You Don't Have to Eat Caramel; A Lesson In Saying No.
Updated: Mar 24
I used to cringe at the idea that my identity was made up of pieces of others. How could it be that those around me helped create what made me...me? But, who was I without connection?
A simple lesson in saying no to caramel taught me the value of self-expression and I carry this with me every day. Which means I carry him.
It was a childish relationship complicated by the politics of volunteering overseas or at least that is what I told myself at the time to make it seem more acceptable that he kept me a secret. Our favorite past-time was sitting on park benches and smoking cigarettes while talking about anything other than where we were or our responsibilities. It was the first time in a long time I felt truly safe with someone.
He challenged me every chance he could. Digging. Who was I? Who did I want to be? Dreams, ideas, the core of my fears.
Being located in Eastern Europe and having pretty much zero control over our diet led me to hide food, this was a pretty big trigger for me. I slid back into old eating disorder habits pretty quickly. With a secret boyfriend, secret food, in secret places and my head spinning I so far out of my comfort zone I couldn't even see the red line anymore. I had stopped using the tools I had worked so hard to learn through recovery and I had two more years to go.
The big R was hitting me hard, Relapse. Sliding backwards happens in recovery and is perfectly normal, it was this particular experience that made it more memorable and allowed me to move forward.
After a stressful day, we were sitting in silence when I heard him open the wrapper. His bright blue eyes stared up at me and I froze. Nudging he handed me a piece of caramel. As if possessed I took it in my hands, as I always had when someone offered me something I hated. I could feel it twisting in my mouth, so people-pleasing that it made my stomach turn.
His face was curious.
"What's the matter?"
"I hate caramel" the words fell out of my mouth. An open confession and I was terrified that if I didn't like what he liked he would immediately reject me. Everyone would. The world would, and what would that say about me?
He raised his hand to my mouth in the kindest way possible, with just his eyes telling me to spit it out.
We were still for a bit until finally- "You don't have to eat caramel" He didn't smile or look away he was sincere and intense, always intense, as if he knew it wasn't just about this moment. It was about my entire life.
And then he said "People will always try and tell you what to do, you never have to say yes" and I still feel that every day.
Though we ended both our relationship and friendship and not on my favorite of terms, I look back on him fondly. To this day I always say no to caramel.