How To Survive The Holidays In Treatment

How Did I Get Here?

I remember looking out frosty windowpanes. I saw holiday lights blinking softly in the early morning light, haloed in the softly falling snow. It was peaceful, picturesque, and comforting. But all I felt was a deep sadness. It was five days to Christmas, and I was curled up on a couch in a group room of an inpatient treatment center where I had been for the last three weeks.  I would not be home for Christmas this year… again.

Tough Time Of Year

The holiday season is a tough time to be in treatment. It aches to know that you won’t be with your friends and family. Maybe your family won’t be able to travel to see you and you’re missing them like crazy. Maybe there are traditions you hold dear to your heart and thinking about missing them is making being in treatment even more difficult. It can be really, really hard.

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year.  I feel excitement when I see decorations in stores, light my pine-scented candle, and snuggle up on the couch at night to look at my beautiful tree. For me, not being home for the holiday season was crushing.  I felt like I was missing the light, joyful time of year I anticipate all year. I wasn’t able to put up my own tree, sing with the annual Christmas Carol time my grad school program put on. Or, my very favorite, to pick out and wrap presents for my family, anxiously waiting to see them open them on Christmas morning.  Frankly, I turned sad, sullen, and even less interested in forcing myself to participate in meals and groups.  I felt closed off, isolated, and lonely.  Thankfully, there were a few things that managed to brighten my spirit and help me light a little of that holiday joy back into my soul. 

Here’s what helped to make spending the Holidays in treatment a little happier:

Little Reminders

Ask your close friends and family to send cards or small packages (if you’re allowed). Many people will already have asked for your address and have sent their well-wishes. Even if they haven’t, it’s not inappropriate to ask for a card or photo for your wall. Your room will feel so much brighter with cards and notes strung on your bulletin board or walls! Having the smiling faces of your friends and their families will remind you that they are with you in spirit and your separation is only temporary.

You’re Not Alone

Know that you aren’t alone in your sadness. Talk about it in groups, tell stories of your favorite holiday traditions and ask your fellow patients about theirs. Listen to carols with headphones or ask if it’s okay to play some of your favorite music in common spaces. Make paper snowflakes to decorate the treatment center. Be creative with what you DO have!

Give Back

Write notes or make cards for other people. Use that pile of stamps I’m sure you packed and send out your own holiday cheer. 

Sometimes, the best way to pick yourself up is to try to do the same for others. 

Get messy with markers, glitter, and other craft supplies, and connect with your inner child to create your own hand-made gifts. Ask your therapists or staff to provide festive crafting supplies if they haven’t already. Trust me, they want to make this time of year as happy as possible for you. If glitter, jingle bells, and red and green pom-poms will help, I bet they’ll be all in!

Have Sympathy

Understand that this time of year might be difficult for some fellow patients also in treatment during the holidays. Be sensitive to how others are feeling while still validating your own thoughts and needs. Take space when you need it. Feel free to step away from festivities if it’s too painful or associated with tough memories.

Ask for what you need to feel balanced in a time that is traditionally wrought with lots of intense, maybe even conflicting emotions.

Look Within

Use the time away from the hustle and bustle to think about what this time really means to you. Why is it important to you? Is it important to you? What traditions would you like to continue, or what part of your holiday routine needs revamping to fit better into your recovery? I found writing about holiday memories, good and bad, helped me realize what I really needed to thrive during this often busy and hectic time of year.  Practice these things in a safe place. 

Every Moment In Recovery Counts

If missing your holidays at home is really hard for you, think about how you can use the discomfort as a motivator for continuing your recovery.  Not spending a third Christmas in treatment was a HUGE motivating factor for me this year. I still struggle with body image and sometimes the ache of missing my smaller body makes restricting seem like an excellent idea—sometimes the ONLY idea. But then I remember looking out that frosty window, after weights and vitals, knowing another hard breakfast was coming. And I remind myself for the thousandth time that restricting is ultimately not the answer. For me, using ED behaviors does not ultimately lead to joy, during the holiday season, or at any other time of year.

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