A Forest of Life




“ANNN-ORR-EX-SSEE-AAA…” the sly serpent hissed. Slithering among the confusing forest of dissatisfaction and uncertainty, he released the echoing curse which overpowered the voice of reason within my innocent ears…

“AN-OR-EXX-SSSEE-AA…” The sinister syllables assembled together, and while seeping into my thoughts of denial, formed together the painful word that forces me to cringe even to this day…

“ANNN-ORR-EX-SSEE-AAAA…”
As I crouched defeatedly below the rising trees of threatening disgrace, I mistook the devious whisper from the luring vine as a convenient leverage out of my misery. Meanwhile, that poisonous snake had slowly, tactfully, and tenaciously wound his way around my legs, wrapping his scaly course skin tighter and tighter as he inched his way up my torso. I had fallen blindly into his convincing trap, and as he constricted firmly with every breath I took, his beady little hypnotizing eyes focused straight on my heart. “I know who you are…” He whispered, “….I will make everything better…trust me…jusssst trusssstt meeeeee…”



With each stifling constriction, his master grip strained my efforts to fight back. It was so much easier to simply give in, to slip back under the deceiving serpent’s shield. It felt safer…it felt secure…yet at the same time it felt sneaky and regretful. So many times I surrendered to that nasty snake’s lying little tongue. So many times I knew I was suffocating under his clever strangling grasp. Yet while clenched beneath the scheming serpent’s squeeze, the idea of freedom was even more petrifying than remaining pinned beneath his deathly hold.

____________

 

I remember the first time I was introduced to the word “anorexia.” On a gloomy rainy afternoon, my mother and I were together in her bedroom as I anxiously searched for ways to counteract the boredom from being cooped up inside all day. There was a copy of PEOPLE magazine lying on top of the bedcovers that she began flipping through, pausing briefly on a page which featured a story of a girl who had suffered from the awful illness. I remember looking at the picture of this woman in complete disgust, while my mom explained to me that this sickly skinny woman in the photo had once believed that she looked “good” posing for the camera. At this time, my view was not distorted–that poor woman looked anything but “good” as far as I was concerned. I had never seen someone so thin before, and quite frankly it was utterly disturbing to witness. It was a scary concept to think that the human body was capable of that kind of ignorant self-destruction. “Why would anyone ever do that to themselves?” I thought, puzzled. I remember discussing this shocking discovery with a friend on our way out to go get ice cream. I remember thinking, “Anorexia will NEVER happen to me…”



Unfortunately, with so much misleading information floating around the media these days, many people tend to believe in the common misconception that the unfortunate incarcerated life of an eating disorder victim is a deliberate cognitive choice. Eating disorders can often be mistakenly perceived as simply a disciplined “quick fix,” or a popular “fad” diet. Yet while the initial changes in behavior, which gradually lead into a rather harsh restrictive lifestyle, are premeditated, the end result does not always tend to match the beginning vision of the curiously determined individual. The fact of the matter is, eating disorders are not merely another trial “diet” or temporary alteration in habitual living. Once that dangerous line is crossed, it is extremely difficult to turn back around. It is true that the anorexic/bulimic may always be intrigued by various cycling diet trends which society manages to toss around on a constant basis, but many cases are also often classified as having severe poor body image and perfectionist personality coupled with extreme anxiety over food. Yet, the conditions are so much more than that–intertwined with these distortions and fear come feelings of inadequacy, guilt, delusion, self-ridicule, scrutiny, helplessness, hopelessness, and despair.

The disease develops into a self-built prison…



Eventually you become trapped behind your own cold skeletal bars. You have a narrow glimpse of life outside your cell, only you’ve been malignantly deceived by the snake and have swallowed the key to the door. That key which once gave you access to self-control and clear decision-making is now churning recklessly inside your stomach, ripping apart your intestinal walls and preventing any absorption of sustaining nourishment. Sometimes you feel empowered and even thin enough to perhaps slip through the cell bars, but you disappointedly get stuck with one foot in and one foot out. As the frustrating time passes, you regress further into the encompassing shadows. The idea of escape involves too much energy; energy which your body lacks. Isolation soon becomes the norm. Alone in the corner of your stone-cold cell, you feel complacent and disoriented. Though you may be unaware, you have the key to freedom buried deep inside. You just have to discover the strength to find it. 



Just like any other psychological disorder, anorexia is classified as a form of mental illness. It is more often than not, paired with other psychological disorders, (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety disorder.) Additionally, it is common for one form of disordered eating to develop into another unhealthy eating disorder classification. Any form is indeed a sickness in need of proper healing– a sickness which is a progressive obsession over manipulating controllable factors in order to gain a convincing sense of stability; a misconceived form of comfort; a source of safety; an outlet for escape. It is a silent plea for approval and attention; a search for satisfying accomplishment, and attempt at self-appraisal. It is a distorted concept of becoming “the best you can be”–a false belief that true happiness will sprout from a thin “perfected” figure. It is an internal battle with present purpose and past failures; an unintentional development into selfish self-worship and physical idolatry; a search for identity; a quest for peace.

