This story was submitted anonymously to the Stories of Health and Pleasure collection as part of the March SEEQ sessions.
When I was 16, I was a volunteer at the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. I’d told them that I was considering being a doctor so I didn’t have to do the typical volunteer assignment of delivering flowers or working in the gift shop. I worked on the floor with patients, nurses and doctors. My uniform was a pepto bismal pink jumper over a white short or long sleeved shirt. Every Saturday morning my dad would let me practice my driving by going to the hospital and then he’d pick me up after my four-hour shift was done.
There is a picture of me in the family photo album taken as I was getting ready to leave for work one Saturday morning. I was 5’ 8” and weighed 130 lbs. I had dark brown hair that flipped jauntily at the shoulder, bright blue eyes and legs that went for up days. In my uniform pocket was a secret stash of M&M’s – loose so that if I were to sneak one, the paper wouldn’t rattle and alert anyone that I was sneaking candy. I felt really fat and I was unhappy with my body; my mother made sure of that. She would tell me frequently that if I were just a “normal” size that I would be likeable, particularly by her, boys would like me, and that I could have cute clothes.
There is a palpable sadness in those bright blue eyes. I felt ugly and unloved. I was sure I’d never have a boyfriend or fall in love or have cute clothes. Candy was my secret love. My partner, my emotional pain reliever. It soothed me. All food soothed me, but particularly sugar. So, over the next 5 years I worked hard to make that true. I went off to college, acted out sexually (because lord knows I wanted someone to touch me) and ate. And then I dieted, and then ate some more. When I look back at that time, I didn’t ever weigh more than 140 pounds. It’s interesting, for someone who hated their body, I was deeply and profoundly aware of what I weighed ALL the time. All the time.
It’s interesting to me that I turned to sugar to sooth myself. My dad was an alcoholic. He was not a mean or abusive drunk, but he used alcohol as his coping mechanism. I always thought I used food as mine, but in retrospect I see that it was more specific. It was sugar. An alcohol substitute.
When I reached 50 I decided that it was no longer productive for me to hate my body. I began to realize that the act of caring for my physical health was painful with a positive outcome but the act of soothing my emotions with sugar was pleasurable – in the moment, but with a destructive outcome. I also learned to find other ways to invest in my emotional health, finding pleasure in reading, travel, exploring my community, all things that one can do regardless of size or how they feel about their physical body.