Serenity, Peace, and Cake: A Recovery Story

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Some of you who have been with me for a little while are pretty well acquainted with my recovery process. You’ve listened to me rant about the uselessness of doctors, therapists, and nutritionists, you’ve listened to me bang my head against the wall as the number on my scale continued to defy logic and science, you’ve listened to me work my way through triggering situations and try to wrap my head around the recovery process. Sometimes, when you put all these moments together, it seems like recovery is more trouble than it’s worth. But I can tell you this:

RECOVERY IS WORTH EVERY MOMENT YOU SPEND ON IT.

There’s so much negativity wrapped up in anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, body dysmorphia, EDNOS, and all other disordered eating behaviors in between, that it gets difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I began trolling the Internet for resources for people in my stage of recovery (not that kind of trolling. I’m not one of those people), everything I could find was, mood-wise, on par with a re-reading of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Thought-provoking and important, but not helpful when you’re looking for somebody to lift you up.

Well, I’m here to tell you today, I feel myself lifted. It does get better.

I am in recovery. And I’m farther along than you might think.

The event sparking this dramatic pronouncement is a pretty banal one, one that pretty much everybody experiences a few times a year barring those with severe gluten allergies, religious restrictions, or relatives who don’t like to bake: the birthday cake. June 6 was my dad’s 53rd birthday. And I baked him a cake.

That’s not particularly noteworthy in and of itself, if I’m being honest. Since last summer, I consider myself an improvisational baker. I enjoy pulling out the bags of flour and sugar and the adorable little jars of vanilla extract and whipping up something strange and delicious for my family while I’m at home for the summer. I quickly volunteer to provide things for the bake sales my student organizations at college put on every few weeks. Let’s be totally honest about my previous baking experience, however: I bake things. I don’t eat them.

Apparently this practice is not as uncommon or strange in those with eating disorders as I’d thought. I wish I’d read this article about linkage between cooking and eating disorders earlier: it pretty much describes my descent into foodie-ism to a T. I felt like a crazy person setting myself up for terrible failure: my “trigger foods” almost all involve sugar and/or chocolate, and here I am filling the house with things I’m not allowed to eat? But my family would tell me how delicious things were, and I would feel good that I could pull off something as grown-up and professional as cooking. It was great that, even if I couldn’t indulge in these heavy, non-safe foods, at least I could vicariously enjoy them by seeing my family praise them.

Plus, I was notorious about taking pictures of my concoctions. One of my largest Facebook albums contains nothing but pictures of food, usually centered on a contrastingly colored plate and under ambient lighting. I’m a terrible hipster that way.

When baking something I planned on eating myself, pre-recovery me would go to websites like Cooking Light, Eating Well or Weight Watchers and paw through recipes for that ideal 100-calorie-a-serving air-and-egg-whites dessert that I would pretend was exactly what I was craving. It wasn’t, by the way: I could have eaten a whole pan of peanut butter fudge with a spoon, but I decided that strawberry cheesecake cool whip trifle was really what I wanted.

Fun fact for all those who don’t believe that processed, sugar-heavy foods have any place in a balanced, healthy diet: the longer I went without my peanut butter fudge, the more I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I would waste hours daydreaming about that Reese’s Cup Blizzard from Dairy Queen while eating a sugar-free Jello chocolate pudding. If that’s your idea of a healthy lifestyle, count me out. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

But back to tonight. Because my house is in a bit of an uproar at the moment (my dad’s in crunch time at work, my sister’s been sick for a week and my brother’s open house celebrating his high school graduation is this weekend), I ended up suggesting to my mother that I bake my dad’s birthday cake. And not only was I going to bake a cake, I was going to do it right. I dug into the recipe box and pulled out my grandmother’s recipe for chocolate-frosted banana cake.

In all its fabulous glory.

In all its fabulous glory.

Now, for those of you who aren’t blessed with the recipes of a Jewish grandmother, let me sum them up in two ways. 1) They are delicious. 2) They would stop the heart of each and every employee at Cooking Light. They pan out somewhere between ordinary food (“Hmm, this cake needs some sugar!”) and Paula Deen (“Add ALL THE BUTTER!”). Which is what make them so good. But for years, I would have made this cake for my dad and then quietly eaten my no-sugar-added trade-in dessert in the corner, basking in the praise of family and friends.

But not tonight.

No. Tonight I ate the cake. And I didn’t even feel bad about it.

You know why? Because chocolate-frosted banana cake is DELICIOUS.

Om nom nom nom.

Om nom nom nom.

Not only is it delicious, but it was a lot of work. You ever tried whipping up egg whites to a “soft peaks” consistency while simultaneously sifting flour and baking powder and mashing up five ripe bananas? You need more than two hands is all I’m saying.

Plus, it was my dad’s birthday, and I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have a family that means more to me than just about anything. They’re my serenity. They’re my stability. They’re the only people I can make Lord of the Rings jokes to at unexpected times and expect them to follow along. If I can’t enjoy celebrating with them, who can I celebrate with?

The cake politely chilled in my stomach as sustenance and a fond memory throughout the evening, and while during recovery I’ve eaten my fair share of decadent desserts, this was one of the few that I’ve had that I neither dreaded nor was consumed with guilt over. It was a piece of cake. Life goes on.

And life has gone on. Many of you have read my Freshly Pressed post where I discussed the problems with recovery weight gain that seems to go on in blatant disregard for the laws of physics. You want to know something fantastic? For the past month going on five weeks now, my weight has been in a stable, healthy, relatively unmoving zone.

Not to say I don’t still get fluctuations up and down, but they’re small, manageable, and don’t freak me out anymore. The scary part doesn’t last forever.

Recovery is a roller coaster ride without lap bars or seat belts. It flips you upside down and you’re hanging on by your fingernails and a prayer, wondering how long the ground is going to insist on being the sky. You think you can’t go on any longer. And then, all of a sudden, everrything flips the right way around again, and you’re just flying.

And there’s a delicious slice of chocolate-frosted banana cake waiting for you when you get off the ride.

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