THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Families can be tricky at the best of times, and during Christmas they can be a real nightmare.
Christmas for me was never a joyful family experience, it was full of anger, toxicity and too much alcohol.
Growing up, I would say I never really fit in with my own family, so Christmas felt very alien and anxious; it was more about building myself up, giving myself pep talks and powering through until it was over. I did have some good Christmases when I was a lot younger, before I was at an age where I really knew what was really going on.
The first Christmas I remember was being at my Grannies with all my cousins and aunties and my parents. There were so many of the incredibly damaging comments: the old “my god, you were hungry!” or “Jesus, save some space for pudding!” and all those other judgements that people get so wrong.
As a kid I didn't realise how much it affected me much ; it became a sort of running joke in my family about how I could eat everything and anything, none of us realised how much damage those comments were causing.
Our families and friends don't realise how hurtful and stressful those comments can be, because chances are they’ve grown up with the same patterns through the years-these little 'jokes' and comments are as traditional at Christmas as the queen’s speech.
Christmas is particularly hard to navigate for people with eating disorders. I have had an eating disorder since I was nine; I had no idea through about 8 Christmases why I felt the way I did towards the whole season, why I couldn’t get excited about the pigs in blankets or sausage rolls; why, instead of being excited and sneaking food off the tray before it was served, I was so worried about what people would think if I took more than one. I knew my body wanted the food, but my head just wouldn't let me. I could build myself up to eat on a sudden urge like a spark of adrenaline and persuade myself I could do it, but then, that’s when I'd be hit with a comment, and all the confidence and adrenaline would dissipate and I would jump back into my head and that’s where I'd stay.
So here’s some ways that you can try to make your Christmas experience easier and help people around you be more understanding of exactly what you need, and what you don’t need to hear.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BOUNDARIES
Boundaries would have to be the biggest and most important thing for you at Christmas so setting boundaries with your family has to be your priority.
Sometimes when you’re starting to set boundaries it will feel wrong -you will probably feel like you’re being harsh, mean or unfair to them. You need to keep reminding yourself that it's ok to look out for yourself.
I had a really hard time setting boundaries with my family. People don't tend to react in an accepting or even pleasant way: in my experience, they don’t greet your request and say “wow thank-you for setting that boundary.” They are more likely, at least at first, to get defensive and they resort to old, well-worn toxic patterns and you need to be aware that is not your fault, that is on them.
Some ways you can set boundaries is before you sit down and eat with your family you can say “this time of year can be really tough for me and I would appreciate if you kept any comments about food, bodies and diets to yourself as it makes it really hard for me to eat.”
You may find within minutes a boundary will have been broken, so be tough and consistent; make sure you stick to your guns and continue to reinforce whatever boundary you’ve set, even if it means you need to interrupt or stop someone mid-sentence.
Another important thing to remember this Christmas is you deserve food, you deserve to make amazing memories with your family and you can make Christmas what you want it to be, it doesn’t have to be about food, presents or even a Christmas tree, it can mean whatever you want it to. So, me and my mum will be on the couch watching the Grinch. And that for me is Christmas.