Make Love Not Fuel
In the same year, I began teaching cookery, I also began to train as a therapist. The connection between these distinct modes of working with people quickly became apparent – ultimately it was all about love.
Not love in that reciprocal, entwined sense, but love in the sense of compassionate curiosity toward the experience of life. It’s worth spending some time going back to the origins of the human relationship with being fed and being cared for, to explain the foundations of Kitchen Therapy and in particular, how it relates to my understanding and treatment of addiction.
Food is, in fact, our first experience of love (or its lack) in the world. Deep down in the heart of our psyche, we will always feel the connection between being fed and being loved – whatever that means for each of us, in our unique experience.
Connecting Food With Love
Infants often make painstaking efforts to explain to new parents that it simply won’t be enough to feed them, whilst you watch TV or converse someone else. No, whilst you fill their bellies with nourishing milk, they need your eyes to fill their souls with loving kindness, nurturing both their physical and psychological growth, in one complete system of care. However, for too of many us, at either end of the mother-baby food chain, this vital communication is just unable to be heard, received or understood. Nature’s beautifully crafted nursery is too often hijacked by a parent’s struggle with his or her own unmet needs, or by a disregard of Nature’s quiet wisdom. Books and experts so often tell parents how to look after their young, missing the guidance that comes tucked inside the child itself…
Our Drug Of Choice
In a cruelly ironic attempt to understand our bonding behaviour during its earliest stages, a laboratory nursery was set up during a 1950’s series of experiments called Harlow’s Monkeys. Infant Rhesus monkeys were offered milk from a wire receptacle, or water from a warm, soft ‘cuddly’ dispenser. Harrowing scenes, that deliberately stressed the infant, saw the frightened creature dashing between the two surrogate mothers, neither one being able to meet his need for soothing. Eventually, in desperation, they chose the soft place, the rock of being held over the hard place of being fed was the bottom line. Of course, they were utterly torn, needing a real mother who would be able to offer both these essential elements of life – food and love. Just like Harlow’s monkeys, when the loving connection and attention we humans need is lacking, it can become supplanted by more tangible physical fuels. Herein lies the crucial miscommunication that shows the warped seed of many of our addiction stories: we cannot get enough of what we don’t need. Hence the deeply dreadful feeling of isolation that accompanies a lonely binge with the drug of our ‘choice’. What we really crave is the warmth of shared connection with one another. The sustenance of shared connection is not over when the ‘meal’ is consumed, rather it continues to grow, powering our soul for its developmental path, as Nature intended.
As I begin work with clients, I first seek to discover their relationship with food, their first experience of love. Our stories of being fed, of making, eating and sharing of food, hold rich layers of narrative that stretch, like dreams, across the time and space of self. Consider for a moment your favourite meal. Do you like to cook this, or have it cooked for you? What about food you hate? Where do you remember first having this? What sensations, thoughts and feelings arise…? As we consider our emotional responses to our experience of food, and perhaps the people that come to mind, we can start to understand more about what we are really seeking as we are eating.
Canadian Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman has said we live in an addicted world. I agree. We feel something is missing inside and keep trying to fill the void with physical fuel of some sort. Grabbing instant gratification from the two-dimensional experience of demand and supply, that leaves us strangely empty. When I ask addicted clients about the feeling their drug of choice gives them “Comfort” is blatant, though telling refrain. When we explore what is really comforting, in a lasting, true sense, what we arrive at, is a sense of connection. In mindfulness, this connection begins with the breath, which is both inside and outside, present and eternal, ‘mine’ yet shared. In kitchen therapy, the connection begins with making a small and simple treat, for who my great-grandmother called your “inner man”. It is taking the time, and giving the tender loving care to meet our need for comfort – finding food and love in the same place.
Nutrition Balanced with Nurture
By bringing a sense of attentive pleasure into the everyday making of cups of tea, jugs of minted water, omelettes laced with parsley and thyme, we create the delicacy of nutrition balanced with nurture. Cooking is our first taste of alchemy, transforming the raw ingredients into the noble cooked dish, nourishing mind, body and soul. It can be this crucial step of using our imaginations and capacity for self-care that we miss – even avoid – in seeking the ‘magic’ answer snatched ‘off the shelf’. My clients often talk of the numbing effect when they engage with their substance of choice, there’s no thinking just an infant’s gratification. Simple cooking engages our thoughtful imagination, helping us to discover the delicious rewards of intuitive play. The sense of satisfaction and glowing pleasure in making oneself a genuine treat, one that others might enjoy too, connects us to ourselves, each other and indeed our world. By returning to the beginning, our first love, we can rework our nurturing narratives, and slowly find our way back to our true selves.