I recently spent time reflecting on my life’s journey. While still young, upon recalling all the events of the past 15 years, I reflect on the ways that my history of struggling impacted my thoughts and perceptions. I remember imagining what my future would bring. Now, having lived through some of what I imagined, I am able to compare the two. In doing so, I am able to deeply feel—to feel joy, sadness, empowerment and above all an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all I have been able to overcome.
One distinct memory that I have is of the time when I was in the throes of my eating disorder—my “seventh level” as my family likes to call that time period. It was then that I spent most if not all of my day isolated, overcome and engrossed with my disorder and sinking within my depression. I barely left the house, stopped speaking to most friends and seldom felt hopeful or motivated. I was somewhat of a shadow, fearful of recovery and also fearful of what might happen should I not recover. There were times when there was a giant question mark around whether I would live and whether I would also have any semblance of a life. I convinced myself that I did not have a problem, yet I also experienced terror at what a small part of me could actually acknowledge was a major issue. It was a life of contradiction and also of pain.
One motivation I held onto at the time was marriage. I was dating someone then—without whom I would likely not have made it. He was Israeli and living in Israel and so we engaged in a long-distance relationship, somewhat convenient for my eating disorder and state of mental health as I did not actually have to see him. (At this time we had phone calls and Skype, no smart-phones.) I remain friends with him to this day, and am forever grateful that he did not give up on me, though the nature of our relationship has of course drastically changed through the years.
I recall thinking about the possibility of having a future—all those years ago—and imagining my wedding. Most of my recollections of thought at that time are currently fuzzy as so much time has elapsed and because my brain was not fully functioning back then. I imagined that perhaps I would be well enough someday to get married to this young man and that we could start a life together, as we had discussed in high school. Most distinctly, I remember thinking that if I did get married, I would need to be able to eat wedding cake.
Notice that at that time, the idea of marriage included a strong focus on food. I have trouble recalling whether I imagined myself being able to “just eat” by the time of my wedding, or whether I imagined what I would have to do in order to be able to allow myself to eat wedding cake. In either case, the focus was not on what typically is dreamed or imagined when one thinks about a future wedding and was instead so wrapped up in my disorder.
Let us note, this was not a choice. This was the workings of my eating disorder, the compulsive reality in which I existed at the time. It was limited to being about the food, when in reality none of it was truly about food or my body, it was about deeper pain and fears and loss—though I did not know this at the time.
I have now been happily married for over two years. Not to the individual mentioned above, but to Shachar, whom I’m truly blessed to have found. I am still friends with the young man mentioned above and he made sure to fly in from Israel for our wedding.
I did not eat cake at my wedding—simply because we did not have a wedding cake. Two of my closest friends did, however, bake me a mult-tiered wedding cake for Sheva Brachot and I have to say it was one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten. And I am grateful to be able to note that my wedding was not about cake. It wasn’t about my body or food or anything that used to rule my life. It was about a relationship and friends and family and ultimately reflecting on all that I have, all that comes from God. It was about growth and emotions. And it was also about being able to enjoy the whole experience, which simply would not have been possible all those years ago.
My friends know that on any given day there may or may not be a Costco cake sitting in my fridge. Not for any special occasion, but because I consider it to be one of the best cakes out there and because I can enjoy it—so why shouldn’t I? And why not get some friends together to eat said cake because that is what eating it is truly about? Not about the calories or the preparation but about taste and relationships and food as something enjoyable whether it be alone or as a means of bringing us together.
When I look back on my journey I reflect with deep gratitude. To people in my life, to myself, to Hashem, to my treatment team. It is astonishing to me at times—when I pause to think about it—that I for years now have been able to have my cake and eat it too.
By Temimah Zucker, LMSW
Temimah Zucker, LMSW, is a therapist in private practice in Manhattan and is the assistant clinical director at Monte Nido Manhattan. Temimah also speaks around the country on the subjects of eating disorders, body image and mental health. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com.