pb and promise
it was a simple peanut-butter-and-banana on whole wheat. well, actually it was almond butter but that makes it sound more exotic than i want it to sound. the point is that it is practically standard school-lunch fare for nearly every first grader or beyond. and i just ate my first one in 33 years.
i got the taste for it when a friend, a week ago maybe, mentioned that she’d just been eating almond butter in the car, and she hoped the almond scent wasn’t billowing off her breath. i bought the almond butter, oh, maybe four or five months ago. it was sitting in the fridge waiting for the moment when i got brave.
it came out of nowhere, the urge to make it just yesterday afternoon. i thought, hmm, i could try that. almond butter on whole grain bread. sweetened maybe with slices of banana.
sounds simple, doesn’t it?
i only wish it was.
the long road back from eating disorder to disordered eating to eating that is, well, pure and simple and full of life, is, well, complicated. and hard as hell, besides.
it seems to take a courage and a faith deeper than any i’ve ever had, until maybe now.
i’ve never ever written about it before. only dabbled one big toe in waters here and there, once or twice before. not spelled it out. not so much anyway.
but if my goal here is to bring grace to the everyday, i think i’d better start to try to bring it to myself. in the simple triumph of putting something to my lips that i once thought might knock me over. might do one of two things: propel me to a binge that would not stop, until i fell into a stupor. or simply make me fat.
i’ve been stuck, you see, in both those grooves. so long i cannot remember how i ate before. only that i was always skinny, and, unlike all my friends, had never ever downed a Tab, and claimed it as my so-called diet. or had a pimple. or breasts, for that matter. the three seemed linked, and forever out of reach. i was just a smooth-skinned, flat-chested, skinny girl. unschooled in ways of girls who’d blossomed. stuck in training bras.
until i wasn’t. until i gained a few pounds. got a tummy. and then, one afternoon when my papa held up a magazine, seventeen it was, with a white-on-black image of the classic anorexic, practically an x-ray, she was, what with all the skin and bones. and my papa said, that spring of 1975, don’t try this.
i heard a lightbulb click, so help me God. and i’ve no idea really why–believe me i’ve tried on every theory there ever was–i defied my papa’s wish: i did try, really hard, to be the best anorexic there ever was.
i did pretty good, if i might say so. ate less and less each day. swam more and more. tallied every calorie, down to fractions. lost 30 pounds or more, in maybe two months. landed in the hospital. screwed up my eating for the next few decades, at least.
it is achingly hard to be stumped by the most basic act of being alive, except for breathing, which really involves no deciding at all, so i’m not counting it.
no matter what, you need to eat. that means, every single day when you are someone trying to regain your footing in the world of food, you are faced with choices that catapult you off a cliff. or else you cling, until your knuckles turn to numb and white, dangling by a net of rules that only gets thinner and more frayed–and, oh, so very tired–with every passing year.
do you know how many birthday cakes i’ve pushed away? how many thanksgiving stuffings i’ve not tasted, not sure how to navigate the two breads, three fats, i’m sure would be inside, if i kept count the weight watchers’ way–a way i once knew inside out and upside down, a lifetime loser in the weigh-in club that ruled my every bite.
i’ve not taken trips for fear i would find nothing “safe” to eat. once, in paris, i walked from bistro to bistro, reading menus by the door, trying to find the one that fit my narrow definition of what i knew i could bring myself to swallow.
it long ago stopped being about defiance. it became a trap that was mine and mine alone. didn’t matter if i was surrounded by good friends, or alone locked in my apartment. in fact, i’d prefer to be alone; i could suffer my shame in private.
so why, now, lay it out for all the world to read? well, because i am groping toward a place i’ve dreamed of, more heartily and longingly than i even dreamed of becoming a mother–and if you know me, you know how wholly that dream consumed my heart.
i’ve made bargains up the wazoo: dear God, bring back my papa and i will toss aside my eating fears. dear God, i promise, you make my baby well and i will never again play games with foods that might as well be explosives.
i’ve closed my eyes and imagined eating what i feared. but then i’ve sat and ordered the same old thing. pushed fat to the rim of plate. heard a friend exclaim, “what is wrong with you?” when i passed up a bite of gooey buttered nuts. felt a whole table full of neighbors turn to gawk. wondered what else was said–or whispered–when i left the room.
i have shuddered in the dark. i have wretched when all alone. i have died the thousand deaths.
but, until this afternoon just past, i’ve not tasted almond butter. might i note that it was sweet like nothing i remember, delicious, and, oh yes, satisfying. i chased it down with coffee doused with milk. then sunk my teeth into an apple. ate it to the core, the way i always do.
it is not a triumph anyone would ever notice. not how i should be remembered.
but i know.
i know i felt a rushing in my chest as i lifted up the lid, and sank the knife in a bath of gritty almond bits. i know that i swan-dived off a ledge, as i bit through bread and felt the unknown almond sweetness swirl around my mouth.
