I’ve written before about how happiness can make a person sad when they’re consumed by grief, as I was during an especially memorable party with friends last summer, when the joy I experienced felt so heavy as to be cruel, given the context of my life at the time. The same could be said for those who suffer from an eating disorder or, simply, the disordered eating habits that are embedded in American society. Holidays are notoriously dreaded by our community (ill, in recovery, recovered), or at least fretted over for weeks beforehand, as thoughts of celebratory eating and the requisite caloric increase cloud our brains with fattist thinking and delusions of life-altering weight gain.
With a weekend like this upon me, due to Passover and all of my siblings being in town as a result, I’ve spent the last week trying to dodge this negative stream of thought, with only minor success. I’ve attempted to run towards the fear, setting myself up for some challenges, but none so intense as to render me an emotional wreck incapable of smiling (or fake-smiling) through it.
One of the greatest ironies of my food issues is that I come from a family who loves food—and not just in the obvious “we’re human, we like to eat” way, but one that places food on a mighty pedestal, treating it with the respect of a deity who deserves all our extra time (or, in this case, preparation). There’s never any shortage of it around on holidays—in fact, there’s usually too much, even by the standards of an eater with less corrupted ideals. So every time a family event looms on the horizon, I’m forced into mental gymnastics: how to enjoy myself, the way I once might have, without pushing too many buttons of self-loathing. Sometimes I challenge myself more than others, daring to eat dessert, for instance—other times I find myself visiting the fridge late at night because I, unlike everyone else in my house, did not eat enough. “How are you not full?” people will ask, already knowing the answer.
It’s not ideal, but it’s what I’ve come to know—a routine that offers comfort, however cold.
But there are other ways to find comfort, like inviting some of my closest friends to join me—friends who I know will go about their business, but whose presence will serve as a reminder that I’m loved, cookie intake (or lack thereof) notwithstanding. Friends who by simply being there will lighten the mood for me, making it nearly impossible not to smile or laugh through whatever puzzle of crazy my brain is trying to complete.
The visceral warmth of simply being near my siblings helps, too, even if that warmth is occasionally spicy, filled with the usual annoyances or childhood-weaned rage. I can look around at them—the smart, hilarious and occasionally broken weirdos that they are—and know that they love every bit of me, every uptight, overly-imaginative morsel. I know that they love me even when the look in their eyes spells murder, or something close to it, and that’s a blanket (however itchy) that I’ll never shake off. It’s one that I’m goddamn lucky to return to at my leisure—one sparkly offering from a world that can otherwise be quite gray and hollow, endlessly seeking an another bite of food.