The love of a silver lining

When I was 17, I got into the habit of drinking Swiss Miss hot chocolate every morning before I left for school. I tore open the paper packet of cocoa powder mix and mixed it with hot water or milk and downed it before dashing out the door.

Then I began noticing that I was breaking out—more than the usual teenage bouts of acne. Especially in those youthful years, I could not stand getting pimples. It’s bad enough to still break out as an adult, but at least now I am old enough, or comfortable enough, to not worry about what everyone thinks about it when it happens. Back then, it gave me no comfort that pretty much every other kid my age had acne, too. 

Finally, I realized the cocoa was the culprit: I had developed an allergy to chocolate. My Swiss Miss days ended forever.

If you want to get sympathy from people—especially women—just tell them you’re allergic to chocolate. Over the years, whenever I told people why I couldn’t eat the devil’s food cake or the brownies they offered, I got many, many very sorrowful looks—the furrowing of the eyebrows, the outright frowns—and many versions of “I am so so sorry” verbal expressions, as if someone had died.

Fortunately, I was never a huge chocolate fan. Sure, as kids my sister and I had haggled at Halloween over the foil-wrapped Hershey’s miniatures, the tiny Mr. Goodbars and Krackels. (No one wanted the Special Dark ones.) But besides that, and besides my teenage habit of drinking Swiss Miss, I had never been the kid to long for chocolate, so when I figured out it was taboo, well, it didn’t really matter a whole lot.

Sure, there was mole poblano, which I had in Mexico in my 20s for the first time and loved—not realizing it was made with chocolate until my chest broke out into a rash. But I could live easily without ever having it again. The only time I really missed chocolate was when I went to a wedding and wanted to taste the cake—most wedding cakes, I will have you know, are made with chocolate. I also missed it the time my workplace threw me a going-away party and ordered chocolate cake and I couldn’t touch it. But other than that, I was the perfect person to be allergic because all in all, I didn’t much care. I had a sweet tooth, but mine was satisfied with Twizzlers and Smarties and meringues and vanilla frozen yogurt.

I stayed away from chocolate for years and years, and then at some point, I started to try a tiny bit every once in a while—a bite of chocolate ice cream from my husband’s cone, for example. Nothing happened, but I was not sure whether it was because I tried so little, or because the allergy was gone.

Then a few months ago, I became bold. I took some bites of a chocolate bar—a much more concentrated type of chocolate than when it was simply the flavor of ice cream. A couple of months ago, I got bolder: I had more than a few bites. I started eating almonds covered in dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s. Not just a few almonds, but six or ten or—does it really matter how many? It just so happened that this coincided with some medical issues I was facing. Now, as I write this, I realize maybe it didn’t “just so happen” that the timing coincided. Maybe it was one of life's unexpected gifts, meant to soothe, meant to comfort. Chocolate—and my apparent loss of the allergy I had for so many years—became a silver lining. You have to remember that when I became allergic back in my teenage years, dark chocolate was not so prevalent and sought-after. And since I had avoided those Special Dark mini-chocolates at Halloween, I had not remembered what dark chocolate was like. And now? I finally understood what everyone had been raving about over the last few years.

A whole new world opened up, and hunting for dark chocolate bars, and eating them, became my treat, often daily. When I felt stressed, and I couldn’t eat much else, I could manage some dark chocolate.

My husband has accused me of a chocolate addiction. He says it teasingly, kindly, yet he might be right. Still, I will take it: foil-wrapped, mixed with turbinado sugar or sea salt. Half a bar, a whole bar—is there really much of a difference?

There is always a silver lining, and sometimes more than one. If you are lucky, it is the thing you did not know you wanted as much as you did, until you have it back again.