I'm having a bad night tonight. I worked late and was exhausted when I left the office. Although I should have come directly home and fixed myself a quick, nutritious dinner with things I have in the fridge, I decided instead to stop someplace for food. As I set out in my car, my plan was to go to Subway and get something moderately healthy. Then I hit a red light. I sat in my car, shivering in the frigid December night, my car having not fully warmed yet, and a thought crept into my head. Pizza. And my exhausted brain was too tired to fight the notion. So once the light turned green, I switched lanes. I turned right instead of left. I brought home pizza.
Now I'm awake at 4 a.m. with acid churning in my stomach and wondering why in the hell I do this to myself.
One of the answers to that question was revealed to me on a recent week-long visit with my family in the Midwest. It was my first trip back in five years after having moved across country. What this trip showed me is how nearly everything my family does revolves around food. Most of my relatives don't know how to spend time together without eating. I was taken to Cracker Barrel and Bob Evan's and greasy Chinese restaurants and burger joints. And I went along willingly. I did not order salads. I consumed more gravy in that week than I have in five years, and part of me loved it and felt comforted by it, even as the weaker part of my psyche -- the part that rarely seems to win the debate -- was drowning in self-loathing. I loved it because I've been raised to love it. For 31 years, I was socialized to love it, and despite living away from my family for five years, I carried this with me. I carry it with me now.
It has wrecked my body and soul, this worship of food.
I don't know how to break the habits of a lifetime, how not to choose what I've always known as comfort when I'm tired or sad or angry or under stress. What I truly crave is human comfort, but options for that are few. So I eat to fill the empty spaces, which do not fill but grow -- an ever-widening chasm in my soul. I eat because I'm lonely. I eat to pass the time. I don't know that this book or any book will change that, but books are my other great comfort in life. Books are the light I cling to in the dark; reading, my one healthy habit.
So why choose this time, this place, this manner for my confession? Because I think most of us -- or at least the people here I've gravitated toward as friends -- are here not only because we love the written word, but because we're seeking connections in a dark, fragmented world. Perhaps we're all a bit lonely, even those with spouses or children. Maybe I just want to think that. I'm posting this here, even though I will regret it when I blink awake again later this morning, even though I will be embarrassed and discomfited by my own vulnerability, even though I will contemplate deleting this and pretending I never said any of it, I am doing this because at least in this moment I need to believe I am not alone.
I'll be uncomfortable when people try to talk to me about this, or when anyone offers up a compliment (perhaps on the bravery of stating these things in public), even though I want those things. My instinct will be what it's always been -- to lie, to say it's not so bad really, to minimize the distress I'm actually feeling (and maybe in the morning I won't be feeling such distress -- it's not always a lie when I say I'm feeling good). It's rotten
to so fervently want to connect to other people and yet be so incapable of doing it, to want to talk about it but be unable to. That's another product of my family culture I've been battling, but also one of the ways in which my relationship to food has fractured my soul. It's also one of the reasons I write. I can say things in pixels that I could never communicate while looking someone in the eye.
I don't know if the damage I've done to myself, that's been done to me, can be repaired. I just have to have faith and try.