Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Learning to Notice God's Heaven

Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

Learning to Notice God's Heaven

Article excerpt

Anorexia, the disease of self-starvation, in some ways oddly resembles alcoholism, the disease of consumption gone wild. The two are lifelong sicknesses that go into remission only after the sufferer manages to escape self-loathing long enough to discover a loving presence in the world outside herself. This loving presence might be the Christian God, a great spirit, or the natural world taken as a whole. Confidence in this presence enables the alcoholic to put a cork in her desire to drink and gives the anorexic strength to pry the lid off an obsessive self-control that condemns her to a life of endless hunger.

I have been an anorexic since the age of seventeen when my weight plunged from 160 to about 115 pounds in just a few months. I know very well how my no-eating compulsion started. My mother's constant nagging about the need to "slim down" was one of the chief leitmotivs of my childhood. I was convinced that my fat self was ugly and worthless even though I was a strong academic achiever who always had the highest marks in the class. I recently found a photo of myself at the age of six or seven--a chubby-faced girl with a slight smile and my naturally straight hair so tightly curled that it's a wonder the photo doesn't scream at me in pain even after all these years. Right under the picture I had at some point scrawled UGH!!! in big red letters.

The paradox of my teenage weight loss was that even then I didn't satisfy my mother. Instead of emerging as a teenage beauty queen I became skeletal and chronically gloomy. I stopped getting my period for a few months. Some of my hair fell out too; that was no fun. This is the cruel snare that traps all anorexics. Their frantic efforts to be pretty make them hideous instead. Now that I am an anorexic-in-remission, one of my big temptations is to hate my mother as much as I used to hate myself.

My teenage anorexia cleared up without my ever dealing with it directly. It dissipated after I left home to go to university, where I found friends, fun and engrossing studies. By the time I graduated from the University of Toronto, I was cheerful at least some of the time and slightly overweight. I retained many anorexic characteristics which at the time I did not identify as such, chief among them an irresistible urge to overregulate my life.

Full-blown anorexia came back to me about ten years later, in the late 1970s, now fiercer than ever because I had learned nothing about how to handle it during my first bout. …

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