How I Speak / by Michelle Cowan

I speak through food. Yes, I express myself in MANY other ways, discovering more and more as I grow in eating disorder recovery, but I still speak through food. When I can find no other voice, I use food. I use the cooking of it, the consuming of it, the way I prepare it, the place I go to get it, the time and speed of the process, the specific foods that I select (and do not select), and much more to say the unsayable.

Right now, I am also using food to prevent myself from saying something, to prevent myself from feeling emotions I am afraid to feel. I don’t want to admit that I am anxious about one of my relationships. I don’t want to admit how much I enjoy this relationship and want it to continue. At the same time, I’m embarrassed that I can’t commit 100 percent.

I can’t seem to divorce myself completely from the eating disorder—that and all the other activities and people in my life take up a lot of space that I don’t want to give up, even for something as wonderful as what I currently have with this particular person. It would be nice to have a relationship in which I feel complete abandon—to the extent that I would abandon everything else for it. There’s exuberance and freedom in that. But I have yet to experience that.

The desire to preserve myself and my way of life is healthy. Nonetheless, the part of me that wants to go crazy and run blind, headlong into inticing activities or relationships, is whining a little more than I’m used to. I really wish I could let go this time, but I'm following a familiar pattern.

When I allow my emotions to run wild, two things seem to happen. 1) I do ridiculous things and behave in silly ways, complete with emotions that bewilder me. 2) I find myself eating more frequently, taking more care when ordering food to get EXACTLY what I want, and possibly bingeing in my trademark, methodical way. If I cannot control my emotions, then I must feel in control somewhere else. The default choice is food. When I allow myself freedom in one area, I grip the other (food) more tightly.

But it need not be! I have uncovered the pattern and gained awareness. I don’t need food to make me feel special. I can feel special in a relationship and in other activities. Food is not the only avenue to satisfaction. Realtionships do not mean I have to give up food or my means of expression. I have many ways of communicating my needs. Just because I live in relationship with others does not mean that I discard my desires for theirs. My feelings and needs are equally legitimate and deserving of respect and attention, and I can express them through multiple means, even when food is not an available option. I am a grown-up who needs not fear losing her voice or herself.

I have learned many ways to speak my truth over the years. The fears I have of drowning and enmeshing in another person are unfounded. I demonstrate discernment and self-awareness on a daily basis.

The key is to open my mouth. I have decided to start thinking aloud more often. Sure, this could result in weird looks and confusion, but in more cases, it has already led to greater understanding and connection between me and the people I’m near. If others can hear the thought process that their comments or the situation catalyzes, they can understand where my responses come from.

Often, I think aloud after the fact. I try to explain what I was feeling I behaved a certain way by describing the process that went on inside of me. As the other person hears my story, I become less of a mystery and much more accessible and welcoming toward feedback. I feel much less insane when others indicate that they have felt exactly the same way or done the same things. I’m not so alone in my craziness. I’m closer to normal than I realize.

And when I voice my inner turmoil, I need not speak through the cryptic language of food. Of course, there are times when cooking, eating, ordering, or giving food serve as appropriate expressions of love and other feelings. There is space for that in my life, no doubt. But I don’t have to use food all the time. It need not be my go-to for every issue. I can say what I feel.

It’s time to think aloud. It's time to speak with words, not food.