i know that i now, at last, have one toe firmly planted in the mountainside, and i only need to plant another and another to make my ascent to a place i’ve had my eye on for a long, long time.
it is time, i think, before i run out of time. before i run out of days that i can say i lived without fear.
we each, every one of us, i think, have a fear that brings us down. or maybe something we can’t, for the life of us, untangle, let go of, kiss adios.
i doubt i’ll run soon into someone else who knows how hard it was to get that almond butter from the fridge. but once i did, once i cracked the door, reached back, took out the see-through plastic tub, the lifting to my lips wasn’t half as hard as i’d imagined. and now i know that i survived what for 33 years has been my definition of impossible, insurmountable, the one small step i couldn’t lift my foot to take.
i tell you this because maybe you too are bound by something awful. something you truly hate.
or maybe it isn’t you. but someone who you love.
i tell you because if i write the words, i turn on the light. and if the light is on, i won’t be groping in the dark.
where it is awful lonely. and i want for no one to be stuck there, whatever is the reason.
care for almond butter, anyone?
not a single sentence up above holds irony that escapes me. trust me, like a camera outside my head, i’ve watched every frame, wincing deep inside while it unfolded. paris, in search of lettuce? paris without a single croissant? the script though i couldn’t seem to escape. until now. and here. there is something graspable here, after all these years. i reach out a hand, you take it, gently. i can tell you, at the table, the story i kept locked inside. it is not a story i like to tell. and i tell it only after time and trust is layered here. i don’t mean for this to be self-help, a phrase diminished before it starts. i do though mean for this to be a place of truth, and trusting. and how can we spread our widest wings, if part of us is limping? i do not ask for you to share your locked-in stories. those come only when the time is ready. and only you know when. i only thank you, then, for absorbing mine in the spirit it was told. bless you. bless and multiply whatever courage you require, to spread your wings, and taste the wind.
BAM, as you invite us to sit at this sacred table, I give thanks that there is space to bless and touch all that is within and around us. I give thanks that there is space for hopes, fears, regrets, and laughter.I think I shared awhile back that I heard a saying once, “we are spiritual beings learning how to be human beings.” It seems like this table provides us with a space where our bruised up bodies can find space to be and as a result, the spirit part of us doesn’t seem separated from the human parts. In the sharing and touching of our depths, we are reborn and find ourselves alive once more in this community.Thank you for casting light and providing safe harbor and refuge when the shadows are overwhelming. bless you
To my dear friend,I felt every word of this brave essay. It is dark for you — I can feel that — but it is nothing that would curl up a nose or send someone reeling. As women, many, maybe most, of us struggle with some form of this uneasy and powerful relationship with food that’s riddled with shame and fear. Or, if not, food, it’s something else with which we struggle and fear we can’t conquer. What a struggle, the fear in combination with the love and art and beauty and skill you have in preparation and nourishment.As you went into this darkness, here, publicly, you shone light for others. Every time someone is willing to come forth and share their fears, it helps bring someone else along, to examine, find comfort, find courage. Interestingly, I was thinking of Betty Ford yesterday and how she opened the door for other women to heal. That’s what you are doing here, with this essay. I hope that saying it here, as only you can, offers relief and hope for you, too. Much love…
bam, thank you for sharing the pain of the darkness and the promise of the light. My little one who is now 12 has been struggling with OCD for two years now. When she was in the 4th grade, she announced that she was lactose intolerant and wouldn’t eat or drink any dairy product. No milk, no cheese, no yogurt, no ICE CREAM. This all occurred after she suffered some tummy problems after eating a meal of macaroni and cheese, milk and ice cream for dessert. Then later, she became obsessed with throwing up. She hadn’t thrown up in years, but suddenly she was fearing that if she ate anything she would vomit. And so she stopped eating. And my skinny little child began wasting away right in front of my eyes. The memory of those days brings me to tears now. Your struggles remind me so much of what she went through and still goes through although her obsessions and compulsions have moved away from food – thank God – and are now on even numbers and feet. Bizarre but true.Her treatment involved a form of behavior modification therapy called exposure and response prevention therapy “ERP”. Exposure to the obsession and then work on preventing the response or compulsion. I achingly remember sitting in the therapist’s room while my little one struggled with eating yogurt. Baby steps. Just opening the container was a success and she was rewarded. Then another day, just sniffing the yogurt. Then another day, a spoonful of yogurt placed on her upper lip. Etc.Living in the light is the only way we can help one another. I feared telling my child’s new 5th grade teacher about the OCD. I dreaded the telling but knew it would be for the best. So I met with this new teacher and spilled out my story and she put down her pen, sat back and said “My husband has OCD.” What a grace-filled moment that was! She understood completely – probably better than I knew. She was a blessing for my little one and I thank God that she was there for her when she needed it the most.So we continue to take baby steps on the road to healing – we will always be on the road to healing. We’ve only been on this road for two years, but like you, I know this will be a lifelong road for my little girl. Sometimes we fall down, but we get back on track and move ahead into the light. Because the pain is greater in the dark.
oh, how i wish we lived next door…………….V…
Barbie, you are beautiful. I am so moved by your raw-courage and honesty.
