How to Eat Chocolate

by helenzuman in General

I still remember, in my early twenties, eating a large bar of Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate one night when I was home alone, and then puking it up into the toilet.

Back then, I had no standards for the kind of chocolate I ate, and used chocolate as an escape. (As a kid, I ate an entire “chocolate” Easter bunny that wasn’t even chocolate. It barely tasted like chocolate. And one time, out traveling the country by bus, on a budget, I ate a “chocolate” pie from McDonald’s that featured beef fat on its list of ingredients.) Sure, I was miserable—but as long as I could keep putting those squares in my mouth, and letting them melt, I could avoid questioning, and loving, myself.

Circa 2005—when I was twenty-eight, and rising at 4 A.M. most mornings to labor for  $7.50 an hour on an organic market farm—I discovered that I could use chocolate to induce euphoria, and boost morale. The first time I took a bar of 70% Equal Exchange chocolate (organic, fair trade) into the field with me, and ate it for breakfast, I felt at one with the johnsongrass, the fifty-pound cast iron fork I was digging it out with, the pre-dawn wake-up, the oncoming heat. I forgot to look at my watch. I moved into flow.

For the next decade or so, I continued to use chocolate to help me do hard things, and navigate interactions that scared me. Every morning for a number of years, before I sat down at my desk to work on my memoir, I mixed up a batch of “crack” paste—a velvety blend of (organic, fair trade) coconut oil, (raw, local, pesticide-free) honey, and (organic, raw, direct trade) cacao powder that I ate with a spoon.

In 2014, I started editing college application essays for money, in a very part-time way. In 2018, my work load skyrocketed—which meant I needed to focus, hard, for forty-plus hours per week. How did I manage? I allowed myself one (solid) crack ball per half hour. If I worked nine hours in one day, I ate eighteen balls of crack.

Before long, I was using chocolate to get myself to do all kinds of tasks, from painting the porch to doing my taxes. I was willing to do pretty much anything—as long as I had crack.

And then, in October 2020, my teeth started to hurt. And I noticed that when I didn’t eat chocolate they hurt a lot less. So, on October 26, 2020, I quit, cold turkey. And decided I was done with depending on something I put in my mouth to get things done. I didn’t eat a single bite of chocolate for the next two months.

By Sunday, December 27, 2020—my forty-fourth birthday—my teeth were feeling fine. But there was no way I was slipping back into my old chocolate habits. Instead, I created a ritual—of reflection and celebration—called Chocolate Church. Early Sunday morning, when the house is silent and it’s still dark, I rise, mix up a batch of crack (Holy Crack!), and repair to the dining room table with my journal. For a couple hours, while slowly eating the chocolate, I write. About whatever I want. No agenda whatsoever. And, invariably, I come up with epiphanies. Pop out ideas. Weave luminous webs.

This is my brain: ——-

This is my brain on chocolate: !!!!!!!

I now use chocolate to celebrate. To reflect. To create. To summon gratitude and spark joy.

When I was kid, I dreaded Sunday, because Sunday meant suffering through mass.

Now, Sunday is my favorite day of the week. Because, with the help of theobroma cacao (the food of the gods), I’ve created my own sacrament—and my own church.

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