The Thaw: Embracing My Eating Disorder Recovery Process

Jeff Holton Headshot NEDA

Jeff Holton

Growing up, I always wanted to say that something would “unthaw” when my mom would pull it from our freezer for dinner. It was one of these words that I always used in the wrong context; I was always saying “unthaw.” Thinking about my life now, it was some sort of foreshadowing.  

When I entered treatment for my eating disorder (ED) I did so thinking that I would gain a certain amount of weight back, eat some uncomfortable foods, and morph back into the person, from an eating standpoint, that I was prior to ED. It has been nine months since I entered treatment and I am here to say that I was 100% incorrect in what ED treatment would be like. I do not blame that on anyone, as I truly believe that it is best for each person to experience the process on their own, as generalizations will do the process justice as each person has their own path and process.  

For me, my process revolves around “The Thaw.” Merriam-Webster defines thaw as “to go from a frozen to a liquid state” and “to become free of the effect (such as stiffness, numbness, or hardness) of cold as a result of exposure to warmth. I heard the word thaw used a lot at my treatment center, and while I understood the definition, I did not understand what thaw meant to me and my process. I only thought that I knew.

Driving my car home after a long day, listening to music on my iPhone, the song “True Colors” from the movie Trolls came on. My kids love this song, but prior to my thaw, I would have probably skipped it and found something else. This time was different. I decided to let the song play, and not only did I listen to the song, I also heard it for the first time. The song was telling me to not be discouraged, how courage is hard, it is easy to lose perspective, and the darkness inside can make you feel small. The song went on to say that I should not be afraid to show everyone my true colors as they are beautiful. Prior to that day my kids had played and sung this song a hundred times, but that day I heard the words, and while driving I could not control the wave of emotions that came over me. I was crying, feeling happy and sad, which was okay. I was present!

My parents have played a major part in my life. They are both very strong people and have worked hard over the past 40 years to give me the best that they both have to offer. I know for a fact that I would not be the person I am without them in my life. They have always been there for me, whether it was to help out, give me advice, or dole out that tough love that all kids need. My mom and dad rank as two of the most important people in my life. Recently, we celebrated my dad’s 67th birthday. A day or two afterwards I realized that my parents will not be around forever, and it made me very anxious and sad. I sat with these emotions, discussed them, and realized that the initial feelings of sadness are allowing me to be even more present each time that I am with my parents, and allow me to enjoy my time with them more.

My oldest daughter (9.5 years old) had been asking my wife and me for at least two years to get her ears pierced. She would try every few months and each time I would tell her once she was 10 she could. I have no idea why 10, it was an age that I made up when she was seven or eight and a couple of years away, so the logic seemed sound. When it was a few days before her half birthday (yes, we (my wife) celebrate half birthdays in our house), I told her that she could get her ears pierced. This also meant that my seven-year-old daughter would get to as well. I was not ready for the pictures my wife sent me of my two daughters. There they were, beautiful, excited, glowing, and growing up. Right then it hit me that each day is one day closer to her leaving us, and we are on the downhill journey with her. Feelings of joy and happiness over the amazing lady she is rushed over me, quickly followed by feelings of anxiousness and sadness that she will leave us. I sat with these emotions and realized that I was actually experiencing life, not just going through the motions.

If I can give any advice it would be to embrace the thaw, and to know that each person’s thaw is not the same, but that if you embrace the process and work with your treatment team the thaw will start, and once it starts you will see the world and life clearer. The thaw is allowing me to become a better husband, father, friend, brother, and coworker. The thaw is taking me towards my core values, and not away as ED would like.  

What does Jeff do on his days off? Well, he has four children under the age of 9, so that keeps him pretty busy at soccer matches, basketball games, baseball games, and acro recitals. In between chasing after kids, Jeff loves watching Ohio State Football and playing golf. He is also quite the connoisseur of craft beer.