I used to associate hot chocolate with grief.
When my friend passed away at a young age, I can vaguely remember hearing the news, crying with other friends, attending the funeral, etc. etc. It was a blur of emotions for a 14-year-old. I don’t remember everything in as much clarity as I sometimes think I should. But I do remember hot chocolate.
I remember coming home from school and sitting on the floor of my mother’s home office and drinking hot chocolate from an oversized mug. It was barely cold enough for the traditional post-sledding drink, but I let the liquid slide down my throat as I finally let myself cry. I remember feeling the drink warm me from my inside out.
In Western Pennsylvania, I spent most of my winters sledding with my neighbors. Therefore, from a young age, hot chocolate had been associated with whatever mother was saintly enough to let 5-10 rowdy elementary school kids clomp into her house with icy boots and snowy caps for some mugs of hot chocolate and rounds of Super Mario Bros.
Hot chocolate was all about neighbors and sledding and fun. My mind attached it to seasonal joy.
In 2008, my mind attached hot chocolate to grief. For years to follow, I just accepted it. Hot chocolate is my grieving drink. As someone who sticks mostly to water, milk, and watered-down apple juice if she’s feeling edgy, I was accustomed to only pulling out the hot chocolate packages when I was in need of comfort.
For a while, I couldn’t down the powdered cocoa at all.
Then, in an unceremonious fashion, I found myself drinking hot chocolate again. There was no profound Eureka switch or no big moment of “it’s just hot liquid.” I simply began to drink hot chocolate again – even on days when I was happy.
Unplanned and all-at-once, I began to associate hot chocolate with things like coffee shops and New Year’s Eve. I drank hot chocolate at football playoff games and when I went to Starbucks with my coworkers because I’m 22 and still refuse to drink coffee.
Hot chocolate wasn’t a grieving drink anymore. It was just warm sugar water that happened to make me feel whole again but now is really good at burning my tongue and helping me not panic when I go to coffee shops with my coworkers.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we move on from things that have had extremely negative influences in our lives. I think sometimes we’re looking for a hot chocolate. We’re looking for something we can transfer the pain to. We want a tangible location to represent the entire ordeal or a day of the year to stand for hurt that had been built up for years. We want to give ourselves space to grief and hurt and sometimes, holding onto the time or the place - or in my case, the hot chocolate mug - is all we know how to do.
And we’re afraid that, in letting go of the mug, we lose some part of ourselves. That in the process of grief, we’ve attached ourselves to our traumas and our pains and our heartaches. That if we move on we become less whole.
But hot chocolate isn’t just a grieving drink.
And you aren’t just someone with divorced parents or a disability. You’re more than your eating disorder or your sexual assault. You aren’t defined by your mental or physical illness.
Letting go of that moniker doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It doesn’t take aware from your experience. It means you are strong enough to let go…to rise up…to know that that is only one piece of this wildly complex fabric that makes us who you are as a person.
I know it’s hard to put down the grieving drink that you may have been shielding yourself with for years but at some point you have to let go of the pain you’ve been carrying. You have to let go of that hurt and you have to allow yourself to live into who you want to become.
You are not what has happened to you. You do not have to hurt anymore. You are a pulse of life traumas and joys. You have permission to stop reliving the former.
Drink the hot chocolate again. It doesn’t have to represent pain anymore.