Food has been the grand romance of my life. The thought of a Baby Ruth bar makes me unconsciously hump the air. My first word was “googie,” an infant’s bastardization of the word “cookie.” I never looked back. Let the streets know: Becca would get her food on. Nothing has brought me such immediate pleasure and succor as it has provided. I used to leave the room during "The Return to Oz" because I would get physically upset that lunchpail trees aren’t real. Don’t get me started on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
But for all its goodness, nothing human or inanimate has been able to help me so easily access my self-loathing the way food has over time. I was in high school when Elton John told Oprah that quitting drugs was easy, but managing his relationship with food was hard -- because he had to eat it in order to live.
I remember standing in the kitchen as this exchange aired, watching it on the cheap TV that sat on the sideboard by the stove. I remember how my stomach lurched hearing this. The waist-band of my woolen Catholic school kilt itched and pulled, my white polo looked bedraggled and while the celebrities talked, I stared down at my impossibly huge stomach and purple, fleshy legs. Elton John was right (as he was when he espoused the virtues of the Crocodile Rock). You couldn’t quit food. I knew because I’d tried. My forays into anorexia and bulimia were short-lived. I got about as far as reading some young adult accounts on the subject and ultimately deemed myself too vain (I really like my hair) and too weak-willed.
That sounded glib and bitchy. I'm sorry for that. I blame menses. Here it is in a real way: Disordered eating is an illness, I did not have anorexia or bulimia. That isn’t to say my relationship with food wasn’t royally f*cked. It was. It is. Well, it can be now. In 6th grade I was convinced that all of my problems were because of my size and my ugliness. My mom would wake me up when it was still dark out to jog with me. She took me to a dietitian. I stared at the plastic mounds of pasta and learned how many calories I was supposed to eat over the course of a day.
I wish I’d looked at someone and told them exactly what was going on in my head. The only parts of the day where I was happy were the parts where I was quietly eating atomic fireballs in the bathtub while reading my favorite books. I was weightless, I was somewhere else, I was alive and happy and buzzing with sugar. I sucked on the fireball and imagined that is what it felt like to kiss a boy, that same tingly sweetness.
If I’m honest it didn’t change at all as I grew up. Halfway through grad school I was leaving bars alone and picking up a full bag of kettle chips to eat in my bed because the only regret that would involve the morning after was regret I’d felt before. Sure, I’ve dieted. I’ve made my food my bitch. But that’s not exactly a healthy relationship, either. I’d look at the half-eaten sandwich on my plate and feel a sense of smug superiority -- not to the diners around me, but to the food that thought it could seduce me that I had managed to spurn. That’s a pretty messed up way to relate to a French dip, yo.
When I was alone and eating I didn’t feel ugly. I felt busy, I felt happy. Somebody asked me recently when I first started to think I wasn’t pretty, what triggered that, how it started. I didn’t have a very good answer. Because it feels vain to talk about, ha. How do you explain to someone a truth that you’ve always known? I can hide from it, I can dress it up, I can quietly agree that we’ve reached an impasse, I can decide other things matter more, I can decide I don’t care, but the truth of my face I understand like I know leaving a cup of unfinished coffee with cream out will create over time an unbearable sour smell that permeates everything: I know because it’s a fact.
I began the cycle again in September. I felt fat and ugly and then I wrote about feeling fat and ugly and then people on the Internet were like, it’s true, you are fat and ugly, so I decided to go on a diet. Then at the last minute, I opted out. I didn’t want to fight my food. I was exhausted, the muscles in my neck were squat and rigid with the strain I was feeling daily. I was barely managing to to accomplish basic tasks like smile without looking like I was being stabbed or remembering how to breathe.
The thing I could manage to do? Eat. The foods that had always made me happy, continued to do just that. I didn’t want to mentally turn them all into evil bastards out to get me. I couldn’t, in a word, stomach the notion of one more part of my world turning into something awful and destructive.
So I didn’t. It wasn't a choice. I kind of just gave up. I couldn't do it anymore. I had started therapy at the time but was a few months away from starting to take an SSRI. As I slowly edged back from the precipice and toyed with the idea of entering the land of the living for the first time, possibly, ever, I was juggling so many other things* that I wasn’t actively aware of my relationship with food changing.
This past week, however, with things being close to the speed of normal**, I did take notice. My grub hasn’t been my focus. It is still delicious, I still love it -- bring on the croissants and the ramen noodles, just like, not all at once. But it’s not the thing I dream about, it’s not the only respite in an otherwise dreary day.
The fact that I am eating a cookie while writing this has not been lost on me. That said, there was once a time where I couldn’t imagine not being obsessed with food and in turn, obsessed with myself and all my failings. Today such a life seems straight up possible: I’ve accidentally been doing it for about a week now. A week isn’t forever, it’s a week, but like, I’ll take it. I will also take a bagel and maybe just say "thank you" when someone says I look nice, but don’t expect miracles.
* Ask me about the time I called my therapist sobbing at 10:30 because a guy who’d asked me back to his apartment had a girlfriend. The feelings = I did not know what to do with them.
** (Here Becca pauses to laugh for a protracted amount of time about what ‘normal’ looks like to her)