As my children ran around me laughing, I spread butter across my toasted bagel. I couldn’t help but remember a time in the not so distant past when the thought of eating a bagel terrified me. And the idea of eating butter on it was completely out of the question.
My journey with the bagel
When I think about it, I have actually had a long relationship with the bagel. I know it sounds strange. But hear me out.
As a child, any time we visited my Jewish grandparents, the day started with the aroma of toasting bagels filling the house. Eating a bagel was a part of our culture and our heritage.
I remember when the first local bagel shop opened in the southern town we had moved to. My mom was excited she finally found a place with authentic New York-style bagels. On special occasions, she brought a bag of fresh ones home. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a warm delicious toasted bagel.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment the eating disorder started. There are so many factors that go into any mental illness. But at some point, in my mind, the bagel transformed from a delicious breakfast food into something to be afraid of. It was something to avoid at all costs.
In my mind, I believed it was just me against the bagel. And that I had to resist giving in to it. At all costs.
A battle I waged silently
As I descended into a full-blown eating disorder- I began to wage a silent war at the kitchen table. One by one, my favorite foods slowly morphed into the enemy. Eating a bagel simply was no longer an option in my distorted mind.
As my family members continued to enjoy bagels from time to time, I snuck sideways glances at their plates. While I yearned to taste their warm deliciousness, I irrationally believed denying myself was somehow a victory.
Eating a bagel was about so much more
I felt so many different emotions, it was a constant roller coaster. Sometimes I was angry– it was not fair they could eat bagels but I couldn’t. Other times I felt elated; almost superior. I could resist the urges while no one else at the table could. And then there was sadness- I felt stuck, unsure, and alone. What was wrong with me? Why was this small round food holding so much power over me? How come the bagels weren’t screaming at anyone else at the table?
The deeper you sink into an eating disorder, the more it takes over your mind and body. And life.
The less I nourished myself, the bigger my distortions got.
The reflection in my mirror became more distorted. My fears and suspicions of others grew as my pants size shrank. My ability to concentrate diminished. And my desire to connect with others dissolved into the drive to hide away and disconnect. Until my life felt empty, scary, and dark. And the bagel was an enemy I thought I could never conquer.
Time for a change
So what changed? How did I go from fearing a favorite breakfast food, to spreading butter on one and eating it with my family? I wish it was easy. The process was a long one.
Recovery is something that takes time, courage, dedication, and grit.
It takes commitment to try things differently. For me, it was the realization that I no longer wanted to live fearing food. I wanted to be able to be present with my loved ones. And I wanted to be a positive example for the young people in my life. Tired of sinking, I was ready to try a different way.
I wanted to spend my life doing more important things than fighting a silent war I waged on bagels.
Deep within my soul- I knew that my purpose on this earth was bigger than resisting the temptation to eat a bagel.
Surely my life had more purpose than that?
If she is eating a bagel, I can too
I remember vividly the first time I ate a bagel again. Sitting across from the emaciated friend I had met at a recovery support group, I told myself over and over again- if she can do this, I can too. We had bonded over hallow stomachs and the fear of food. Our desire to shrink from this painful world drew us closer together. Here we were, challenging each other to get better. We were both terrified. We were both exhausted. And we were both ready to leave the eating disorder behind.
And it started with a bagel. In her quiet dining room, we sat across from each other. There were so many bagels to choose from. It seemed incredulous that people simply picked up a bagel, and put it in their mouths. The mind games in my head were loud. I had to turn up my recovery voice even louder.
She chose a bagel and put it on her plate. I copied. I wondered if her heart was racing as fast as mine? As we awkwardly made conversation, the two of us sat on hard chairs, facing our fear. And one scary dry bite at a time, we ate the damn bagels.
And with every bite we swallowed, we slowly took a piece of our lives back.