After a feast of chilis and breads and baked goods and beer and cider and wine and time with our neighbors and friends Saturday night, I sat down to tool around on my computer and check my email that night. I hadn’t realized that was my very own last supper of sorts, but as it turns out, it was. When I checked my email, I found the results of some recent blood and stool work I had done waiting for me. The purpose of the test was to determine once and for all what I already knew to be true in my gut:
Gluten, that is. For my body, that is. I’ve known that now for probably 3 years and yet I’ve had a love/hate relationship, an on-again/off-again love affair with cookies and pancakes and pastries and pasta. I didn’t want to know for sure, and so, for a long time, I chose not to. But when a host of health problems had me feeling literally sick and tired all the time, I finally went to a specialist to have the official tests done.
Still, though I knew what I knew, I sat in stunned silence as I read the report over and over again. Hating this new information about myself. Hating that now that I know (and can no longer deny) this information about myself I must act. Or in the words of my doctor, I must start an ‘immediate, strict, and permanent gluten free diet.’ I know it pales in comparison to the myriad of health concerns of many people that I love. And I know that I’m lucky that’s all it is (my mother reminded me of that fact first thing when I told her the news.) But, I still want my fifteen seconds to wallow. And I’m allowing myself at least that.
It’s not just that I’m angry that there’s no good food left that I can have (oh did I mention? That same test also suggested I have a dairy sensitivity…yay me!) It’s also that I’m angry that I can’t ever again just eat what I’m served at a party, or at a friend’s for dinner…or as it turns out even just take my portion from the basket at communion at church without feeling exposed. I’m worried my needs will be put on display, that I’ll be newly vulnerable in an entirely new way. That I’ll have to break the code of being easy for other people. That I’ll have to ask for what I need, repeatedly and relentlessly in every new situation that I’m in. THAT, more than giving up chocolate chip cookies, is my deeper fear.
The next morning at church our pastor holds up the gluten free basket at communion- and invites those who need it to raise their hand so ushers can pass it over. In the row in front of me, a group of congregants bust out laughing as soon as he announces it. Presumably amused at the very thought of gluten free bread at communion. I get why they’re laughing. It feels high maintenance, needy, hipster, trendy. It’s the very definition of a ‘first world problem.’ But to me, it’s an invitation, an opening. To me, it’s one thing finally meant for me- prepared for me. Their laughter feels like an inside joke about me, at me.
For one fleeting moment, it occurs to me that maybe they were giggling over something entirely unrelated, but I quickly dismiss the thought. I decide not to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know I’ve been socialized to believe not everything is about me, that in fact nothing is.
But this actually IS about me.
Their laughing? It made me feel small. That, at the very least, was my experience of what happened that morning. And it’s not just about them. It’s a fresh wound. It’s a reminder of what I can’t have. It’s about more than food. It’s about more than a basket of bread. I don’t rethink how I’m reacting to it.
I allow myself my anger.
At lunch the next day with friends I’m still processing. I share my feelings. I share too much of my feelings. Fuck them. I say, raising my voice- my face distorted in pain, recounting the sniggering the day before. I can see the women around the table recoil, I can tell my tone is unnerving them. This isn’t the first time I’ve sensed I’m supposed to stay quiet & small among them but, anger is what I’m feeling now and this is my way of telling them: I won’t be easy right now, not here. Instead, I’ll be real, I’ll be me. Will you meet me here? As my voice rises, my hope does too. Maybe it can be different. I need them to hold space for this with me.
They shake their heads in shock, their eyes widen in dismay. I’ve said too much like a thousand times before. It’s not about my hurt or anger anymore, It’s not even remotely about me anymore. It’s about their reaction to what I’ve said. I apologize under my breath, and we move on, even though I really wasn’t done. But now, instead of listening to the next woman speak, I’m thinking of the laughing people in the church pew AND the appalled faces of the women beside me when I dropped the f bomb. Again, what I need is too much. I am too much.
I know why I’ve elicited this reaction. I know my part in all of this, every woman does: don’t ask for what you need. Carefully and meticulously plan out everything you eat (so as not to be too big or even too small)- but never let it show that you’re doing so in public. Be ‘balanced’ and easy and cool about this. If need be, stuff down food that you know to be damaging your body in public, rather than look high maintenance in a church pew or as a dinner guest. Apologize for raising your voice, for telling the truth, for letting your anger show. It’s not just gluten that isn’t for me, I realize. This group and my complicity in being quieter and cooler than I am in general, isn’t for me either. I’ve known this, too, for quite some time, and yet I still sit through the rest of the next hour of lunch fuming, embarrassed, and deeply sad.
How many things do I have to learn this way? Ignoring things I’ve long known to be true because it makes me seem too needy, too crazy, too much?
I won’t do it anymore. I’ll motion for the usher to bring over the gluten free wafer from the back of the church, where I sit. I’ll wait for him to walk all the way over to me with my hand held high. I won’t sit in the pew, afraid. I’ll gladly take my portion. I’ll say how I feel and ask for what I need. I’ll express my anger, my sadness, my joy with passion on the outside equal to my passion on the inside. And I won’t apologize for that. Because that is who I am.
I’ve already spent too much of my life hoping I’d become an everything-in-moderation kind of girl. But that isn’t how my body works, that isn’t how my appetite works, that isn’t how I work. I won’t stuff down food or feelings anymore. And if it makes congregants in a church pew laugh, or ladies who lunch recoil, so be it.That shouldn’t be mine to carry. And if you still think I should stop being so serious, so sensitive, so sincere. If you still think I should stop being me to be with you?
Well, then that, actually, really isn’t about me.