m scared to go I just say nope, I’m not going. What I’ve learned is that this type of thinking leads to isolation and even MORE anxiety around social events, so its REALLY important to go, but to set limits. The first time I did this, I went to a party, but decided to go for only one hour. That gave me time to be there and talk to people, but leave before my ED could take over. I actually ended up staying longer because I felt ok, but setting the limit helped me get out the door. I was telling myself that it was ok for me to go AND to leave when I felt like leaving. I was giving myself permission to not sit there and suffer for hours on end.
5. BE RESPONSE READY - Sadly, people are morons. HAHA! I’m not trying to be mean here, I’m just living in the reality that people do and say really moronic things without thinking all the time! I’ve been asked if I was pregnant, told I should go on a diet, asked how much weight I’ve gained, the list goes on. These comments and questions can be triggering and hurtful. I use to cry about them and stand there stunned. Now I have an arsenal of responses ready to go in case someone is a moron. This takes practice and confidence, and the confidence only comes with doing it, so take the time to sit down and write out responses to questions or things you are afraid people might ask you or say and practice them and be ready! I’m telling you it really helps! If you can’t think of one, simply, “Umm I’d rather not talk about that, but thank you,” is always a nice way to say, shut up and go away :)
6. WEAR SOMETHING COMFORTABLE - Unless your goal this week is to work on body image and exposure, wear something comfortable that you feel at least somewhat good in. This is not the time to see if you still fit into that outfit you use to like. I pick out an outfit that I know I feel comfortable in and I call it a day. Our bodies are changing and there is nothing fun about it. I know for me I feel huge and frumpy and the farthest thing from stylish, so I try to at least be comfortable in what I’m wearing. I wear stretchy things and flowy things. It helps.
7. LEAN INTO YOUR VALUES - This is a BIG one! I have found myself at a party, full of anxiety, feeling huge, with a plate of food I’m scared to eat wondering what in the literal F am I doing here, and then I remember it is my sweet nieces birthday and I love her. It is extremely important to lean into your core values at social gatherings. Food and how we look DOES NOT MATTER. What matters is laughing with your friends, being their for your sister as she graduates, celebrating life and love. I once read something that talked about how no one at a funeral talks about your body. No one says, “Wow, Sara, she was SO fit. May she rest in peace.” No, they talk about if you are kind and loving or giving and fun. So go be those things at a party. Is this hard, YES. Do it anyway.
8. REMEMBER KEY TRUTHS IN RECOVERY - It is important to take a minute before you go to in the right mindset. Be mindful of the thoughts that are popping up and the lies that are coming to the forefront and really work to mediate on truths instead. Some truths are, eating disorders LIE. ALL foods are ok. You are NOT bad for eating. NOT everyone is looking at your weight. It is OK to be full! Write your own list of truths, put it in your phone and look at it when you are starting to stress.
9. MAKE A LIST - I make a list of things I can do if I start to feel urges to restrict or begin to have extreme anxiety. I put the list in my phone and look at if I need to. Some things on my list are, step outside and take a breathe, make a cup of tea, go for a walk, get up and move to another area, engage in a conversation with someone I trust, practice the STOP skill, acknowledge the thought and put it on the shelf for later.
10. AVOID MIRRORS - Again, unless you are working on body image and exposure I highly suggest limiting the amount of time in front of the mirror. You have already picked out your outfit. You know what you look like. Be done with it! It isn’t going to change in the next three hours, so standing in front of the mirror will make the negative thoughts worse. I have the easiest time getting ready when I have planned my outfit ahead of time when I was in a good mindset, and when I get ready, I put it on and I do my hair and makeup in a small mirror (not a full length), and then I walk out of the room and say I’m ready. It’s hard to do, but it takes the emotion out of it and it takes all the stress and focus off of it as well!
11. PRACTICE RADICAL ACCEPTANCE - If you know me, you know I hate this. HAHA! BUT, it is so good and so necessary. Radical acceptance is not that we are ok with the situation or that we don’t want it to change, it’s just that it is what it is right at this moment and we must accept it. I am this weight and struggling with this thing today. It is truly not going to change in the next thirty minutes, so I’m going to accept it and really try to have a good time anyway! This is VERY hard, but if we can turn the mind and tap into radical acceptance it is very freeing and allows us to actually enjoy the social event. This is how we look today. Maybe not tomorrow and maybe not in a year, but it is today. So I’m going to go to this party and have a dang good time.
12. PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION - Going to parties while in recovery is HARD. If no one else in your life will validate that for you, I will. It is hard. Extend yourself some compassion as you go through it. If you are stressed, it’s ok! It makes sense! If you feel insecure. It’s ok! It makes sense! At my support group last week we did this exercise where we wrote down how we felt inadequate and then wrote a letter to ourselves about that inadequacy from the perspective of a best friend who is kind and compassionate. It’s amazing how much better we feel when we give ourselves room to have feelings and acknowledge that this stuff is really hard!
13. OPPOSITE ACTION - This is a great time to practice opposite action. It’s easy at a party to sit in the same spot. Try and do the opposite. It’s easy to get a plate of food we feel comfortable with. Try and do the opposite. It’s easy to stay home in our yoga pants and watch netflix, try and do the opposite. We have to constantly be fighting against our eating disorder and the only way to do that is to do the opposite of what it wants! It DOES get easier.
14. SAY NO - It is ok to say no. This kind of contradicts number 13, but if you are in a healthy mindset you will know if you are avoiding something or if you really just need to say no. We do not need to go to every party and you are allowed to decline invitations. Sometimes we are truly overwhelmed and drained and a party is not where we need to be. I recently declined and invitation to a big family event. I felt bad doing so, however it was for the best. I’m overwhelmed from doctors appointments and my body is adjusting to all the new things I’m putting it through. I don’t need a party, I need rest. It’s ok to say no!
15. TAP INTO GOD - There have been many times that I have been sitting at a party, anxious, overwhelmed, insecure and feeling alone, but I remember that God is always with me. So, I talk to Him. God has gotten me through a LOT of parties. He reminds me of scripture when I’m feeling unsure and I can remember my worth and value in him even when I feel so insecure and unworthy in my surroundings. It’s easy to forget such a huge source of comfort and help when we are wrapped up in our ED anxiety, but he is there and it’s worth it to tap into Him when we need him!
Welp, there you have it! Fifteen ways I survive social events! I hope these help you get through this Memorial Day weekend! Honestly, it was even a great reminder for me! Have a wonderful and blessed holiday weekend and also a special thank you to all of you who serve and have served our country!!
- Sara -