FROM FOOD TO DRINK TO SHOPPING
by Kay Sheppard, M.A.
the holiday season, it becomes very noticeable in recovery meetings that
attendance falls off and our recovering friends start to disappear. Some
of these disappearances are long-term and some are permanent. What happens
during the holidays? Increased stress is certainly a complicating factor
in holiday activities. There is more pressure, date books are fuller,
to-do lists become longer, and altogether these are busy times. During
these fast-paced times it is tempting to start canceling meetings, forgetting
phone calls and postponing step work until after the holidays. After all,
isn't this the reason that we recover, in order to enjoy life? The temptation
is to take a holiday from recovery.
have to be vigilant about this kind of complacency and overconfidence.
Whatever the excuse for letting up on recovery activities, the "twenty-four-hour
principle" of recovery still applies. We must remember that we cannot
stay abstinent on yesterday's program. It is crucial to recovery to maintain
our program on the twenty-four/seven concept. We work our programs seven
days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Each holiday is nothing more than
another twenty-four-hour time frame which requires our attention as recovering
people. Let us make the holidays holy days of joy and peace.
Holiday from Your Recovery Program?
the holidays become frantic, it would be a good idea to outline your "best
recovery" program. Formulate a checklist which is based upon those
activities which best support recovery. This checklist might include the
optimum number of meetings to attend, a commitment to daily phone calls,
reading, writing, prayer and meditation. It might look something like
No Changes _____
and Measured All Portions ________
Phone Calls to ___________ ____________
Food and Drink
of the obvious pitfalls of the holiday season is the abundance of tempting
food and drink. All of the magazine covers display in gorgeous splendor
all the foods which will trigger our addiction and our life of horror.
The whole world has missed the idea that for food addicts those foods
should be photographed with a skull-and-crossbones Poison label. For those
of us who are food addicted, holiday foods are poison.
course, there are always folks who urge us to eat "just a little."
People-pleasing is a definite characteristic of many food addicts. When
we hear our favorite relative say, "Oooh, I made it just for you.
You used to love it," then we have a decision to make. Do we placate
our relative or choose recovery? Worse yet, there are others who offer
to prepare abstinent food for us, then we show up for dinner to find nothing
appropriate for us to eat. Some hostesses even lie about the ingredients,
thinking they can "put one over" on us.
best way to maintain abstinence throughout the holiday orgy of addictive
substances is to eliminate or restrict the number of occasions attended,
to show up prepared with your own food or to eat before the party. A tactful
response to all well-meaning relatives is "No thank you" said
with conviction. The bottom line is that I am always responsible for my
own recovery and for the food I eat. I have to understand that others
don't always understand the importance of physical abstinence. If you
trust your host or hostess to understand it, call ahead to make your needs
known. Take your scale and measuring cups to facilitate a weighed and
measured meal. Don't be your own worst enemy, either. Stop baking those
old favorites; the smell alone can trigger cravings. You may wish to stop
bringing highly refined and processed foods into your home for the family.
Often we stop "pushing those drugs" to our loved ones.
Compulsive Shopping and Spending
during the holiday seasons is an issue for many, especially compulsive
spenders. The holidays are a good excuse to let loose and really indulge
in this addiction. Be aware that much time spent shopping, even without
spending large amounts of money, can be an addictive process. Both shopping
and spending take us out of reality and away from our daily concerns and
responsibilities. We escape into Mall World, where everything is beautiful
and all things are possible. We get a false sense of power from the purchase.
We become obsessed with it and develop lists of gifts for others, the
house and ourselves. The advertisers would have it that we must redecorate
the house, purchase a new wardrobe and serve only gourmet food and drink.
