On “Thanksgiving” and Being Thankful in Dark Times

Two weeks ago, the votes were tallied — not completely, but enough for those who are generally right about these things to guess at where the votes would end up — and the election was called for Donald Trump, making him the presumptive President-Elect.

It took no time at all, not even a full day, for him to start using that position  to line his own pockets, and for his alt-Reich supporters to come out in force, claiming his election as a victory of Nazism all across the land.

It’s pretty fucking hard, then, to look at Thanksgiving — a day when we traditionally celebrate that my white ancestors stole America from the indigenous population, by eating a giant turkey and a dessert made with orange squash — with any kind of thanks in my heart.

I’m not thankful that the President-Elect continues to treat his new position mainly as a way to make more money no matter who suffers, or that he’s appointing actual white supremacists, xenophobes, Islamaphobes, and homophobes to positions which mean that these vile, hateful, people will be making policies that affect all of America. I’m not thankful that centuries after we stole their land, the American government still can’t be bothered to treat Native Americans with the bare minimum of courtesy or respect, if there’s any way to gain by stealing from them again. I’m not thankful that of the hundreds of new reports of hate crimes across the country, the largest percentage is against immigrant children.

Children.

With all of this, what can I possibly be thankful for? What’s the point of being thankful at all? I think there is one, and it’s this: finding any joy at all, in these times, is a balm for the heart and mind. A day, or a moment, of peace and love refreshes us. So, if you have a reason to be thankful this week, go ahead. Enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty. Use it, the way we use sleep to energize us for the next day. Be armored by it. Be strengthened against what’s coming next. And when you’re ready, use that strength to keep fighting.

My thankfulness this week is that I have a bright, funny, healthy, beautiful child, who tries his best to navigate his disability, and who loves us. It’s that I have a brilliant and brave partner who’s just as committed as I am to standing up for what’s right. It’s that my family might be small, and far away from everyone else this time of year, but we’re together, and we’re good.

The thing I never talk about: Thanksgiving, and eating disorders

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and for a lot of people, it’s a day of stress, struggle, fear, and self-hate that has nothing to do with our relatives. For people struggling with an eating disorder, the holidays – from now through Christmas – is the hardest part of the year.

You’re not alone.

I have had an eating disorder for more than twenty years. I don’t know exactly when it started, when I went from uninformed choices to bad habits to an actual disorder, but I realized I was doing unhealthy things, sometimes things I couldn’t control, when I was around 20 years old.

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for months. A couple of years ago, I decided to seek help for abnormal and unhealthy eating habits. I’ve had issues with food, beginning with not having learned what healthy eating was in the first place, all of my life. When did recovery start? When I wanted to change? When I got help? When I started making changes? I’m not certain I know.

I do know that I’m not recovered yet. Maybe, like alcoholics and other addicts, I will never be “cured”, only managed. As long as I’m healthy, that would be okay with me.

I am getting there, though. Gaining weight this year is actually, oddly, proof that I’m recovering. I’ve stopped doing all the things I did to lose weight, most importantly I’ve stopped thinking that not eating is the best way to lose weight. Most people think of extreme calorie restriction and anorexia as something you can easily identify: those girls who weigh 80 pounds and hide food in dresser drawers so their parents won’t know. That’s a face of it, certainly, but in adults it’s often unnoticed. We don’t have to hide food because no one is monitoring us. We can simply not eat.

Restricting is about control. Mix it with binge eating, which is usually about satisfaction, literally filling an emotional void with food, and you get what most people will write off as yo-yo dieting. It must be that I was trying to healthy (when I lost weight) and then stopped trying (when I gained it. Even thin, I wasn’t being good to myself. I’m healthier now, at my highest weight ever, than I was during the rest of my adult life.

I can say all of this now because I’m over the harder part. I’ve learnt to stop restricting, stop binging, stop weighing myself constantly, stop hating myself, stop hiding all of it. It took years. It took help, and support from someone who loves me no matter what.

The next step for me is taking the hearty, healthy food I eat now, and find the portion sizes that are right for my body. I overeat now, not too much, but enough that if I carried on the way I am, I wouldn’t lose much fat. As I get older, I worry about my knees, my heart – I worry that my fat is keeping me from activities I want to do, and of course I know it makes other people judge me. I want a career that isn’t marred by employers who equate overweight with lazy or unmotivated.

I’m ready to try but I’m nervous, too. Restricting my food at all makes me tempted to restrict it a lot more. It’s tempting to “just lose the weight fast, then worry about keeping it off”. It’s tempting to ditch the rich, flavorful meals we eat now for diet foods which don’t have calories, or nutrients, or the feeling of satisfaction that tells your brain it’s actually full. Or skip meals entirely. Make a game of it, a challenge, see how long you can go without eating, how little food you can eat, how fast you can force down the dial of the scale… Count every calorie, every step, every time you thought about food. And after a week of that, after dropping several pounds, isn’t it nice to “take the night off” and eat pizza, soda, snacks, anything and everything you’ve been craving? You can go back on the diet again tomorrow…

I’d rather be overweight than go back to that life.

I’ve told myself that a million times but for once, I know that I mean it.

Tomorrow, we’re cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner. It’s just the three of us, like it had been the last couple of years, and we’re making only the things we love best. I can’t promise that I won’t question my choices or feel regret that I indulged. I can promise that I’m going to focus on eating what I think I’ll actually enjoy, in a healthy portion, without restricting or binging. I’ll get some exercise. I’ll take it one day, one meal at a time.