Healing, Relationship Repair and Jewels
In 1968 I almost died of anorexia. I was 13. We now know that the whole spectrum of eating disorders are desperate attempts at self-regulation, and rife among survivors of all manner of trauma. We have a bazillion dollar eating disorder treatment industry and literature, although from my jaundiced view, none are very effective. Back then, I had a huge stash of books stolen from the library, (stolen because I was too ashamed to check them out,) about food, weight loss and nutrition. Only one was “psychological” in any way, and not much help in understanding what I was doing. That was Eating Disorders by MD Hilde Bruch, a rather psychoanalytic spin on all eating “pathologies,”. It had one page about anorexia nervosa, with strange pictures of a skeletal young girl, naked, with a blacking out of her eyes to make her unrecognizable. I would sit and stare at that frightening, frightened child. That is all I remember. (I did stealthily return the books through the library return slot, about 20 years later.) At 5 feet 4 and 79 pounds, I took my anorexia pretty close to the edge too, but somehow I did not die.
I was massively relieved and grateful for not dying, not because I was glad to keep living, but because I felt so guilty for nearly squandering life, and for distressing my parents. They seemed mostly, pretty mad about it, and the “treatment” was primarily what I would call “duress eating.” It was a nightmare, as eating or not eating continued to be, for about the next 30 years. Through desperation, unrelenting tenacious determination, and the blessing of renewed chances, I am pleased to say, that after years and decades of effort, the advances in understanding trauma, the brain and nervous system regulation; and my dad’s now famous words, I have a delightful and joyful relationship to food, I eat whatever and how much I want, and passionately bake, and make artisan cheese. I even have a pretty darn good relationship with my body, although I don’t like aging too much. My dad’s words, for any who have not heard them yet are: “You should always go to sold out concerts. You will get in!”
So one great lesson that I learned was that miraculously the body heals and returns to or discovers a healthful homeostasis, with some intention and knowledgeable assistance. I learned this again, when I had a serious and nearly fatal systemic and nearly septic infection that landed me very suddenly in the hospital for a week, truly believing I was dying; and again when my beloved sister came back from a bout of stage four cancer with a full head of new hair and a rich story to tell. I was terrified we would lose her, and well aware that not everyone, of course is so fortunate.
In 1980 iconic couple John Lennon and Yoko Ono came out with a favorite album of mine, Double Fantasy. Like many struggling couples (like so many of the traumatized,) they were known for the sentiment “Can’t live with her/him, but, can’t live without her/him.” The album was a collection of songs about emerging from that terrible morass into connection. My favorite song is the one called “Starting Over,” with its whimsical refrain “…when I see you Darling, it’s like we both are falling in love again, it’ll be just like starting over, wa wa wa wa…”
It is another kind of reminder of the miracle of second, third or however many chances we might have, after truly believing all is lost: relationship repair. The story of my re-incarnated relationship with my father will be another book in itself, that is on my list. Again, not everyone is as fortunate as I, and I also was one of the ones who tended to believe, “things like that just don’t’ happen to me…”
The Lost Earring
I have referenced before, that my first book was a sorry child of neglect. When it was published, I was too mired in my own dysregulation and shame, like many a parent, to do what was necessary for it to thrive. When I first hatched the book, I had been quietly developing the ideas for many years. Finally I had the gumption to attempt to put them out there. I approached a small publisher that was suggested to me by a sex therapist colleague and submitted my proposal.
At the time, on a frequent walk in the neighborhood of my office, there was a jewelry store. I loved to look in the window when I passed by. On one of those routine walks, I happened to spot a pair of earrings. I had never bought jewelry for myself before, but these lovely earrings were peridot, my birthstone, and somehow for the first time, I went inside. I spoke to a kindly young woman named Sonya, and I told her, that I had just submitted the proposal for a book I hoped to write and publish. I wanted to put a deposit on the peridot earrings, and if my proposal was accepted, buy the earrings. Sonya set that up with me, and when the proposal was accepted, I was rewarded and delighted times two. I set to work on the manuscript.
Somehow, I don’t know how it happened, I lost one of the earrings. Losing earrings is a hazard of moving too fast and not being mindful enough, or of a disconnected “vestibular system” and losing awareness of where one is in space, another common trauma symptom. I was sad, but in some sort of superstitious way I was spooked. I thought “Oh no! Perhaps that means the book will fail!” Not usually superstitious, I was rather haunted and fearful, and not without shame, I talked with my wise consultant about it. She said, “Well, how about talking with Sonya about getting another one made?” What a concept! All was not lost, and Sonya arranged with the artist to make a perfect new mate for my earring.
But the story did not end. In a way the book did “fail.” Or I failed like the parent of a neglected child. In my own private paralysis, I failed to support it in growing and going out into the world, so it languished and floundered and really did not venture out very far. Those who read it seemed to get a lot from it, but that hardly helped my shame. Some of my closest friends and supporters said, maybe as we launch the new book, re can resuscitate the first book. It really does merit a better chance. For the new book, learning from experience, I followed my own best advice and got the best help money can buy to help me, to be the midwife for the new book. And she has worked to help the first book, Coming Home to Passion, to find its place in a larger world. Like the child of neglect, with help, it is finding a voice and a spine. And the earrings have a new meaning to me.
“Pray to God and Keep Rowing to Shore”
In 2018 the volcano Kīlauea erupted on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was this volcano’s largest eruption in many hundreds of years and a fierce and fiery trauma to the surrounding area. Many were forced to relocate and a huge rescue effort was successfully waged to rescue animals, and of course humans in the vicinity. As trauma will be, it was a huge disruption. When we went back in 2020, the beloved Volcano Art Center was thankfully up and running again and the grateful artists were there to tell the story.
One of the artists told me, when I was admiring some peridot jewelry pieces in the store, that when the volcano erupted, it “rained peridot”. Apparently, some chemical reaction on the lava, produces the lovely pale green gemstone. Out of the ravages and roaring rage of violence and destruction, these dainty but tough sparklers scatter wildly. They are nature’s design. One earring disappeared, a new one came to take its place. I got expert help and the first book is finding its voice in the world at last. John and Yoko, as far as I know, spent their final years in connection and love until John met his tragic end. Many a traumatized client after a long and trying road finds regulation and joy; equilibrium and ease. I like to think it is nature’s design, if not without effort. And sometimes a big bang is what gets things moving.
In AA they say “Pray to God and keep rowing to shore.” And one needn’t believe in God, to understand that some of this mysterious process is organic and spontaneous, some is the sweat and grit of tenacious and relentless, persevering work. Hope and faith are required, at least some of the time, and we do have to get ourselves to the concert! Wa wa wa wa…
Have a listen!
My book “Working with the Developmental Trauma of Childhood Neglect: Using Psychotherapy and Attachment Theory Techniques in Clinical Practice” is out on Tuesday September 31st. It provides psychotherapists with a multidimensional view of childhood neglect and a practical roadmap for facilitating survivors’ healing.