Contrary to popular belief, very few of the desirably envisioned attributes sought by the individual in the beginning, are ones which are ultimately gained. The initial goal may be as simple as healthy weight loss or improved structured schedule, but even these small positive modifications can grow out of hand. With the condition’s severity, there is not one underlying treatment, or magic button that instantly creates a dramatic shift back to joyful reality. If they aren’t caught early, behaviors and habits grow exceedingly worse, and ironically feed the confused mind and driven personality. Without fair warning, the initial attempt to control your own life is inevitably taken away: No more strenuous solemn workouts in the garage laboring to your heart’s extent. No more afternoon bike rides with a pit stop by the smoothie shop for your first allotted meal of the day. No more freedom in the kitchen, or choice over what or when you eat. No more agility training or basketball practices…and good luck trying to explain to your friends why you will be sitting on the bench for your championship soccer game.

The control over the very few aspects of your life which you perceived to have finally been able to manage, is abruptly snatched from your closely fastened grip. Suddenly confined to a lifestyle of strict supervision, there is inadvertently no escape–someone is always there hovering over your shoulder, monitoring your activity, weighing your food, and closely watching over your every move. A small part of you undeniably likes the attention and the relief from the rigorous regimen you had become pinned underneath. A subtle piece inside your being–the tiny piece of the real you that is left–breathes a sigh of thankfulness that someone finally noticed. All of your efforts, all your self-induced pressures, all of your determination, athletic drive, and ignorant restrictions had collectively gained momentum down the treacherous hill towards disaster. A curious desire to make a change, originally with positive intentions, had all of a sudden backfired, blowing a deadly ring of smoke in your face. Little harmless habits had developed into obsession. Obsession had triggered an entirely new drive to persistently keep digging…and keep digging and keep digging…an endless hole which would never be deep enough, wide enough, or firm enough to hold all of your secret dissatisfactions, as you disappeared further and further into its shadowy deceiving depths.

Sometimes it takes someone else standing from up above the edge of the dark hole with eyes of wisdom to cry down to your own trapped soul quivering at the bottom. Unfortunately, we are often buried so far down beneath our own piling dirt that we cannot hear the concerned voices of love coming from back on top of level ground. Sometimes it takes a daring individual to break the surface with their own shovel, and begin digging alongside your mound until the tip of their shovel reaches yours…the cares and prayers of family and friends trickling into your trench and lifting you up; the necessary intervention of a team of professionals, and forceful drags to doctor appointments against your will; the coaxing and pleading around the dinner table; long battling meals; attempts to educate and break through the pit of self-destruction. Sometimes it takes the honest truth from a friend, and a comforting promise that even though the climb may be rocky, you’re never climbing alone. 

Sometimes it takes the tears of the parents who raised you; who reminded you each day that you are beautiful, and told you every morning and night that they love you; tears from the caregivers who raised you right. Sometimes it requires all the patience, all the courage, all the strength, all the cries, all the efforts, yet most importantly, all the love…so much unconditional, unsurpassable, unquenchable love. The precious family who remained there through it all…who saw all the things you couldn’t, heard all the worried phone calls you didn’t, vouched for all the things you wouldn’t, and sacrificed everything one shouldn’t. They didn’t deserve any of the filthy mess involved in your frustrating rescue, but out of desperate love they strapped on their hard hats and dove into the hole with you.

Slowly but surely, everyone found footholds in the caving walls. Reaching up hand in hand, the treacherous climb was manageable. Victory was attainable, step by step.


Once at the top, however, it wasn’t always firm soil…sometimes I would indeed find myself with one foot out and one foot in. But at that point, the light was radiantly clear, and my group of spotters only continued to grow.

It is this group of spotters, cheerleaders, listeners, and role models, whose valued presence simply cannot be emphasized enough. There is something to be said about a sturdy net of caring influencers, paired with instilled hopeful confidence when it comes to overcoming any internal struggle. As a matter of fact, there have been numerous studies on the scientifically termed “placebo effect” in relation to the miraculous outcomes of documented “spontaneous recoveries” in the medical field. Various evidence has pointed to the following conclusion that certain life-threatening diseases have been known to take a complete 180 degree turn when the victim (1) believes in a hopeful future, and (2) is surrounded by an empathetic, caring and trusted source. I would loyally vouch for the highly beneficial impact of these same two factors in the realm of eating disorders.

Now I stand on solid rock–an unshakable foundation that not even an earthquake could break apart. Yet even if disturbance were possible, I now have multiple branches nearby on which I could latch: branches of education, experience, wisdom, and support, extending to a whole network of caring spirits. My dream is to continue planting, and to fervently cultivate trees of abundance, promise and hope…trees to fill the valley of uncertainty so that there is no longer any space left on the ground for any more dark holes. Together, we can build a forest…a strong, beautiful forest. A forest full of rejuvenating air, stable trunks, sprightly grass and comforting leaves. A forest filled with singing birds, swaying stems, gentle brooks and havens of revival… a forest that is serpent-free. Together we can create a forest…an interconnected, forever-growing forest…a sustaining forest…a forest of Life.


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