T ammy was blossoming. She was beginning to see herself as a human being, with the right to exist, a right to an opinion, a right to say no. Not only had she completely stopped purging, she was sticking to her food plan and feeling a lot of freedom from her obsessions around food.

Then Tammy’s older sister Chana called. She was coming to Israel, staying in Tammy’s apartment — in fact, in Tammy’s room — while Tammy slept on the sofa.

“Two weeks with Mrs. Perfect and her perfect husband, baby, and career. She could stay with any of my siblings! Why me?”

“Good question,” I said. “Why you?”

Tammy shrugged. “Because she asked.”

“You agreed?”

“She didn’t ask exactly, I had no choice.”

“There are always choices.” I reminded Tammy about Chevi’s CV, and that she doesn’t have to solve other people’s problems. But her fear of what will they think of me was too strong; she wasn’t ready to stand her ground with her family.

The visit was as bad as she’d feared. “I asked her not to let the baby pull books off the shelves. Chana laughed, said she’d clean it all up at the end of the day. She said, ‘You’re just not used to having babies around.’ Can you believe her? She buys cereals, pastries… all the things I crave most! And she gave the baby my last yogurt. I needed that yogurt for my food plan. Chana saw my face, said I take things way out of proportion.”

We reviewed her tools, and I tried to bolster her confidence, but the next day Tammy caved. She gave her sister full run of the house, and she started nibbling. Each bite brought her more guilt, which triggered her further.

When Chana left, Tammy and I both breathed a huge sigh of relief. We used the visit to help Tammy understand her family relationships and strengthen her resolve to keep going.

Then came the Yamim Tovim.

Tammy often went to her parents for Shabbos, but for Yom Tov, her siblings piled in as well. She became little Tammy again — powerless, invisible, weak. The food was richer, meal times were off, and Tammy lost the nerve to eat differently than the rest of the family. By the time everyone packed up and went home, Tammy couldn’t get through even one day clean. She thought all was lost, and she was acutely feeling the pain of failure and despair.

I felt her pain, too. It’s wrenching to watch someone struggle to know exactly what she needs to do, and be utterly helpless to make her do it.

I saddled Luna, my favorite horse, and rode out, alone, toward an acacia tree near the top of a mountain overlooking Retorno’s riding arena. I tied Luna nearby, closed my eyes, and leaned up against the tree, letting the breeze wash over me. Luna whinnied, and a flock of birds flew overhead. I filled my lungs and let go of the tension in my shoulders. I spent a few minutes just… being.

When the static was gone, I turned my mind to Tammy. Everything I’d taught her on a horse was parallel to what I was teaching her about recovery. She’d been making such solid progress; why was she slipping? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 567)