A fter our first riding lesson, Tammy and I found a shady spot in view of the riding arena, where a group lesson was taking place. We both preferred to stay near the horses.

We spoke first about the cheirem her sixth-grade class had put her through.

“Did you tell the teacher?” I asked.

“No, but she must’ve known, because I was always alone. She didn’t care about me, why should she? I wasn’t the class queen, I wasn’t pretty. I was fat and ugly.”

In other words, Tammy blamed herself.

“Did you tell your mother?”

“Yes. She was furious and wanted to speak to the girls’ mothers. But I wouldn’t let her because they’d only hate me more and isolate me more, as if that was possible. I threatened to run away if she told anyone.”

“How long did this go on?”

“Almost the whole year. When the cheirem ended, the class queen came to my house to pick me up to go shopping with her for a class gift for the teacher. I had the flu, could barely move, but I agreed. If Sara said to go, I had to go.”

So far I’d heard one story. One story out of an entire childhood. There was enough pain, fear, and isolation to topple even the strongest tree. Yet this particular sapling had already been rooted in fear of rejection, lack of confidence, and lack of trust, as was evidenced by her prior poor self-image and refusal to involve adults. The fear of rejection became her constant companion, and vigilance became a matter of survival, so as never to get on anyone’s bad side. Every word, every look, every action had to be perfect.

“I was always chunky. I was good at everything else, but dieting?” She shook her head. “My lack of control gave me no peace. When I was 14, my best friend suggested we diet together. At first I lost weight, but then I plateaued while she kept losing. Till she told me her secret — she’d been throwing up. She taught me how, and for the last 12 years I’ve been throwing up.

“I never told a soul, not even my mother. I barely ate during the day and never threw up at school or work. When I got home, I’d binge and purge. At some point I realized how sick this was, but I could never stop for more than a few days. Still, I told myself I wasn’t that bad, because I only threw up once a day, not like some other girls.”

“If the system has been working well for so many years,” I asked, “why do you want to stop?”

“Normal people don’t do this.” Her voice shook. “And it’s gotten to the point that all day I’m thinking about eating and purging. I’m going crazy! You have no idea how much money I waste on food. Hundreds of shekels, every day.”

Tammy came at the best possible time for treatment — when she felt desperate enough to leave the safety and comfort of her drug of choice. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 566)