I recently had an email exchange with someone that made me realize something about myself, my career and Valentine’s Day that I wanted to share with you. The ‘someone’ was Jean Fain, the writer and Eating Disorder therapist who wrote this article about me a couple of months ago. Jean asked if I would be willing to answer questions about self love, baking, eating disorders and Valentine’s Day for her newsletter. How could I say no? I’ll jump at any opportunity to try to help spread my message of hope, faith & joy.
I thought it was going to be easy, because Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. I couldn’t wait to share the love. However, when I started digging into Jean’s questions, I was reminded of the many years of struggle, pain and doubt that involved February 14th. Ah, yes. The good ol’ days of junior high, high school, and college, when Valentine’s Day felt like a public litmus test of whether you were important or if you mattered.
Being an introverted, dorky girl swinging my violin down the hallway, it’s no surprise that I wasn’t popular. I spent Valentine’s Day in high school longing for attention while trying to be invisible. My high school had a thing where you could buy your valentine a rose which would be taped on the outside of that person’s locker. Walking the halls that day, eyes down, I felt the shame of believing I was a loser. College was the same story, minus the violin and the lockers.
My experience of Valentine’s Day shifted once I found myself in a pastry kitchen. Instead of feeling dread slowly creeping over me as the days inched forward toward February 14th, I was filled instead with excitement, dreaming of the different things I could bake for others to enjoy during their holiday celebrations. The options felt endless…chocolate tarts with white chocolate hearts, cheesecake, decorated heart cookies, chocolate-dipped strawberries, sweet little mousse cakes perfect for two. Being a pastry chef allowed me to finally participate in this holiday. I not only was able to experience the thrill of baking, I also had the pleasure of watching others find happiness in these desserts. It felt like coming home.
What I now understand is that when I was younger, I was looking in the wrong direction to find happiness and peace. I was so busy looking around me for acceptance and confirmation that I lost sight of the fact that the person that really needed to provide this acceptance and approval was me. I willingly relinquished my ability to care for myself because at some point along the way, I decided that the only thing that mattered was what I thought other people thought of me. It was a precarious existence. I analyzed and tried to interpret every little bit of information I received from everyone around me. A glance turned into ‘I think she’s mad at me’. A group of girls laughing highlighted my insecurities. The roses on the lockers? Just one more reminder of what I was not.
Baking changed that for me, giving me the opportunity to become friends with myself. This safe, warm place enveloped me and allowed me to blossom. It was in the kitchen that I felt creative for the first time in my life. Each croissant, cake, cookie and tart shaped me and taught me a new way of perceiving myself and the world. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere, that I mattered. And, it gave me the chance to join others in celebrating holidays like Valentine’s Day.
For those of you who dread this holiday as much I used to, I encourage you to try something different this year. Don’t wait for something to happen. Instead, see if there is a way that you can make it happen for yourself. In fact, you may just tie on an apron, pull out your mixer and see what happens next.