For someone in eating disorder recovery, horror movies and haunted houses aren't the scariest things about Halloween -- especially in college.
Between the pressure to attend party after party in skimpy costumes, to the heavy focus on food and treats, and the "fat talk" and body judgments that accompany these situations in our friend groups, navigating the end of October while in recovery can feel like walking blindfolded through a minefield.
Trust me, I know.
Luckily, it doesn't have to be all tricks. With preparation, support, and trust, you can start to reclaim Halloween from your eating disorder one plastic pumpkin at a time.
1. Talk to Your Treatment Team: While it might be hard to admit that everything isn't going as smoothly as you'd like, it's important to open up to your treatment team -- no matter your level of care -- about your concerns.
Even if you haven't been seeing a therapist regularly or you've been out of treatment for a while, it never hurts to schedule an appointment for before or soon after Halloween to help process your feelings surrounding it. Your team not only knows you and your history, but they also have a huge wealth of knowledge and experience that can help you during this tricky time. But remember -- they can't help you unless you ask for it.
Bonus Tip: As soon as you get the feeling that you might need to schedule an extra appointment, do it! It's easy to minimize your feelings or talk yourself out of needing the support if you wait. Write down why you want to reach out to your team and the feelings you've been having -- that way, even if you get nervous later, you can re-read your reasons for reaching out or even bring them to your appointment.
2. Lean on Your Allies: Your doctors aren't the only ones who can support you during Halloween. Friends and family can be some of your biggest allies, too!
- Let them know that you are struggling or might struggle during the weekend. You don't have to have a heart-to-heart with all of your friends or housemates -- even sending a simple text to a friend ("Hey, just wanted to let you know that this weekend might be a little tough for me with all of the food and focus on bodies and costumes -- if I'm acting a little off or anxious or duck out of the party early, that's why.") or leaving a note on your roommate's bed can open the conversation with them!
- Give them resources on being an ally. Even friends with the best intentions might not know how best to be an ally to you. While there might not be enough time to get Embody Carolina trained before Halloween, directing them to some resources about supporting a friend in recovery can be helpful.
Bonus Tip: Mention specific things they can do for you: Do you want someone to hang out with while you're getting dressed for the party? Do you want to plan an alcohol-free outing for your house to do so you can still hang out with your friends if you don't want to go to Frat Court? Maybe you just need someone to text or step outside with if you get overwhelmed. Whatever it is -- let them know!
3. Make a Plan: While the ability to be flexible is a part of recovery, needing extra support and structure during holidays or other stressful times is normal.
- Planning out big parts of your day -- whether it's knowing what parties you're going to, or what time you're getting together with friends to carve pumpkins -- can help you prepare for the unknowns and triggers that may accompany those experiences, like a friend having a bowl of candy on their counter.
- Sticking to your meal plan from treatment or eating in a reasonable pattern can help the day feel a little more normal. These tips from the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders blog can help you navigate holidays meals.
- Have a "toolkit" of coping strategies you can utilize on the go. Look up some breathing exercises, have a friend or relative you can call, or download a soothing game on your phone that you can play in case you get overwhelmed.
- Plan your outfit. Knowing what you're wearing ahead of time can help ease your worries. Choose an outfit that you feel physically comfortable in so you can focus on having a good time rather than how your clothes fit.
Bonus Tip: While it can be easy to want to jam-pack your schedule to distract yourself from being anxious, it's important to leave some room for down time, too! Being rushed to get ready or being overly busy can often make anxiety worse. Remember: you don't have to say "yes" to everything!
4. Know Your Limits: While dressing up, trick-or-treating and going to parties are activities to strive to incorporate back into your holiday weekend down the road, it's okay if you're not ready for them right now! Knowing your limits can help you challenge yourself in a healthy way without putting unnecessary stress on you during a difficult time.
There are many ways to celebrate Halloween that don't focus as much on food/alcohol and don't require costumes:
- Get out of Chapel Hill for the night and check out a local, free event like the Raleigh Zombie Walk or the Durham Barktoberfest event. Search local newspapers and websites and go somewhere you might not usually think to go on Halloween, like a museum, park, or planetarium!
- Grab your housemates and do something you might not have done since you were a kid, like going to a pumpkin patch, petting zoo, or corn maze, or have a Halloween movie marathon!
- Head home for the weekend and spend time with your family. Helping a younger sibling or family friend with their costume or taking them trick-or-treating can help you ease back into participating in the activities yourself.
Bonus Tip: Even if you decide to head to Franklin Street, remember: just because you go out, doesn't mean you have to stay out, or do what your friends are doing! Have a back-up plan just in case -- know where you'll go if you leave, how you're getting there, and what you'll do once get there. For example, if you know it'll be overwhelming to sit at home by yourself if you're anxious, plan on taking an Uber to a friend's house (who might not be going out/drinking) to watch your favorite movie.
5. Remember: Recovery is possible, but it's not perfect.
The truth is, you can be prepared and have support and things still may not go the way you want. Lapses are part of recovery, and having a slip-up doesn't mean that you'll never recover or that you're not doing it "right." Though it might be hard to think of it this way in the moment, these tough situations are opportunities for growth and progress in your recovery.
Additionally, playing it safe for the weekend and avoiding triggers doesn't mean you're not progressing, either! There will always be other opportunities to challenge yourself and, like it or not, Halloween comes every year. Your recovery, health and happiness always come first, and however it looks to honor those things is exactly what you should do, whether it's going to the party or staying home. I know it can be tempting to compare to your journey to the recoveries of others in the eating disorder community, remember that there is no one path for recovery and recovery doesn't look like one particular thing. Just because you might feel stuck or confused now doesn't mean you'll never get to a place where you feel less stuck or more sure of yourself.
Recovery is tricky, yes. But it brings a lot of treats with it.