I have a natural tendency to dramatically explain how much I hate Thanksgiving. There is a slight lie behind that - I don't hate thanksgiving, I hate the thoughts and feelings that Thanksgiving stirs up, I hate that I miss out on so many memories and traditions, I miss the joy and excitement that used to lead up to Thanksgiving, I miss the late night (we are talking 4am) skipping through the neighborhood with my cousins, I miss the close relationships I had, and I grieve Thanksgiving. I don't hate Thanksgiving, I just hate what it brings up for me.
In addition to the anxiety and fears associated with Thanksgiving, there is so much guilt behind it. I have not participated in Thanksgiving since 2008, and that makes me feel like a horrible and a selfish person. I have shared tidbits here and there about why I don't participate, and these reasons have definitely transformed over the years. In 2009, I was terrified of being seen and interrogated on my weight, and then having to sit at a table and eat (or not eat) in front of people who would obviously be curious and judging everything on my plate. It's 2016, and my reasons for not participating are different.
Let me just clarify, I do not hate Thanksgiving, I wish more than anything that I could find the strength again to even welcome myself into the house during the holidays. I do not hate my family, I miss the strong relationships I used to hold with them, and the laughter we shared, and I still do love my family more deeply than ever. I have changed and transformed into a different person than I was 8 years ago. I am stronger in many ways, I am self aware, I am insightful of what I'm thinking, I am open and honest, I am compassionate and loving, and I challenge myself where I can. Yet in other ways I feel more lost, especially when it comes to the holidays.
To help you understand, I am going to try to explain some of the reasons that the thought of even being PRESENT during Thanksgiving makes me physically sick and terrifies me.
- We will start with the most trivial of them all - Food. We always say eating disorders are not about food or weight, but let's be honest, food is definitely a component of an eating disorder, you can't deny that. If I could choose exactly what I was going to eat (and it had nothing to do with Thanksgiving food), prepare it without anyone in the kitchen surrounding me, and eat it in the privacy of my room, maybe that would ease the anxiety. Being in an environment where EVERYTHING is about food, socializing over preparing meals, the family's "oyster" traditions, talking about food non-stop, the continuous aroma of foods that freak me out. I honestly can not handle that. Several years ago, I would have pinpointed it to not being able to be seen with food, and while I still have some anxiety about eating around others, it is not nearly as debilitating as it used to be. I can eat in front of people, but I can't imagine eating in a chaotic environment surrounded by 40+ people, nor going through a line and having to choose IN THE MOMENT what to put on my plate. Decisions like these are extremely anxiety inducing.
- Another trivial one - Talk and Comments. I think my family has gotten more considerate about what they say around me, but let's be real, you can't completely avoid the diet/food talk. When conversations about weight, calories, diets, and good/bad foods come up, it is overwhelming and triggers so many thoughts. In my mind, everything you are saying is wrong. I want to scream at you and tell you, "There are NO BAD FOODS!" and "Everything is okay in moderation!" Talk likes this makes me want to tear my hair out, so I feel inclined to leave the room. And then there is the fear of comments. The "You look so good," or "I'm so proud of how well you're doing." I completely understand that there is nothing but good intentions behind all of these, but I can not even tell you the whirlwind of irrational thoughts it triggers.
- Associations. I have so many bad associations with Thanksgiving over the past few years, mostly brought on by my own behavior. Memories of locking myself in my room all weekend with the lights out while shoving dressers against the door out of fear that my existence would be noticed. All the Thanksgiving's I have missed out on. All the memories of the thoughts that swarmed through my head during holidays. Those still haunt me, and those same thoughts start to take over.
- Relationships and Engagement. Things have changed, let's be real. I am definitely a happier person than I was X years ago, I have pride in the person I have created myself to be. That does not change the fact that I have broken many of those relationships, and they will never be what they were before. I have no doubt that my immediate and extended family still loves me, and I still love them, but the free-spirit and energy in our relationships has shifted. And there is so much sadness and loss that I feel surrounding these relationships, because seeing my cousins over Thanksgiving in the past was the highlight of my year. This could be my perception, but I feel like there is a lot of walking on eggshells. "What can we say to Sarah?" "How is Sarah doing?" "She looks good, is she going to sit down with us for Thanksgiving this year?" There are a lot of questions unasked and unanswered.
- Regression. It's hard to explain, but whenever I am surrounded by people who knew me or had experienced me at my worst times, I naturally begin to regress to that memory they had of me. It's like a natural instinct to conform to their expectations (which is silly, because I sm not who I was then, and they probably don't even have any expectations of me). My past experiences take over, and begin to define me. I feel the need to sneak around after everyone is in bed so I can pour that cup of coffee, or hide away some food to get me through the next day. I again can't be seen, especially in the kitchen or the presence of food. It's weird, because I can be with several extended family members, and I'm okay. But the holidays bring it all back again.
I know all of these reasons mentioned above seem minimal and silly, but I can't even explain the anxiety that consumes by body even beginning to think about Thanksgiving. In addition to the above, there's the guilt of not being able to participate, and this fear that feels so real that I will never again be able to participate in Thanksgiving because I can't create the strength in myself to push through my fears and anxieties. It honestly seems impossible to me.
I'm not looking for encouragement or "You can do it!"s, I honestly just want to be heard, and maybe provide some understanding that I'm not as selfish as I may seem. I want people to know that I don't hate Thanksgiving, even thought I say I do on a daily basis. And most of all, I want people who I love and care about to understand that my inability to participate in Thanksgiving has NOTHING to do with lack of desire or not loving my family.