In my twenties I battled with eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating. Trying to control my weight challenged my sanity. Not the funny, ha-ha kind of basic crazy but a sad, lonely, confused, hamster on a treadmill of self-loathing masked as fabulousness kind of insanity. Eventually I hit bottom with food and sought help for my eating disorders. Through grace, hard work, and commitment to my abstinence eventually I recovered no longer using food as a weapon to shove down my feelings. Most of all, I am kind to myself, even when I am alone and no one will hear me.
Over fifteen years later there were still foods that I worried would trigger me, send me spiraling into the depths of ancient hurts, places still too raw and wounded to enter without using massive amounts of food the way other people use drugs and alcohol. Despite my issues, I developed a healthy relationship with food, able to go to restaurants without a list of demands for the kitchen staff.
Two years ago while on a vacation with friends, Kimberly and Elizabeth, and our teens, Liz introduced up to mahjong. She’d brought along her travel mahjong set, and the first few days she tried and failed to cajole us into giving it a chance. Lets just say it wasn’t the dream vacation promised on the website so after suffering through an embarrassing lack of coordination at a Zumba class, and the all you can eat, if you dare, buffet, mahjong was a necessary distraction. I became hooked the first time I held those Bakelite bams, cracks and dots in my fingers.
After we returned from vacation Liz invited me to join her mahj group. When I mentioned that I lived near what is arguably one of the best donut shops in Los Angeles, Liz’s eyes lit up so I offered to bring a dozen. When I arrived donuts in hand, the token male produced a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut slices from each one. A masculine bearded Goldilocks, he critiqued them; too sweet, light and airy, needs a better quality of jelly, perfection. He also listed the flavors I had failed to bring but I didn’t need to make a mental note because I’d be reminded via group text before the next game. At first I treated the donuts at mahj the same way I did when they showed up in my kitchen, great for others but definitely not for me. Eventually the collective raves of the mahjers wore down my resistance. My fear, that I would tempt fate, lose control and return to bingeing didn’t happen, nor did my focus shift from winning to the donuts. This newfound freedom led to me trying other foods on my, “Do not disturb and awaken the beast within by eating this” list.
Cut to almost two years later. Folks, I’m in a mahj squad, consisting of eight very individual personalities, seven women, and the one male, strong enough to handle all our shifting hormonal menopausal emotions, match our raunchy humor and suffer through our slight obsession with our teenagers, a few who easily beat us at the game. Youth. Recently we hosted a mail order mahjong night, with deep- dish pizza from Chicago, buffalo wings from Buffalo, New York, Corn beef Reuben’s and Philly Cheesesteaks among the contestants. These were all foods I hadn’t allowed myself to enjoy before mahjong. Yesterday, a fellow mahjer emailed an article that described food as the fifth player in the game of mahjong and this is so true. We often joke that if people read our lengthily no holes bared text exchanges that include recipes, demands to pick up the tastiest (insert a food or dessert) they would assume we were all pushy, blood related or throw backs from a bygone era. But when a fellow mahjer mullied (mahj-bullied) me to make his chocolate frosting recipe for my butter cake last week all I could do was laugh. He was right. It was yum.
Surrounded by friends and massive amounts of shit talking, the fifth player, food, is no longer my enemy or a friend. I have come full circle, returning to some of my best childhood memories gathering over food, games and laughter. So bring on the bossy texts as we figure out next weeks menu and of course I will bring donuts, my quarters and the worse poker face ever, especially when I draw the all too often elusive joker.