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Life, Made from Scratch

WebMD Commentary from "Redbook" Magazine

By Felicia C. Sullivan
Redbook Magazine Logo
In the simple act of baking, one woman found herself again.

I stood in the baking aisle of my grocery store covered in flour, sobbing. I had spent the entire day trying to bake the perfect chocolate cake, and it was a dismal failure.

I'd stocked up on cake pans and parchment paper and studied the recipe. As I sifted flour, I kept telling myself that if I just followed the directions, everything would be okay. Having recently started my recovery from a two-year cocaine addiction, I needed to believe that I could create something instead of destroying everything. But I had forgotten to buy the sour cream, mistook baking powder for soda, and nearly hurled a tub of cocoa powder out the window. When my mixer broke and a hurricane of flour and butter ensued, I collapsed to my kitchen floor. But I dragged myself back to the grocery store; I had to try again.

My first attempt at baking, at age 13, had failed too. Desperate for affection from my mother — a cocaine addict before me — I surprised her with brownies. My efforts were disastrous, and my mother's snub broke my heart.

For years afterward, I avoided the kitchen. My life became more and more like my mother's — rage-filled and self-destructive. One night, curled in a tight little ball, I woke up to the fact that although I am my mother's daughter, I didn't have to continue her legacy. My addiction had to end and my life needed to begin. Instead of joining a program, I spent hours in front of the television, comforted by Food Network chefs and their methodical measuring of ingredients, how they always made complicated recipes look so simple. I purchased measuring cups, bowls, and a food processor and started trying to make myself a new life — a sober one — from scratch.

Now, standing in the grocery store, I stared at the rows of sugar, cinnamon sticks, and flour, and I remembered why I set out to bake in the first place: to make mistakes and learn from them, to realize that even with the best ingredients and precise measurements, the perfect cake might fail to materialize. I couldn't control how the flour was milled, but I could revel in the process of making something from nothing. It's the journey that's miraculous, not the results.

I stocked my basket and raced home.

I'd like to claim that my sophomore effort was a triumph, but it wasn't. Mine was a woeful, lopsided cake, but it was delicious, and, most important, it was baked by me.

Five years later, my kitchen, once a place associated with my mother's rejection and my own shame, has become the place where my recovery is built, day by day. I am continually reminded that living the best life takes work; it's a matter of rolling up my sleeves and diving in. And when I can barely make it through the day without screaming, it's in my kitchen, kneading bread or assembling a tower of sponge cakes slathered in raspberry crème — it's there that I feel at peace.

Felicia C. Sullivan is the author of the memoir The Sky Isn't Visible from Here.


Originally published on January 16, 2008


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