Wednesday, March 7, 2012

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (a few days late)

Rachel here.

So, I thought I had two disparate post ideas for today, but after thinking them over for a while, I've realized that, in fact, they're deeply connected.

As you may or may not know, last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The goal of the week (helmed by the National Eating Disorder Association) is to increase awareness and, along those lines, this year's theme was "Everyone Knows Someone."

Think you don't?

You do. You know me.

NEDAW has been going on for a while, and every year bloggers stand up and speak out en masse. They write about their experiences, their hopes, their struggles. They chronicle their victories, their defeats, and their gains. They write for themselves, for those who find themselves mirrored back in their pages, against silence and invisibility. They write for everyone.

Every year I vow that I am going to add my voice.

Every year I am silent.

And I was this year, too, though I thought and thought and thought about writing. I piled excuses up against the desire, a barricade against a story who's entirety I have only ever told one person (my holy-crap-amazing therapist), until finally the week had passed. And now it's today, and I'm sitting here after a pleasant but exhausting day at the restaurant I work in, cheeks puffing out with the explosive desire I have to tell my own, small story.

The other post I was considering for today was about realizing during our trip east that, though we share a food blog, I had never cooked with my mother until this past week.

Nope. Never.

We've baked together countless times. Most of what I know I learned at her hip. But not until this past week did we stand side by side, chopping and seasoning and stepping around each other to prepare the entirety of a meal (I'll try not to over-think the fact that she relegated me to salad duty uummm....every night).

It was so, so nice. I hate the word "nice" but this is one of those rare moments where it feels just right. It was relaxed and gentle, a sharing so basic it left me feeling calmly full before the meal even began. Nice. It was really, really nice.

I've been thinking since we came home about why it took so long for this coming together at the kitchen counter to occur. Sure, some of it has to do with not having lived together since I was an asshole teenager, and some of it has to do with the years since being spent thousands of miles apart. But there was something else lurking, something I struggled to put my finger on as I sat at the dining room table with my family, enjoying food prepared by my mom's and my hands.

And then I figured it out. Baking doesn't require eating. Baking, in fact, is the perfect culinary sport for someone who is obsessed with controlling their food. Baking is something you do for other people; it generates a product no one bothers to notice whether you consume or not. Cooking, in that regard, is the food addict's nemesis. People watch you at dinner. They watch you after dinner. Dinner is, if you will, on the table. It is access, particularly in our family where sharing dinner was an important and regular staple in our days. Baking is a way to touch food, to smell it, to take teeny tiny tastes, without ever being expected to actually eat. Cooking is the exact opposite.

So I didn't cook with my mom. I baked and hid and maintained a white-knuckled grip on what went into my body.

It is a bigger story than this. Much bigger. It is the better part of 27 years and, I now know, something that I will never remember living without. It is my albatross.

It's funny--I had this deranged idea that being pregnant cured me of my entanglement with eating disorders. While actively knowing that part of how I maintain a relatively healthy relationship with food is contingent on the fact that I still nurse Maxine--like, there is a voice in my head that says make sure you eat enough or else you won't make breast milk or you will make really crappy breast milk and you have a kid with a weak immune system so don't you dare do that--I still tried to convince myself that I had turned some corner that I could never walk back around. And then we all got the flu and two really terrifying things happened.

The first was that I didn't get the flu. John fell first and, without somebody to eat with--to notice my eating--I just stopped. I didn't even think about it. I ate two peanut butter cookies in as many days. The part that shook me, though, wasn't the not eating. It was that I didn't realize I'd stopped until John got better. It was that effortless, that deeply rooted in my subconscious, still that familiar in spite of years of hard work.

The second thing that happened was that I did get the flu. I should say that what happened to John with the flu was unlike anything I've ever seen. That guy was SICK. Explosively, uncontrollably, every 15 minutes, SICK. It was wild. And then when I got it, I threw up two times. That was it. And I was disappointed. Which, now that I've got some space from that whole debacle, makes me feel really sad. Really, really sad. In a feverish haze I lay in bed considering my turn with the flu a bit of a missed opportunity.

I am 27 years old. I am a mother who wants NOTHING more for her daughter than for her to inhabit her body with love. I practice yoga. I work in food. I have a food blog. I love eating. I have spent years and years in therapy. And yet, when the flu comes knocking, I stop taking care of myself without realizing it and feel jealous that I didn't expel as much of my insides as my partner did.

I am 27 years old. I have eaten to numbness. I have binged and purged. I have eaten laxatives. I have starved to the point of fainting. I have pulled out clumps of my hair in the shower. I have bruised. I have bled. I have dropped out of college because I feared for my life. I have stopped getting my period. I have had my husband and brother threaten to hospitalize me. I have known how many calories I consumed in a day, a week, a month. I have avoided social situations for fear that I might be expected to eat bread. I have walked 5 miles to work to justify eating a cup of plain grits. I could go on. The list is long. I am a professional. We all are.

And I have clawed my way out.

And I claw myself out.

One day at a time. A breath. An expansion. A refusal to disappear. Hands over eyes, I part fingers. I peel them apart and make myself peer out at the world. See it. Be in it. Stop hiding.

There is an arsenal working against me. It is social and it is personal and it is unrelenting. I am stockpiling weapons, though, each day stashed aside as MINE.

I am putting cooking with my mother in my pocket. It is a reminder of how wonderfully full a life with food can feel. It is a reason to fight.

Because cooking with my mom? It's so, so nice.


  1. Rachel, you brave, magnificent woman. Your secret was well hidden, even from loving if distant family members like me. Taking this step, making yourself vulnerable this way, is a way to give yourself a taste of the love you give others. Thank you for your honesty, and for the beauty of your words. You're right--I don't know a woman who hasn't struggled with this at some point. It comes to fear, and the desire to limit or control the fear. But playing that game only weakens us and makes us brittle. You feed your daughter strength as you give it to yourself. Be as kind to you as you are to her and you will see that kindness coming around again. With love, your distant cousin Amy

    1. Thank you, cousin. I love this: Be as kind to you as you are to her and you will see that kindness coming around again.

      Wise, wise words. I hope you are well and giving yourself lots of love.


  2. Brave post. Hang in there