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Thanksgiving: A Complicated Holiday

Thanksgiving has been a complicated holiday for me over the years.  

In my early childhood, I looked forward to the holiday with great anticipation.

It was a time to gather together with cousins and other family members we weren’t able to see with much frequency outside of holiday celebrations, due to the busyness of life and distance that separated many of us.  My giddy heart couldn’t WAIT for Thanksgiving so I could “play” with my cousins and indulge in my Grandpa’s famous stuffing and Mom’s delicious pies.

During my early years of adulthood, Thanksgiving was a saving grace for me.

I attended college out of state and initially had a difficult time connecting with others at university, so I cherished times to reconnect with family and friends back “home.”  Thanksgiving was the first opportunity during the school year that allowed me to do so.

As years passed, Thanksgiving soon become a “filler” holiday or one that was easily overlooked.

Instead of embracing the wonderful opportunity the holiday presented to meditate on the many blessings in my life and make cherished memories with family and friends, it instead became a holiday of “inconvenience.”  A burden to host, a holiday not “worth” the expense to travel back to see family, and a day that soon became a mere “stepping stone” to Christmas (one of my favorite holidays).

In most recent years, Thanksgiving even became a holiday to be feared.  

For those who may not know my entire story, the last season of my life has been plagued by anorexia, a disease that I’ve been fighting for years.  For more on that, see my blog post on My Undoing: Ruined for Redemption

To say the least, Thanksgiving – a holiday centered around rich food and often overindulgence – is not a time of peace and thanksgiving for someone suffering with an eating disordered (or even those dieting or otherwise suffering from disordered eating, for that matter). Instead of a time of relaxation and giving thanks, during this past season of my life, Thanksgiving was a day marked by emotional torment, anxiety, and war waged against my mind.  

Thanksgiving and Christmas are two holidays that are particularly difficult for those suffering with an eating disorder.  Not only is there extra emphasis on the consumption of food, but typically the featured foods are rich and in surplus, which can be incredibly fear-inducing for someone with an eating disorder.  Then add in the added layer of complex emotions and anxiety that’s inevitable when gathering together with family and friends, it only makes the battle against your internal world all the more difficult.  For the coping mechanism that had historically helped you suppress your anxiety and “keep your cool” is the very thing you are fighting against and cannot rely upon for the “temporary relief” you desperately desire.

As much as I love the holidays, the past few years have been very difficult.  The silver-lining, however, was that each year, it became much easier to focus on the things that REALLY matter during the holiday season.

Hard seasons have a way of doing that: making you extremely grateful for the most important things in life (e.g., God, family, friends, other relationships, etc.), and appreciative for the many things that are often taken for granted by most (e.g., health, an able body, shelter, food on the table, etc.).

However, this Thanksgiving looks very different from years past.

Remarkably different, in fact.  Especially when compared to the most recent years.  

After several years of grueling eating disorder recovery work, a great deal of perseverance, God’s continued faithfulness, a life-changing day of healing (November 11th, 2018 – which I will be expanding upon in another post), and continued dedication to remain committed to the path and purpose God has destined for me, I am able to lean into this holiday season absent any fear, and with a heart swimming in gratitude and thanksgiving.  

It’s as if for the first time in my life, I’m able to fully embrace the true meaning of Thanksgiving this year.

Sometimes it takes the darkest places for us to find our greatest Source of Light.  

For me, a season of ruin, seemingly unending darkness, and intense war waged against the greatest source of my shame has only allowed God to shine all the brighter in my life.

Through the dark and broken places, I’ve been able to discover that which matters most to me and experience life-altering change to help me discover wherein my true identity lies.  In moments or periods of time wherein it seemed like I was surrounded by only darkness, God would faithfully remind me that I was…that I am…that I always have been…surrounded by Him: the Source of all Light and Life.  Recovery has helped draw me near to God as my primary source (rather than relying upon Sean, family members, or friends), and my journey has helped unveil my eyes to the reality that God cannot change, yet He changes everything.

This Thanksgiving I find myself grateful not in spite of the hardship I’ve faced; but rather, because of it. 

It is because of the hardships I have faced that I am able to experience such an immense amount of gratitude this holiday season.  There are so many reasons I could recount; but for this post, I want to focus on three.

For one, my recovery helped me incorporate a gratitude practice, which has been life (and perspective) changing.  It’s crazy how a simple practice of naming things one is grateful for each day has the ability to  shift one’s perspective, increase joy, and cause a person to have a more full and appreciative heart. 

Second, recovery has also helped me see the power there is in connection and community.  Not only is it helpful to have the support of family, friends, and other loved ones; but there’s a special kind of support that can only be found in peers who have been through, or are enduring, the same kind of trial as you.  Through my journey, I’ve been honored to meet (and have made life-long connections and friendships with) some amazing women.  They are some of the most strong, brilliant, loving, compassionate, admirable, and loyal women I have ever met.  My heart bubbles with gratitude when I think of how honored I feel to have their life paths cross mine.

Third, my journey the past few years turned my life upside down, which in turn helped me identify my core values, fight against limiting beliefs I didn’t even realize I was battling, diligently seek after what matters most to me, and rediscover my True Self.  My season of struggle forced me to let go of things that don’t truly matter and own up to the various idols in my life to which I had attached my identity or had put before God (e.g., my self-image, security, comfort, entertainment, materialism, certain relationships, to name a few).

It has been an extraordinary journey wherein I had to come to the end of myself, own up to the shame and broken places in my life, and diligently work at unearthing the pieces of myself I had long ago buried.  It required an immense amount of work, time, energy, and emotions one cannot possibly imagine – unless one is faced with taking on such a battle (or similar) in one’s own life.

While it has been at times excruciating, overall I am so very thankful for the last few years.  I’m no longer the same woman – there’s no going back to who I once was.  And I think that is wonderful: because who I am today looks a whole lot more like the woman God created me to be.

* * * * *

Forever Grateful

As I was going through recovery, I heard others who were fully recovered speak of their thankfulness for their recovery journeys: for the new perspectives they now have on life, their increased gratitude (for even the simple things), their increased self-esteem and self-awareness, their newly discovered passions, amongst many other blessings gleaned from enduring through eating disorder recovery.

Never, ever, ever, did I think I would be able to say in all honesty that I was thankful for my eating disorder or the journey of recovery.  And yet, here I am today.  With my heart bubbling over in extreme gratitude and thankfulness for everything I’ve been through.

Life would have indeed been a whole heck of a lot simpler without an eating disorder as part of my journey; however, I am forever grateful to have gone through it all.

For it’s shaped me, it’s molded me, and it’s realigned my focus on the things that truly matter in life: my relationship with God, loving others out of my love for God, and pursuing the path and purpose for which God has destined me.

I’m forever thankful for the fact that God chased after me when I had gone astray.  

I’m so thankful that He never ever gave up on me…even during the times when I was tempted to give up on myself….even when I questioned Him and His faithfulness.

I am forever thankful that God had (and has) a better plan for my life than I had planned.  

There is much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.  

I think it’s safe to say this is the first of many Thanksgivings that I will not take for granted.

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