Seeking Normal

I love amaryllises. Most years I order a new one. I watch as those from previous years bloom and re-bloom. One year when my new one arrived, I got distracted and didn’t plant it right away. When I finally remembered and rescued it from the paper bag it had been in, it had started to grow but clearly had suffered from my neglect.The stem and bud were almost white. And as you can see the stem was bent almost over on itself. It had done everything it could to realize itself within the confines of the small paper bag. 

I felt terrible about what had happened and decided to see if it could recover. So I potted it in some nice fresh soil. And put it on my plant shelf where it would be blessed by the morning sun, hoping that the sun and the plant’s tendency to bend toward it would help it recover at least a bit.

In the days after I potted it, the sun did done its work, or as much as it could. The stem and bud became green and the stem straightened some. The bud began to swell. And the flower appeared.

In Natalie Borero’s Killer Fat, she relates

“most of the people to whom I spoke talked about a desire to lose weight to be normal, to be able to wear a smaller size, to blend in, and to avoid the stigma and discrimination faced by fat people. This pattern held not only for people like Tina, who had undergone surgery in order to lose weight, but also for people engaged in less invasive weight-loss attempts.”

The multi-billion dollar diet industry is built on this desire to achieve the ever elusive “normal”, a size or weight or look that remains just out of reach.

In psychotherapy,

“Patients typically seek a “cure” for their wounds, their anxiety, their obsessions and addictions. Jung denies that “perfection” – which may be thought of as a synonym for “cure” – is possible. My own experience, on both sides of the couch, suggests that even “healing” may be a problematic word. In some sense, a person is her wounds. A sapling, planted beside a supportive stake that the gardener neglects to remove, will grow around the stake. The stake’s presence will injure the growing tree; the tree will adapt by distorting its “natural” shape to accommodate the stake. But the mature tree will be the shape it has taken; it cannot be “cured” of the injury, the injury is an intrinsic aspect of its nature.” Barbara Stevens Sullivan

I think of the futility in both instances. That amaryllis once deformed by neglect could not be as it might have been under ideal conditions. But that did not keep it from being an amaryllis. There is no way to become the person I might have been had the circumstances of my life not led to the wounds I carry. I can become freer of their negative effects. I can become conscious of the wounds, how they came to be and how I might respond differently going forward. But I cannot be “cured” because I am my wounds, just as the tree in Sullivan’s example cannot become other than the way it is. Normal for me is who and how I am. 

Now consider the fat person who wants to be “normal”. Her chances of reaching that mythic place are something like 5%. She may lose weight, lose a lot of weight even but she is quite likely to regain it and there goes that chance at “normal”. If the tree in Sullivan’s example is its own normal, because it is the shape it has taken and that shape reflects the conditions of its growth, then is that not also true of the fat person. There are so many causes for and reasons for being fat. But in essence do they not all come down to the conditions in which that fat body has grown and developed? A complex stew of genetic, biologic, emotional, social, familial factors that as the container in which that person develops shape that body. How is we cannot, collectively, acknowledge that there is no cure for this body, that the fat body is its own normal? 

The person with significant emotional wounds often does need help to come to terms with those wounds and the shape they have given to her life. What therapy can do for the fat person is help her come to terms with her normal, to find her way through the pain of stigma and being different. We all are our wounds, no matter the form they take or shape they give us.