I got as far as the first paragraph of Deborah Y. Abramson’s “For No Good Reason” [May 1999] before I flipped the magazine shut and pushed it away. I knew what was coming; I knew her story. It didn’t matter if some of the details differed — I knew.
Later, I returned to the essay, fingers gripping my coffee mug. (Coffee has almost no calories and the added bonus of artificial energy.) This time I was able to read on, to find out how the demon — “the force that operates outside of cognition” — works its way into another person’s mind.
Bulimia is a brutal cycle. My rational side can stand outside of me and explain why the food keeps coming, and why it should come out, or not be eaten at all: “It’s because of your isolation. You’re filling the deep gap left by your failed marriage,” and so on. But I can’t convey to others what I feel or why the cycle exists.
I admire Abramson’s strength and courage in being able to tell her story. I must admit, I was hoping for a grand recovery at the end — if only to feed the demon more examples of my own failure — but the truth was better. So many of us reach for a happy ending and end up disappointed. I keep hoping for some breakthrough or book that will free what’s left of me from the grip of this disorder. The answer, however, is in me. I just need to keep digging for it. Hopefully, with the right guidance and the knowledge that others have succeeded, I can free myself.
I’m writing to cancel my subscription. Over time, The Sun has spoken less and less to me. It’s nearing the point where I can’t read it at all without wanting to shake some of the writers. How can Wesley J. Smith [“In the Name of Compassion,” February 1999] so boldly decide for everyone that quantity matters more in life than quality? Nor can I get much out of the words of Deborah Y. Abramson, the poor little rich girl with bulimia — since she doesn’t have to do anything, she has the luxury to create her own disease. Perhaps author Charles Bukowski was right when he said, “Nobody suffers like the rich.”
I felt an odd comfort while reading Deborah Y. Abramson’s account of her eating disorder. Her quiet acceptance, combined with the admission that some part of her enjoys her compulsions, sounded a chord deep within me. I have never admitted to anyone the enjoyment I take from my own bizarre behavior.
I have gone through many different compulsions: relentlessly tearing my cuticles bloody, shoplifting, slicing myself with razor blades, strange ritual masturbation, eating nonstop, not eating at all, and — perhaps the most embarrassing of all, oddly enough — picking my nose. Some of these have been lifelong problems, while others have fallen away of their own accord. None of them has responded to psychotherapy or behavior modification. In fact, I am proud to say that I don’t respond to behavior modification on any level.
Despite all of this, I appear normal. I am an intelligent and attractive young woman who enjoys life and stands up for herself. You would not know to look at me that I have grotesque behaviors I cannot control. You might notice the scarred, scabbed, bloody areas surrounding my nails, or the way my fingers never stop tearing at each other, but most people don’t. I guess it is just too much to comprehend that these contradictions exist in one person. But the truth of me is: I am calm, gentle, and good to others, but relentless, brutal, and cruel to myself.
In an odd way, my compulsive side stabilizes my “normal” side, and vice versa. I can’t imagine it being any other way.
I had a hard time reading “For No Good Reason,” but I also couldn’t put it down, because it was the exact opposite of my own experience. I was verbally abused by my family, and, as a result, I’ve always wanted to eat enough to make me big and strong.
I was afraid as I read that Abramson would not make it through, yet I knew she had survived to tell her story. I was amazed by how she became better, and also relieved. I have gone through many trials to become a survivor myself. Hers is one of the most moving tales of struggle I have ever read.
I have been an avid reader of The Sun for almost two years, but no single issue has affected me as much as the May 1999 issue, where your writers touched upon bulimia, body image, and the craze for a fat-free America.
Fat. The word has so many connotations, almost all of them negative. I am a married woman and an executive who owns a home. I consider myself a responsible citizen and a positive influence upon those around me. My appearance is impeccable, and I never leave home without perfect hair, clothes, makeup, and accessories. I am generally healthier than most thin people I know. Yet as a woman who weighs more than three hundred pounds, I am greeted at every turn by a subtle bias. Store clerks eye my purchases. Co-workers and bosses wonder about my capabilities and energy level. People display hurtful reactions to my size, often without saying a word. The world tells me that I am impulsive, lazy, and complacent about my health. By the media’s definition, I am not successful because I cannot conquer my “weight problem.”
I am now pregnant. I have been horribly nauseated for the first six months, leaving me unable to eat much, and have lost twenty-five pounds. At my last doctor’s visit, I voiced my concerns about the effects of my not eating for days on my unborn child. The doctor brushed off my questions, admonishing me that the baby could live off my “stores.” I fear for the health of my unborn child. I am even more afraid that she will grow up to be fat.
In her haunting essay “Curtains” [May 1999], Gene Zeiger has the courage to voice what is not often spoken of by Jews born during or just after the war: the role of the Holocaust in our own lives. Though I was born after the Holocaust, in 1946, as the years pass, the distance between myself and it grows smaller. What felt like ancient history to a small boy playing in the streets of Brooklyn now seems like yesterday.
I grew up with stories in books and on television, documenting the murders; with the ordinariness of the blue numbers tattooed on the arms of my hard-working neighbors, who never mentioned the camps; with the recounting of Eichmann’s crimes when he was caught; and with pride in Israel’s survival.
What Zeiger’s essay touches within me is the tribal feeling of survivors and their children: a mixture of fear, rage, compassion, guilt, love, and hate. Examined or unexamined, in the background or in the present, these feelings are always there.
I recently discussed the bombing in Serbia with my eighty-two-year-old mother, whose mind still shines. Of Kosovo, she said, “It’s horrible. We must do something.” What went unsaid — but what we both understood — was that our minds had departed from the relative merits or stupidity of Clinton and NATO’s war; for us it was Berlin being bombed, not Belgrade, and Auschwitz being liberated, not Pec.
Two of my friends are survivors. One was at Auschwitz; the other was hidden by gentiles. My experience and theirs are incomparable. I cannot tell you their stories. I cannot presume to relate to you their pain or their transcendence. But I and my generation have been touched by their experience, by the pain, the suffering, the aftermath, and all the things left unsaid.
Stephen J. Lyons [“Time Past, Time Remaining,” May 1999] writes well and handles his subject matter expertly. It breaks my heart, however, that he still has not heard his mother’s plea for a visit from him. All he has to do is go home. He will regret it if his mother dies and he never made the effort to see her while she was still alive and longing for him.
For Christmas 1998, I sent The Sun as a gift to a friend who is in a federal correctional institution. Today I received from him the warmest thank-you note of my life. Here it is:
Right now, I’m sitting outside. The Pacific wind has taken a break. Generally, it’s relentless, blowing in off the ocean seven miles to the west, spreading colds and flu among the inmates and making me keenly aware of why this particular geographical area is not densely populated.
I sit surrounded by another fifty or sixty uniformed human beings, stored here for the duration of their sentences. The quad is ringed with aluminum benches, a small olive tree at the center. The swallows have returned and are carefully regurgitating mud against the walls of dormitories to build the intricate nests that will cradle their young. Thousands of free-flying birds swarm over the quad, oblivious to the anguish of the inmates pacing the locked and gated compound below.
The Sun is like a brilliant light illuminating this dank and musty hole in the American psyche. Thank you for the subscription. The earliest issues are still in circulation on the compound. I’m amazed at how people here enjoy the clear, insightful, unusual writing.
Prison stymies and stagnates both keepers and kept, while the general populace enjoys the illusion of retribution. Having tasted the poison, I now feel resistant enough to challenge the insanity. This, too, must change.