This Is The First Year I'm Not Frightened Of Easter
When I tell people I dread Easter every year, I'm met with some questionable looks.
It's like announcing to the world you hate Christmas. Or unicorns. Or Harry Potter. No one can quite understand why.
Easter should be about gathering and connecting with the people you love the most. It's about reflection. It's about family. It's about sharing meals, moments and memories.
So how could I possibly dread this special occasion when it means all of those beautiful things? Because for almost the past 10 years, I have been battling with a condition, an illness, that taints these magical moments with anxiety and paralysing fear.
In 2010, when I was just 13 years old, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. It meant my relationship with food was complicated at best and traumatic at worst. I loved food more than anything in the world. I craved it every single moment of every single day. But I also hated it with a burning passion. It was my fondest love and my greatest enemy at the same time. I didn't eat for pleasure. I ate just enough to keep my heart beating and my blood flowing.
My decline started slowly. At first, I simply started eating more vegetables. I replaced chocolate snacks with fruit. I exercised daily. I wanted to be “healthy”.
That was the message I parroted to anyone who asked what was up with my lifestyle change. In my heart, I knew I was being insincere. It was about weight loss. Soon enough I was cutting out major food groups, then snacks, then meals. I went from running once a day to exercising as many times as possible in secret. Soon enough, I found myself in a deep hole of utter exhaustion and panic.
My parents didn't know who their little girl was anymore. And I had entirely lost my identity in the pursuit of perfection.
Recovery was forced on me at first. I was told what to eat, when to eat and how to eat. At 14, I had to relearn what hunger was. Every move, every mouthful was monitored. I remember feeling like a bird trapped in an aviary. I could see freedom all around me, a world where people ate joyfully, laughing and smiling while they were at it. But it was a world I didn't think I'd ever have access to again.
When Easter came around, my worst nightmare was realised. Food was, quite literally, everywhere. Steaming hot cross buns and more chocolate than you could poke a stick at. They're handed out at school, they're on the shelves of supermarkets and they're in the pantry at home.
I was terrified someone would ask me why I wasn't eating like everyone else.
I was scared I'd be forced to eat food I had demonised and resisted for years. But most of all, I was utterly fearful I would lose self-control. That one chocolate egg would turn into two, two would turn into 10, 10 would turn into the whole packet. As Easter loomed, I was forced to confront my greatest fear under the eagle eyes of my friends and my family.
"Don't be silly, Sophia! It's just food," they would say.
"There's not much on your plate, Sophia. Have a little more."
"Come on, it's just chocolate."
Easter, like Christmas, was a reminder that I was different and I'd never fit in again.
Over the years, my relationship with food and exercise got better. I sought professional help in March 2015. I saw a dietician, a therapist and a psychiatrist to get back on track. I wanted to give recovery a red-hot crack. Back then, I never thought I would be free of my eating disorder. I thought recovery happened to other people. But as the years wore on, that changed. I stopped fearing food. I started seeing my friends. My parents met their little girl again. And I got my identity back.
The recovery process wasn't challenge-free. As I started relaxing my rules around food and eating things that were -- in my mind -- forbidden, I struggled with binge eating. I would devour large quantities of food and not be able to stop. After I was finished, I would chastise myself. The negative self-talk would continue until I promised myself I’d be "better tomorrow" and I wouldn't do it "next time".
Even last year, three full years into my recovery, I dreaded Easter. Not because I was fearful of eating specific foods anymore. But because I was petrified of an uncontrollable binge. And unfortunately, when the long weekend came, that's exactly what happened.
But this year, it's going to be different.
Why? Because I’ve hit a sweet spot in my recovery, thanks to consistent professional help, the support of my friends and family, and a lot of hard work. Today, I eat intuitively. I’m not scared of eating meals away from home and I don’t think -- or care -- about calories. I exercise without the urge to burn as much energy as possible. Exercise is no longer a punishment for what I ate or what my body isn’t. It’s a regular reminder of what my body is capable of. On the days I don’t make it to the gym, I don’t berate myself or descend into a panic. I get on with my day, just like I did before I was sick.
I don't see foods as 'good' or 'bad' anymore but I try, as much as possible, to eat a balanced diet. That means stacking up on the nutritious goodies, like vegetables, fruit, proteins and healthy fats. It also means listening to my body when it wants something. Eating the damn chocolate. Saying yes to the plate of pasta. Nothing is off limits, which means I haven't binged in months and I don't restrict anymore.
I'm looking forward to Easter for the first time in a very, very long time. I'm going to eat the chocolate, sure. But I'll eat it when I really feel like it and I won’t let the guilt consume me. Chocolate is bloody delicious. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with having balance.
This year, most importantly, I'm going to spend Easter with the people I love the most. I want to make different memories around a once painful time. Easter is about reflection. It is about family. It is about sharing meals, moments and memories. So I’m going to make those moments count.