Saturday, March 24, 2012


As I stood over the stove this evening, stirring a pot of oatmeal and enjoying the faint whiff of cinnamon blooming from the oven where a batch of granola was baking, I glanced idly to the retro clock on the wall, and below that, the bookcase that houses (mostly) cookbooks.  I paused, and counted.  Twenty.  I own twenty cookbooks.  Plus a recipe box that's more than halfway full.  Which doesn't even begin to extend to the hodgepodge of recipes I keep filed in my internet cache, through bookmarked sites and cooking blog posts.  For someone who has food issues, I sure like to cook, I thought wryly.  Indeed, for as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed cooking - for others.  I grew up watching my mom in the kitchen, standing on a stool to crack eggs, gripping a wooden spoon in my two small paws to stir whatever it was she was working on.  Eventually, I graduated to cooking and baking on my own, mostly things for my family and eventually treats for friends, school events, and bake sales.  In college, it didn't take long for my friends and I to start a Thursday night supper club that usually consisted of steaming bowls of pasta (cheap, and feeds a crowd) clutched in our laps while the Massachusetts winter would rage outside.  We would collapse into each other while we ate, fitting into the curves of shoulders, leaning against knees, and talking endlessly as we fell into the easy physical fluidity that characterized our circle of four.  Food, and the experience of it, was a refuge.  A haven of nourishment and safety in the midst of the emotional turmoil and academic challenges that Smith presented.  I hold these memories close, even while the four of us have geographically dispersed to almost comical distances.  After college, I jumped for joy at the prospect of having a kitchen again, albeit one that was wedged into the corner of our studio apartment like an afterthought.  I started cooking for Alix with gusto, attempting to recreate elaborate dishes from her childhood, crafting four course birthday dinners, and creating towering stacks of dirty dishes that took two hours to wash in the tiny sink.  I have cooked and baked for every family for whom I have ever nannied, held many a small hand while we cracked eggs together and encircled little arms that strained to stir a bowl of batter.  These days, I bake for my roommates and I cook for Hallie, making food on the weekends to last the two of us in the week of work ahead.  I make everyone else's favorites because I don't know what mine are.  I ask what people like, what they want for dinner, for their birthday, for anything at all, because it's far more straightforward than attempting to cook for myself.  I cook for others.  I always have.  I want the food to show how much I care for these people in my life.  Maybe this means I play to people's most base selves, but it's what I do, and I do it well.  Talk to me about cooking for myself though, and all bets are off.  When it comes to me, I hate it all.  I hate food, I hate needing it, I hate eating it, I hate what it does to me, I hate everything about it.  I get angry about it, and my brain's completely twisted way of conceptualizing food and turning anything and everything about it into permutations on the idea of BAD.  Same story, a million different incarnations.

My therapist asks me when we talk, "how food is going," the way one might ask after the welfare of your child, or your pet.  What she means is, "Tell me what you're eating and then let's talk about it."  In other words, saying "Fine" and expecting her to say "Great" and move on her merry way is laughable (I know this because I've tried and she has laughed and I still have to talk about it.).  Have you ever had to tell someone what you eat, every day, in excruciating detail?  No?  It's tons of fun.  No, it's not sufficient to say you had a smoothie for breakfast.  Your therapist would like to know what the smoothie is made out of and how many calories are in it.  Don't pretend like you don't know.  Often, the fact reporting part of these conversations is rather short, for the obvious reason that I don't eat a lot, and for the maybe not obvious reason that I eat the exact same thing every day.  It's simpler that way.  Week to week, the combination might change slightly, but I will eat the same thing every day for up to two weeks in order to avoid having to recalculate calories for new recipes or foods.  If I heard of other people doing this, I'd think how sad it was that they didn't know how to cook different, yummy things for themselves (or didn't have someone to cook for them).  But honest to blog, swing the camera back on me and my brain says, "Nope, nuh-uh, doesn't apply to THIS person right here."

Dealing with an eating disorder is like doing an elaborate dance to which you don't know all the steps.  You see other people doing the dance and you know that it's not that hard, but when you try to do it, you keep taking the wrong steps.  So you watch other people, again, and try, again, and maybe this time you get the first part right and you mess up a different step.  It's exhausting.  So you have all these rules and security measures in place to try and keep you from completely collapsing on the dance floor (i.e., eating the same thing every day for weeks at a time) but even with these in place, your disordered brain finds ways to knock down your carefully constructed little house of cards, and you're back to square one.  Again.

My therapist isn't all that happy with me.  She says I'm "coasting" right now.
Coasting, as in, I'm kind of attempting the dance, but my heart's not always all the way in it.
Coasting, as in, this works for right now because everything is just fine the way it is, thank you very much.
Coasting, as in, what's going to happen when things change?
What happens next in the dance?
You think I know?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know this is terribly obvious and that you "know" it but it makes me very sad. So food is an expression of love but you don't love yourself enough to feed yourself. Someday you will recognize your own value. I truly believe this!