Guest Blog Post By: Angela Howell

After ten long years and three hospitalizations battling my way to lasting recovery from anorexia and bulimia, I remember my first “sober” Thanksgiving like it was yesterday. I was newly married and at my in-laws for a big holiday feast. I had been relapse-free for five months.

Attending a holiday meal with endless tables of food and choices was overwhelming to my senses, my brain and my emotions. The struggle was so intense that I went upstairs in the middle of the meal and sobbed. I was certain I would never be normal. I doubted I would ever be able to enjoy food-filled events because I would be too busy obsessing over the food.

Everyone else was having a wonderful time while I was tormented by the urge to act out in my disease—in this case to binge which would inevitably lead to additional poor choices. I wrestled between the temptation to use my “drug” and the intense effort to choose not to. Friends and family can empathize but they truly don’t understand how hard it is and at those moments, the loneliness and sense of isolation begin to start playing the familiar tape of lies.

You’re not going to make it anyway. What would it hurt if you did that just today, just on the holiday? Today is special. It’s not going to really matter. You can start over tomorrow. No one will notice. Just a little bite of this…

And on and on they go, if I let them.

Thankfully, I had the willingness to call a recovery buddy for support and a reality check. I made it through that meal and by the grace of God, that holiday season.

My first year of lasting recovery was rocky to say the least. I was fresh out of my third hospitalization and I did okay in my safe environment, keeping food in my house that I could comfortably live with at that time in my life. I followed my prescribed food plan which was initially very black-and-white. After years of chaos not having a normal relationship with food, I needed simplicity. I had no idea what normal even looked like so my team of professionals provided clear nutritional guidelines for me to follow.

Anytime I found myself in a situation where the first lie surfaced in my brain, I began to notice a pattern. When I entertained the lie and allowed myself to get sucked in to letting the tapes play on, sooner or later, I was going to follow through and choose a behavior that kept me active in my eating disorder. Guaranteed. Every time. It may not be that moment, but every dance with the lies eventually led to the same ending within a few days at best.

By giving the lies room to breathe and live in my head, I was basically saying yes to my disease. Sooner or later, my actions followed my thoughts.

My Turning Point

However, I grew to understand that I had a choice. Diseased thoughts are going to pop up in our eating-disordered minds. They just will. They’ve been there a long time and it takes a long time for them to become less noticeable. It’s what we do with them in those instances that will determine whether or not we are going to stay sober from acting out in our eating disorders.

For the first time, I realized that the path to lasting recovery from my eating disorder lay between my ears! Of course, it’s not as simple as that but that moment was my turning point.

For alcoholics, it’s about not taking the first drink. For me, it was about not going past the first “think.” (Sorry, had to rhyme!) The second a diseased thought or temptation entered my mind, I had to shut it down immediately. I couldn’t give it one moment of consideration, not one ounce of my additional attention, without opening the door to another relapse.

After so many hospitalizations and months in treatment, after so many tries and fails, I was finally ready. I could no longer allow my brain to wander down old familiar roads. This new approach seemed to be the recovery ingredient I had been missing. Well, two ingredients finally brought an end to my battle with anorexia and bulimia.

Two Key Recovery Ingredients

First, I had to really want to be better and be free of my illness. And I was. I was sick of being a slave to my illness, sick of failing. Tired of doing what I didn’t want to do, again and again. The consequences far outweighed any payoff at that point.

Next and equally important, I had to be willing to not engage in diseased thinking or fantasy relapsing, not even for a second. I couldn’t afford the luxury of another slip because I didn’t know how many more times I’d be willing or able to get back up again.

My resolve was firm and choice by choice, I finally found my way out of the chains of my disease and embraced lasting recovery.

As the holidays approach now twenty-five years later, my food plans no longer exist. I have grown comfortable eating intuitively—whatever I want, whenever I want, using a loose guide of three meals a day as a minimum. I see no food item as an enemy or a threat. I have other tools and outlets to help me deal with stress and life challenges. Regarding body image, I know now that my physical body is merely a fraction of who I am. I understand that what lies at the heart of me is what makes me so awesome and was worth saving.

I am not perfectly normal regarding food or thoughts about food, nor will I probably ever be, but I have come a long ways in being able to enjoy the holidays… In being with family and friends and actually remembering what we’re gathered together to celebrate.

I wish each of you a mindful holiday full of true presence at the table.

 

 

Angela Howell is the author of “Finding the Gift: Daily Meditations for Mindfulness.” She is currently offering her full 366 daily devotional eBook for .99¢ thru November 30.

Angela is a wellness and success expert who has allowed adversity to be her greatest teacher. When a work injury ended her award-winning sales career, she reinvented herself as a photographer, writer and abstract artist. As a transformation coach, Angela is devoted to inspiring people to find renewed passions for living, loving, working and playing. And of course, just being! Follow Angela and grab her free eBook, 10 Secrets to Finding the Gift at www.AngelaHowell.com.