'Tis the season to spend, spend, spend. From Halloween to Valentine's
Day, we can go on a ninety-day jag.
cards have made it possible to buy now and pay later, mortgaging our future
in order to have things now. Huge credit card debt is the burden of many
Americans, but it is especially an ordeal for compulsive spenders. Often
this spending and debt production is driven by guilt. Addicts often feel
"less than" and make an attempt to make it up to loved ones
with material goods. Would any of us have the courage to cancel spending
next holiday season? I think we would wonder if our loved ones would go
on loving us. We are so much the victims of the mass media. Newsprint
and television ads relentlessly shout about what we must do and be in
order to create a Martha Stewart kind of holiday season.
some time to write about the feelings you experience while shopping and
spending. Talk about the high of the pursuit, the glitter and glitz of
the department stores, the thrill of the music, the spirit of the crowds,
the euphoric recall of childhood holidays. Make a list of the ways that
you are powerless over spending and shopping. Make a list of the ways
that your life has become unmanageable due to that shopping and spending.
recovery, we must find a way to bring sanity into our world of spending
or perish in debt and frustration. There is something joyless about the
word "budget!" It is a bucket-of-cold-water kind of word. But
we begin to understand that with recovery comes responsibility. In recovery
it is finally possible to take charge of our financial life. There is
power in money management. How to
Turn Your Money Life Around, by Ruth Hayden, is a wonderful resource
for those who are serious about recovery from spending. There are Twelve-Step
programs for those who need support in this recovery. If you are interested
in more help, you may wish to contact Debtors Anonymous in your area.
question we may wish to ask ourselves is, "How can I turn my holiday-spending
life around without becoming Old Scrooge himself?" The truth is that
we can moderate our spending and still celebrate the holidays with love
and service instead of guilt and fear. Those are the recovery principles
we can emphasize in our lives. By remembering the spirit of each holiday,
we may even wish to return to a simpler time of celebration with handmade
ornaments or gifts. Let's recount some of the spiritual principles of
the holiday season: love, gratitude, kindness, compassion, sharing, caring,
joy, humor and play—and let's plan a way to demonstrate those in our lives.
Keep the spiritual in mind when shopping; take your Higher Power with
often we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others during
the holidays. We envision the loving family gathered around the fireplace
singing carols and basking in the glow of love. We see ourselves giving
and receiving gifts selected with care. The real picture may be somewhat
different: dirty dishes, piles of discarded wrapping paper, irritable
children and maybe even a cold or flu thrown in for good measure. That's
not to say that our holidays are always totally horrible or disagreeable,
but they may never match the jolly pictures we conjure up. Projecting
outcomes is always dangerous. There is no way to predict the future. Whenever
our expectations are high, our serenity is low. Acceptance is the key
the acronym HALTS, and don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired or Stressed.
Avoid overdoing. Stress can trigger food thoughts, so beware of your stress
level during the holidays. The tool of HALTS is great for an on-the-spot
inventory. If you are experiencing any of these, take immediate action,
including relaxation techniques, rest, well-timed meals, meetings and
phone calls. Recognition and correction is the key to maintaining recovery.
your blessings, make a gratitude list for after the holidays. Think of
how great it will be not to have to go on another diet right after the
holidays. One of my dear friends relates how she cried all day on her
first holiday in recovery. She felt so deprived. Now she sees that she
is deprived of obesity, depression, anger, lethargy, shame, fear, physical
pain and medical problems associated with her food addiction. We laugh
about having two holiday meals because we stay on schedule and have a
turkey dinner midday and one in the evening, too. Those normal eaters
usually get just one! We don't have to pass out in front of the TV, either.
Alternatives to Eating and Cooking
may be something to do over the holidays that does not involve baking or eating? What a concept! Get outdoors often to
enjoy the winter sun, take a family walk, enjoy a winter sport like skiing
or ice skating. It is fun to go to the movies, look at old pictures or
home movies and play board games. Of course, here in Florida, we just
go on with our usual activities in the sun. Have some fun during the holidays.
bottom line is that for our life-sustaining abstinence, we are responsible.
We have to understand that others do not understand. They don't have to
understand. We are personally responsible for what we eat and drink, where
we eat, how our food is prepared and for provision of that food on a reasonable
schedule. No one is allowed to make those choices for us. We must realize
that we are worth the time, effort, consideration and cost of recovery—always
remembering that the disease costs more.
All rights reserved. Reprinted from From
the First Bite by Kay Sheppard. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or
by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher:
Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield
Beach, FL 33442. Available in local bookstores or call 800-441-5569 or