“The body holds meaning…when we probe beneath the surface of our obsession with weight, we will find that a woman obsessed with her body is also obsessed with the limitations of her emotional life. Through her concern with her body she is expressing a serious concern about the star of her soul.
-Kim Chernin, Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness
The holidays can be hard. Disordered eating, binge drinking, and depression are all common during this time. Here are some ways that recovering women – whether it be from disordered eating, alcohol, anxiety, or depression – can tend to themselves during this time.
- Do a daily spiritual practice, no matter how small
This can be a daily reader or affirmation, journal-ling, sitting meditation, a walk. 1 small daily action that connects you with the-part-of-you-that-knows, or your soul self. (Please insert the word or phrase that works for you.) One definition of soul self, from Carolyn Costin (8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, W.W. Norton and Company, 2012), is:
Your soul self is your essence…connected to the essence of all others and the world. Your soul self practices…pay(ing) attention to what is meaningful, has no judgement, and is not attached to results…Your Soul is the ‘being’ part of human being.
Do your spiritual practice religiously (pun intended) to stay connected with your soul self. Don’t worry about if you feel like it or not- most days you probably won’t. Do it anyway. Do it for all the times over the years that you didn’t listen to your soul-self, that other people didn’t listen to it, or for all the times it got run over with busy-ness, disordered eating, alcohol, criticism or judgement. Just make a space daily- however small- so your soul self can know and trust it is welcome.
2. Approach each day, 1 day at a time, with radical acceptance.
Approach each day as both miraculous, and just another day. By all means enjoy Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s…but try not to make it better or worse than any other. Do not elevate it; do not de-value it. Greet each day with equanimity, another 24 hours of darkness and light revolving and rotating around the sun. There will be aspects you like, aspects you don’t like. There will be pain and joy. It is what it is and just like every other day it will pass.
3. Connect with right kind of support.
Sometimes our families of origin are helpful recovery support, sometimes they are not helpful, and often they are some of both. It can be supportive to have a recovery buddy or team that you talk/email/text with throughout holiday times to help provide the empathy of someone who has “been there” or “is there” with you on the same journey. Set up support phone calls with each other, go for walks together, text each other before and after Christmas dinner, or whatever event you foresee might be challenging for you. It’s ok to need help and support. Treat yourself and your recovery as if you are a new little baby. Be a good parent to this baby and her needs. Stay with her and surround her with others that are kind and supportive. Protect her as best you can from your and other’s critical voices. Let her know you are here to support her in any and all feelings she is having, unconditionally.
4. Create rituals that have meaning for you
What makes YOU happy? Twenty years ago, when I was in the first few years of my recovery, one of my best friends was from England. Being English, she didn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving 🙂 We both lived in San Francisco, far from our families and didn’t really want to celebrate Thanksgiving with a “culturally acceptable” binge. We decided that we would have a yearly ritual: every Thanksgiving we would have dinner and go see a movie together. And we did!
I have a friend in recovery that does gratitude jars with her family- filling them with papers of what each of them are grateful for.
Glennon Doyle Melton (Momastery.com), recovered from “food, booze, and drugs” and now a mother of three, uses this poem to guide her holiday shopping. We ask each kiddo to make a list of:
Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
5. Be curious about difference, look for underlying similarities, and take action.
Many years ago when I was dating my husband, I expressed concern to a mentor of mine about how important spirituality was to me and how he is an atheist. She said to me something that has always stayed with me: What do his actions reflect about his values? Do you feel a connection there? There was no doubt in my mind about his integrity, the generosity of his heart, his commitment to being of service. I saw that in his actions every day, with me, with his friends, with his colleagues, and in his community. I looked to spirituality to find guidance on being of service, ethics, and finding peace amidst fear. He found this guidance other ways. But his actions reflected values in which I believed.
As one spiritual teacher put it,
“The test of faith is’t what you believe- it’s what you DO because of what you believe.”
The implications of this are as small as valuing yourself and your recovery in your breakfast choices, to helping a person in your daily life such as returning a grocery cart for a mom who is trying to get her baby into the car seat, to as global as treating someone from a different belief system (whether it be 12-step spirituality, Atheism and Empiricism, Catholicism, Judism, or Islam) with the same kindness and respect that you would a friend.
6. Help Thanks Wow
Anne Lamott (author of Help, Thanks, Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, New York: Penguin, 2012) inspirational recovery author, writes how these three prayers- Ask for assistance, Appreciate the good, and Experience awe in the world- make up the foundation of staying spiritually connected.
She has a lovely sense of humor about “God”:
“Let’s not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to. Let’s just say prayer is communication from our hearts to the great mystery, or Goodness, or Howard; to the animating energy of love…something unimaginably big, and not us. We could call this force Not Me, or Not Preachers Onstage with a choir of 800. Or for convenience we could just say ‘God.'”
Last but not least, she speaks to the importance of genuine, authenticity when talking to God:
My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real- really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.
AMEN. And Women. Definitely Us Too.