In our culture, holidays can get idealized through marketing, media messages and product promotions. Thanksgiving has a reputation for being all about the food…it is, after all, a celebratory “feast”. Christmas (and Hanukkah to a lesser extent) often comes with pressure to engage in frenzied shopping and elaborate gift exchanges. And to round out the season, New Year’s Eve arrives with a cultural assumption that everyone will be happily ringing in the new year with hefty resolutions for weight loss and a perpetually full glass of alcohol.
All of these holidays come with their own joys and challenges. The annual combination of drinking and diet pressures during NYE can be especially troublesome for individuals working on recovery considering the high rate of overlap between substance abuse and eating disorders:
Approximately 50% of individuals with an eating disorder (ED) abuse or are dependent on alcohol or illicit substances compared with approximately 9% of the general population …
…Conversely, females who report alcohol problems and/or binge drinking were more likely to report recent ED symptoms …
During the hard work of ED recovery, it can be very easy for individuals to fall into the trap of “symptom substitution”. This occurs when someone is refraining from acting on their eating disorder symptoms but begins to engage in, or increases their reliance on, other unhealthy behaviors such as binge drinking, drug use or self-injury. Individuals who struggle with an ED and alcoholism can encounter an especially slippery slope during holidays like NYE that promote and normalize heavy drinking.
If you struggle with substance abuse and find yourself challenged by the idea of the alcohol-focused NYE celebration, or you’re worried about how it might affect your ED recovery, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and create a recovery-focused party plan. Here are a few tips and ideas to get you started:
Explore your options. If your friends are planning an evening of bar-hopping, drinking games or other events that are heavily dependent on alcohol, it might not be the best option for you this year. Consider other outlets…do you have neighbors, co-workers, friends from your church or synagogue, siblings, cousins or other family members who will be getting together to celebrate? Check in to see if they may have a more balanced celebration in mind and could be more supportive of your recovery efforts. You may need to look beyond your most immediate social network to find what you need.
You CAN have fun while in recovery from an eating disorder and substance abuse; don’t convince yourself otherwise. It can be tempting to assume that there are no options for an alcohol-free evening on New Year’s Eve, but resist the urge to isolate as an alternative. Sitting at home by yourself watching the ball drop in Times Square might seem like the safe option now but could set you up for feelings of loneliness, depression and negative thoughts as you head into the new year. Try, instead, to connect with at least one other person and plan something special like going to see a movie or a concert, or catch a comedy show.
Identify a sober buddy. If you are looking forward to attending a NYE party and you know there will be alcohol there, find out if there is anyone else who will be abstaining from alcohol, and team up for support. Don’t limit yourself to other people in recovery; consider your friend’s wife who is 6 months pregnant and not drinking, or your friend who is a nurse and has to leave the party to go straight to work at 2 am. Create alliances to help safeguard your recovery. At the very least, let your host or a good friend know in advance that you won’t be drinking so they can help alleviate any pressure to do so on the night of the event.
BYO. Just because you are choosing to focus on recovery and may be abstaining from alcohol doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate in the midnight toast. In fact, if you’ve been working hard on getting well and finding happiness outside of the eating disorder and/or alcoholism, you probably have a lot of reasons to celebrate the arrival of the New Year, and toast to the progress you’ve made thus far. Pack your own bottle of sparkling cider and raise your glass in your own honor.
Fun alternatives. If recovery-focused plans fall through or just don’t seem to be coming together, consider some creative alternatives like offering to babysit your nieces and nephews or a bunch of the neighborhood kids. Put your energy into creating a fun, kid-centric New Year’s Eve celebration for them that you can enjoy too. Think silly string, noise makers, confetti and some glittery dress-up outfits from the thrift store.
Safety First. Even if you don’t struggle with substance abuse, but you know you will be drinking on NYE, aim for moderation and be sure that you have a safe travel plan in place. Either stay-the-night at your host’s house or arrange for a trustworthy designated driver. You can also look into public services in your city that offer free rides home on NYE. If you’re in the Baltimore area you can call 877-963-Taxi to take advantage of the Tipsy? Taxi!
#DitchingDieting Be prepared to be bombarded with new year’s resolutions and people’s new diet plans in the weeks that follow. In an attempt to balance those triggering and unhealthy messages, set up a system in advance to expose yourself to more accurate information about dieting and engage in a body-positive community. If you’re on Twitter, follow the hash tag #DitchingDieting, and learn more about the toxic diet culture in this post, Dare to Resolve to Ditch Dieting from Adios Barbie.
As the year comes to a close, remember that your recovery, your happiness and your well-being is worth more than a few hours of partying on New Year’s Eve. Try something new this year by allowing yourself the time and space to celebrate in a way that is safe and supportive of your emotional growth and your current stage of recovery. Strive to be mindful and present as you welcome in a year of gratitude, positivity, strength and confidence.
Happy New Year from The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt!