For many people with eating disorders, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are often referred to as "the Bermuda Triangle." Food is everywhere, and it’s easy to get lost in urges for rigidity and rebellion, perfection and self-destruction.

During years I was bulimic, from high school to college and into my early twenties, I went from being a naive teenager who wanted to lose some weight to a woman who fully understood the damage she was causing to her body.

And yet each year, in the face of Halloween candy and mashed potatoes and apple pie and vanilla-frosted Christmas cookies, I lost control.

I put my life into bulimia’s black-gloved hands again and again.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure out that I can create my own holiday traditions, but I’m glad it’s occurred to me this year.

I knew just how often purging caused cardiac arrest, but I continued to throw up … in club bathrooms on Halloween, at my aunt’s house on Thanksgiving, at the office Christmas party, and so on.

Every single New Year’s, with an aching throat and heart, I vowed to stop. Making resolutions was easy—following through was the impossible part.

Shannon Kopp book cover

Yet thanks to the shelter dogs who saved me from myself, I haven’t binged or purged in five years.

Today, I’m no longer trying to fit into tight Halloween costumes, or going home with some pirate or ghost I met at a bar.

I cook vegetarian dishes for Thanksgiving, and I don’t have anxiety when I sit down at the dinner table.

I actually look forward to holiday parties, and on New Year’s Eve, I try to live in the moment rather than make plans for the future.

But still, life seems to get harder as the days get shorter. When the weather cools and the clocks turn back, I feel a lingering sadness.

I get outdoors less, and I tend to ruminate about some better version of myself I’m trying to get to. Or, I think about the past.  Painful memories of time lost to bulimia. Painful memories of growing up with an alcoholic father who was more often in the emergency room than at the dinner table.

And so this holiday season, I decided to create a new tradition for myself. My own little way of saying to the shrinking hours of daylight: you’re not going to swallow me whole.

The idea came to me one morning when my father, who is facing a serious jail sentence, kept texting me for money which will undoubtedly go to booze and lawyers, or to his girlfriend, who is not much older than I am.

He has been suffering from alcoholism for at least fifteen years, and he has refused to accept help. But still, I keep in contact with him.

He tries to manipulate me. He lies. He is often in life-or-death situations. And yet, year after year, I continue to play into his drama. The little girl craving Daddy’s approval is still alive and well in me at thirty-one years old, and she often still drives my behaviors.

But this year, something happened to that desperate little girl. She’s quieter now. She’s taken a backseat in my heart. She’s not protested when I decided to block Dad on my phone and on social media. And she’s gladly watched me carry on with my new holiday tradition: visiting San Diego’s OB Dog Beach on Sundays.

With nothing but my keys and a tennis ball in hand, I walk towards the water. The temperature is in the sixties, and the sun is obscured by a few papery clouds. Little, hectic birds hop about the sand. Nearby, the heart of a retriever booms in his chest, as he eagerly awaits the toss of a stick. Packs of shaggy dogs run around. Paws dig deep holes. Seagulls fly overhead. Owners shout “Buck, Willy, Sasha, get over here!” Wet coats shake.

A beagle stumbles against my legs. I bend down and rub my hands on her sleek red and white coat. An old collie stands in the middle of the beach, her neck arched towards the sun, eyes closed. A strand of seaweed blows in the wind, and a young terrier pounces on it, then shakes it in his mouth.

I dip my toes in the cold water and feel the push and pull of sand beneath my feet. I wait until I’ve caught the attention of at least a few canine eyes, and then I extend my arm back. I throw the ball as far as I can.

Dogs that don’t belong to me plunge into the glistening waves, and I cheer them on. A chocolate lab, a red pit bull, a fearless terrier, two golden retrievers, a mutt I can’t even begin to distinguish. They dive into the water and then come back to me, dripping with joy and self-satisfaction. Eager for another throw.

And so I throw it again. And again. And again. For them, but also for me. To watch these beautiful creatures play and paddle around. To touch their wet muzzles and perked ears. To let their seemingly infinite supply of energy and enthusiasm rub off on me. To laugh out loud.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure out that I can create my own holiday traditions, but I’m glad it’s occurred to me this year.

From Halloween to Thanksgiving to New Year’s, you’ll find me playing a lot of fetch. You’ll find me at the beach, surrounded by dogs rejoicing in life without leashes.

And you’ll find me feeling a little bit less tethered myself.