When I was in the midst of my eating disorder, Thanksgiving was a fantastic opportunity to participate in socially sanctioned binge eating.
It was the one day a year that I could openly gorge myself in front of people while announcing that I strategically wore elastic waistband pants to support my physical expansion, and no one would see it as problematic.
Not only was it not a problem, but it would be celebrated as a shared experience with others and boasted about it as if it was some sort of badge of honor.
But that’s not where it stopped for me, because not only is overeating socially sanctioned, overdrinking is too. So for many years I would show up to Thanksgiving and have several drinks before even sitting down to dinner. Then I would continue to drink long afterwards–and guess what? No one seemed to care, because it's just what people do on Thanksgiving.
To top it all off, as someone with narcolepsy, I got a bonus behavior normalized because everyone gets sleepy after eating massive amounts of turkey right? It’s just what people do on Thanksgiving.
So for over a decade, as a narcoleptic with an eating disorder and drinking issues, Thanksgiving was my Super Bowl. Yet, I always lost the game.
Fast forward a decade to today where I now have a sustained healthy relationship with food, have healed from narcolepsy, and am able to drink sparingly. This lays the foundation for a very different experience of Thanksgiving.
Regardless of whether it’s socially sanctioned to binge on food and alcohol and sedate myself with bird flesh, I don't participate. Why? Because it’s not in alignment with who I am. That free 1-day social pass is now irrelevant to me. In fact, I see that in and of itself as problematic.
I believe it’s a toxic trait of our culture to socially sanction excessive over-consumption.
The only thing it did for me was to momentarily pause the need for me to be discreet about my gluttony. In my experience, socially sanctioned excessive over-consumption does not contribute to a healthy relationship with yourself, with others, with food, or with animals.
Today, I see Thanksgiving as a chance for me to practice cooking with love and connecting with family. I focus on enjoying the time we have gathering together while sharing a yummy and thoughtfully curated meal. It’s an invitation for me to be fully present in something special that only occurs once a year. Excessive over-consumption is no longer part of it.
I’ve got to tell you; the way I experience Thanksgiving today feels amazing–and I didn’t know it could be like this. For the vast majority of my life, I believed that participating in the social norms of Thanksgiving was “just what you do” and I grew to resent it. I dreaded Thanksgiving and suffered through it for many years because of it. Today I know differently and couldn’t be more grateful.
To be clear, I am not saying that if you choose to participate in the social norms of Thanksgiving that it’s wrong or bad. What I am saying is that you get to decide what feels good to you, what doesn’t align with you, and what does or doesn’t serve you.
I am emphasizing your choice point.
So remember back when you were a kid, and you were telling an adult what everyone else did, and they would ask, “So if everyone decides to jump off a bridge, would you do it too?” And you would just laugh and say, “of course not!".
I see that timeless question is still very much applicable in adulthood. In fact, at age 40, I am finding it to be more relevant now than ever.
With that in mind, I want to invite you to consider these 3 steps to help you experience Thanksgiving more mindfully.
3 Steps To A More Mindful Thanksgiving
Ask yourself: How do I want to experience Thanksgiving? What can I do to create that experience? How do I need to show up to have that experience?
Run all the social norms of Thanksgiving through your own filter and get clarity on what you think.
Once you have clarity, you get to decide what you want to participate in and what you want to do differently.
If Thanksgiving feels like a struggle for you, remember, you are not alone. Thanksgiving was a struggle for me for many years. I see you. And, I want you to know, that it is not destined to be that way permanently. There is work that can be done to assist you in creating the experience you want. If you want help, this is the type of work I do. Reach out and let’s see what else is possible for you!
Now tell me, what’s one social norm of Thanksgiving that’s not aligned with you and what do you do instead? I’d love to know.