Oh bam…you didn’t just open the door to the frig and turn on the light – you opened your soul and let the light shine in and (more importantly!) out. There are so many delectable and nutritous things stocked in your soul…and you have been pulling them out, mixing them up, creating the most sumptious feasts for the table all year. Today you have shared a masterpiece and you are such an artist. Yep, we all have our closed up cupboards, refrigerators, closets, attics and basements. They can be pretty scary or overwhelming places to visit and try to sort through. It is in the safety around the table that we gently place down our cup or fork and begin to tell little bits of our stories and reflect on those stories we can’t quite share yet……thank you from the bottom of my heart and the bottom of my cup of coffee for your honesty and trust. I am thinking back to True’s reflection on sorrow and joy as teachers….you are such a blessed teacher.
Precious friend … You are one of the bravest, most beautiful women I’ve ever had the blessing to know, to call my friend. This may be a journey with a series of destinations and, if so, you’ve taken the step toward getting there. You’re so courageous to share these deeply felt things with us here … we won’t gawk as some have done before. We hold your hand as you make your way toward the next triumph. You’ll get there … you’re already farther along than you were yesterday.Much love as always …
bravo, brave one! i applaud you and hug you and hold your hand all at once. you are lighting a path for yourself and for others. thank you.
All here have said several truths: you are a light-bringer, a light-radiator. You are brave, a path-breaker. You have set a table for us with generosity and joy. And we are with you, with you, even when we’re not.I love hh’s story. That 5th grade teacher, that grace-bringer, that’s a perfect moment. It’s what we are given when we tell our truths. We get compassion, understanding, and sometimes, a slam-bang home-run of grace, knocking us right out.None of us is any different: we struggle with being controlled by fear, we limp, we baby-step along. And if we walk together, our terrible journeys are warmer, less scary, and finally, finally, after so long, almost unendurably long, we reach a place of light.You rock! Thank you for being you.
it is hard, almost, to understand how it could have taken so long to find this place where courage seems poured with coffee. we are unlikely this gathering from across so many miles, across genders, ages, occupations, callings. but somehow it has become a niche of wholly expanding lungs. of breathing what is fresh and pure and real. and so, God bless you each and everyone, who surrounds me, who sees my big fat fears as not soooo big really. who sees them, surrounds them, and says, now let’s talk about today. the yesterdays meld into the dough, rising. they add spice. a certain flavor. but they don’t make the dough go flat. i look up at all the names and that blessed story–hh’s–up above. i see sisters, and bless him, a brother, one whose arm stretches clear across the country, to scoop me up and in. i heard in hh’s tear-stained story, perhaps, the voice of a mother watching her little girl in pain. i wonder if that’s the voice that might have been my mother’s pain. i hear jcv’s refrain that all of us, somewhere deep down, have places pocked–heck, maybe riddled–with fear. my almond butter might be your something else. i thank you that not a one of you offered anything but gentle promise. (and not one of you said, here, now, try this coffee cake. phew.) it feels much lighter, clearer, as i continue to let the ol’ ghost out of the closet. if–when–i get to that mountaintop, i will always know and say that the journey started here. for someone who’s been looking for her footing for a long long long long time, that is mighty powerful. to each of you who said you wished you lived next door, or close enough to pull up a chair in this ol’ kitchen any old day, i do too. if we could be a village who listened to each other’s stories, who heard the pulsebeat behind the words, and understood how to gently let in light, well, hmm, wait, isn’t that what we are, connected not just through wires but really through the power of our words. this ol’ wired box just makes it miraculously simple–mindbogglingly so–to share a thought, and share it fully, wholly–hmm, without interruption (a very fundamental of listening, something i know i need to keep practicing in real life). one last thing: thank you for believing in a way of being that i believe in too. what we lay out here is the very finest essence of the gift of being human, sparked through and through with the divine. xoxox i’ll be back with another helping soon…..
Risky Business It’s a risk to have a husband, a risk to have a son;A risk to pour your confidences out to anyone;A risk to pick a daisy, for there’s sure to be a cop;A risk to go on living, but a greater risk to stop. ~Ruth Mason Rice ~My hats off to you Barbara for taking the risk; not only in eating the sandwich you prepared, but than feeling safe enough to share.Now that is risk taking and trust at its finest, don’t stop. thank YOU for trusting you friends and readersof the CHAIR, what a compliment to us.
