“Now the wren has gone to roost and the sky is turnin’ gold
Like the sky my soul is also turnin’
Turnin’ from the past, at last and all I’ve left behind
Could it be that I am finally learnin”?
Learnin’ that I’m deserving of love and the peaceful heart
I won’t tear myself no more for tryin’
I’m tired of lyin’ to myself, tryin’ to buy what can’t be bought
It’s not livin’ that you’re doin’ if it feels like dyin’
Cryin’, growin’ old before you time”
- Ray Lamontagne
I have been seeing Maya (not her real name) on-and-off for about 4 years. When we began, she was a junior in high school, struggling with anorexia nervosa. Week after week, she and her parents made the 2 hour trek to my office because there were very few eating disorder specialists in their area…and week after week, we came up against the same problem: Maya had an almost incapacitating fear of weight gain. It was to the point that even seemingly innocuous foods like bananas were seen as the enemy.
Over time, Maya and her parents did the grueling work of slowly introducing bananas and other “fear foods” back into her diet. “I just don’t understand why it’s necessary to eat bananas!” she would say with conviction, and yet, even bananas eventually became acceptable. Maya was able to restore her body weight to its pre-eating disorder range before going off to college last year.
There was never a closing appointment when everyone agreed that Maya’s eating disorder was now a thing of the past because there was never a feeling that it was gone for good.
Which brings us to this week.
Maya and her mom came to see me for the first time in 7 months. Since May she has been through a bad relationship/break-up, the stress of academics, a mismatched roommate situation, a car accident, and a major health issue with her dad. She coped by turning to the eating disorder and therefore losing weight. Her eating disorder’s return was realized because of a hate-filled rant directed at her mom about nothing in particular. Everyone in the family recognized it was back however, simply because they could hear it’s rage and fear in Maya’s voice.
After she and her mom filled me in on everything that had happened in the past 7 months, there was a pause in the conversation, and after a few moments, Maya looked up and said:
“I’ve realized over the course of the past few days that you can’t be really good at everything. They tell you that you should be the best at school, work as much as you can, and have a perfect body, but if I do all of that, then I yell at my mom or I don’t get to hang out with my sister. My dad always says “Balance” to me, but I thought that meant do more things and be perfect at all of them. I think that I’m just supposed to be the best Maya that I can be, which means that I can’t be perfect at all of these things.”
She got it.
Maya had wanted to be very thin only in that our society defines the perfect female body as that. She was simply doing what she had been taught by the culture to achieve peace of mind/happiness/security. She also identified that she uses being in relationships (even when they are unhealthy), getting good grades, and over-working/making money to feel like she’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing to be “happy”. It was through her relapse that Maya was finally able to see that she is not only an interconnected being, but that she is also connected to her family and everyone else.
She is learning that if she puts too much energy into one part of her life, other parts simply don’t get as much. She finally understands what her dad means by “Balance”… and now, seemingly magically, is when the eating disorder will finally begin to loosen its grip.
Because she doesn’t need it anymore.