Barbara, how hard for you! I’m so sorry your life is so burdened! Maybe should should think about the worse case scenario! What would happen if you let yourself just “go”! What if you allowed yourself to be plump or even fat? Would that be horrible? I think that your friends and family would love every pound on you and see your plumpness as a badge of honor! So think about just letting go and seeing where unscripted eating takes you!Just a thought,Sarah Britton
Heavy people like me have a struggle too. I distinctly remember gaining 20-30 lbs when going through puberty around 6th or 7th grade and switching from being right weighted to over-weight. I have stayed that way ever since, now even more than ever. I don’t like looking at myself in the mirror because I don’t think my looks match my personality. Not to mention that I don’t like the feel of my stomach resting in my lap! At some point every single day for decades, I have thoughts of how heavy I am–and that makes me feel sad. I once asked my husband, who has weighed the same right weight in all adulthood, if he thinks daily about his weight or what he eats? He couldn’t even identify with thinking about food/eating/weight/stuggling this way. That got me reflecting–if all my thoughts were free of food/weight voices what else could I fill my thinking time with? Maybe I could cure cancer or secure world peace!
dear sarah, my life isn’t burdened. my life has a burden in it but it isn’t burdened, my life is really rich and wonderful, and i pinch myself all the time. the burden isn’t one that trips me up every single day. nope, not at all. most of the time i bumble along just fine. the hard parts are mostly invisible to folks around me, but I know they are there, and i know that i have to put more thought into navigating some meals, some food moments than someone else might have to do. and because there are sooo many years of shame it is a cloak that’s hard to shed. i have years and years and many memories of being afraid i hurt someone’s feeling because i couldn’t bring myself to eat something they made or served. it took a long time and some work to realize that it’s really okay whatever i choose to eat or not eat, and it’s just a sorry shame that in my mind i can’t just KNOW that but have to sometimes wrestle it to the ground. there are blessedly some souls i love, and who love me back, in ways that are sooooooooooooo accepting, so non-judgmental that it is pure delight to eat whatever they put before me. the badge of courage i long for is the one that has me joyfully partaking of whatever morsels of life i am hungry for, and i choose to put on my plate…..i was really hungry for that almond butter. and i ate it.
Yay for almond butter and other things that you feel you can take on. Baby steps are good! Someday you will have to let me cook for you!Sarah
It’s amazing, in an atmosphere of love, what we can learn and overcome step by step, poco a poco. Been there, done that, going back to do it –again and again. Dad said,”2 steps forward, and 1 back, equals a net gain of 1″.:)
BAM — beautiful and brave. Your words open up the box and permit the hidden contents to spill with grace.
Michael …THANK YOU for including your dad’s profound statement! I had always considered the phrase “2 steps forward, and 1 back” as a negative, almost a failure, but the addition of “equals a net gain of 1” … wow! There’s such freedom in that statement!! It’s PROGRESS … thank you … you’ll never know what that did for me (and possibly others reading this). You father was a wise man indeed.
psst….susan, that was sooo poetic, and so beautifully put, i just wanted to say thank you here. i love the way you said that, it is the essence of the gracefulness and ease and comfort that is so synonymous with you. and, too, with your mama, who i will always know taught you so much of that. do you know how much of her lives on in you? i think that all the time when i see you this long hard year. i love the jewish sense that someone lives on through memory and story, and certainly through the ways their best essence comes through in their children and those who loved them……bless you, sweetheart….and thank you for your poetry….
BAM: I have always thought of pb and j (or banana) as “comfort food”. Now I understand why a bit better. Your words and your experience translates into me feeling safe. The grace that flows through you – creates this zone of safety, connection and comfort for me. Just like pb and banana -no pretense -just real, sustaining and very comfortable. Thanks!
Oh, Barbara, where do I even begin?for so, so many years I wished I had the other side of the eating disorder I have. I thought anorexia would be so much better and easier than being addicted to food and a compulsive overeater. I can not have peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter in my home. If it is in the kitchen, I know it. It speaks to me. yells to me. wispers to me. it is always, always there. There have been a few times when I have dared to bring it home. I may even successfully measure an appropriate amount and eat it. then the allure becomes too great—-i end up in the kitchen with a spoon (or my finger is I cannot spare the time to find a untensil) in the jar or plastic container. I eat some. then the debate begins. why not just finish it now? For decades, food was my friend, comfort, reward, punishment. I have gained and lost and gained and lost hundreds and hundreds of pounds. I currently have clothes in four sizes in my closet and am ashamed that I am in the largest size. Now, one day at a time, I seek to make healthy choices. Eating in moderation is a challenge for me. I am dragging myself, kicking and screaming, to the gym some days now. This is my progress.I am mystified whenever I find out that there are many, many people who pay little or no attention to what they eat and when they eat. I have never understood how anyone can leave food on the plate.I pray for times without food on my mind or in my mouth. Such a relief.