Look for me in a fairy tale
Look for me in a fairy tale
Fairy tales, like poetry, are an art form that can enable the expression of repressed feelings. A revelation in sourcing diary excerpts for The Diary Healer was the popularity of poetry as a form of narrative expression in the recovery process. Fairy tales, through the creative use of metaphors, also provide a way to release hidden and locked-up emotions. The fairy tale writer can discover a freedom and sense of safety to express pain, anguish, and repressed experiences through their characters. In doing so, light can be shone into the dark corners of the writer’s mind, so assisting their healing. Fairy tales, therefore, besides being of interest for the reader, can also be a means for the writer to explore themselves within, and develop solutions. Today we publish our first fairy tale, by Karen Louise.
The Forest Is Gone
We come into this world beautiful beings deserving to be nurtured, seen and heard. When these needs are not met by our caregivers or environment, some of us become “easy pickings” for a bully to grow within. An eating disorder (ED) makes demands and promises that cannot be met and discourages interaction and connection with others. Our world shrinks to the locked room in our mind, and we struggle to find the courage or self-compassion to call for help. The ED insists it is the only one who can nurture, love and care for us.
On the top of a hill sits a splendid and grand castle overlooking a vast field of lush, natural and ancient trees. A small girl called Anna spends delightful hours in this natural habitat where the forest provides her with a beautiful place for free and sacred play.
When the sun starts to set, Anna knows she must return to her castle as Mother and Father will be expecting her. They cannot understand the beauty she can see. They warn her of the dangers outdoors and want her to stay at home where she is encased in her room and not causing worry or concern.
Today, Anna was late, it could not be helped, a baby bird had fallen out of its nest and she could not leave it to fend for itself. Once she had climbed the tree to return the baby robin to its home, she ran as fast as her legs could take her up the hill, away from the forest and into the large entry foyer of the ivory tower.
Despite her best attempt to explain, Anna’s mother and father decide the forest is full of danger and forbid her to return, declaring their concerns of tangled and gloomy evil lurking behind every tree.
With the new rules in place, each day feels endless and from her large and splendid room, Anna feels cold and gloomy. As she peers out of a small window, a sliver of light peers through. Anna spends hours watching the trees in the distance, imagining herself twirling and spinning until she falls onto the soft ground with nothing but blue sky above to see.
The lure to disobey her parents is strong yet Anna knows she cannot do so.
Mother and Father sit outside and enjoy the sunshine, but Anna accepts she is safer watching from her room. If she steps outside, she knows she will not be able to stay away from the forest where she feels free.
Day after day Anna tries to be good but her parents are too busy to notice she is even at home. As she sits alone in her room, overlooking the forest, Anna knows there must be more to life than meets the eye. Her mother and father bring her endless gifts but the one thing she craves is their time.
Anna wants desperately to be seen but she knows, as soon as she steps foot outside her room, her parents will tell her how to behave. “Be quiet,” “Speak up,” “Try harder,” and she will try, she will try so hard, but she won’t get it right, so it is wiser to stay in the shadows.
Dinner time comes and Anna sits alone as her parents are going to a ball. Her mother is wearing a magnificent gown and her diamond necklace sparkles like the stars. Her father swoops in and embraces his wife and winks at Anna, telling her, one day, she could be pretty like her mother. As they leave the house, silence falls, and Anna feels all alone. Without eating another bite, she returns to her room where she watches their carriage glide away.
Stifling a sob, Anna falls into bed and covers her eyes. Simply looking out the window at the forbidden forest is too painful and the rule that she cannot be there, to be free, feels beyond her control.
The next morning Anna wants to do something nice for her family and decides to bake them a cake. She spends hours finding the perfect recipe and making sure she gets everything right. Three cups of flour, four eggs and one and a half cups of butter to start. Anna has the ingredients spread out and the kitchen is a mess when her mother comes in and begins to yell. Her mother tells her to clean the mess and says if Anna is hungry, there are carrots in the fridge, reminding Anna that the calories in the cake are not worth it. After all, says Mother, “Nothing tastes as good as thin”. Father comes in quietly and tells Anna he will love her no matter how large her size. Biting back her tears, she returns to her room, again, wondering what she could do to be better.
As the summer passes, so do the days and Anna begins to grow. Suddenly her arms and legs are gangly, and her body does not feel like her own but when she tries to talk to Mother, she is told she needs to eat less and move more but Anna is not sure how to do this without breaking the rules. Her place to run is the forest but every time she asks to go, she is sent to her room for being disrespectful and rude.
If Anna is hungry between meals her mother tells her she is not and says, “Don’t be ridiculous,” with a sigh.As mealtimes come and go, this is the only time Mother has plenty of advice, “Drink lots of water before you eat,” “No carbohydrates after 5pm,” “Only eat half of your meal” and “Now you are older, you will need to watch what you eat.”
Other than these interactions at meals, with her parents out each day, Anna becomes used to the silence. While the window still overlooks the forest, Anna glances but does not see. Some things cause too much pain, and her new life belongs in the ivory tower and she is forced to accept this as her truth.
Instead of the opulent trees, the clear blue sky, free flying birds, squirrels, and rabbits, now, for company, there is a large mirror on the wall of her room. While no one is home, Anna plays dress-ups, trying on her mother’s ball gowns but all she can see is herself. She hopes, one day, when she grows up, she can be pretty, thin and tall like her mother but an incessant negative voice in her head tells her this will never be true.
Her clothes are tight and no longer fit and the shame of this will not go away. Anna has learned to eat when her parents are busy, she eats in secret and, while filled with guilt and shame, it is the only time she does not feel empty or so alone.
Mother and Father do not understand how Anna feels and spend their time silently lamenting her size. They have ceased to discuss any emotions at all. As Anna grows, she feels more invisible at home, and the only connection she receives are looks of dismay or distain. Anna spends more time each day alone while Mother and Father continue to attend operas and debutante balls.
While climbing into bed one night, Anna glances out the window and is transported back to a time when her body and mind were at one with nature. While she knows that her parents believe the forest to be tangled and gloomy, her life at home has become overwhelmingly dark and dismal and it is time for her to find some of her own control.
Anna decides if she cannot have the forest, perhaps, it is time to “try harder” and she will try, she will try so hard, that she will be successful and finally be seen and be worthy of her parents’ time.
If Anna can find love or attention from Mother and Father, her need to leave the castle will abate and a sense of belonging she has never found at home will grow. Hope rises in her chest as she imagines feeling deserving of love and care in the castle; until now, the forest has provided her only experiences of connection and belonging.
Each day begins with new resolve and Anna will not look out the window, pining for her forest, instead spending time looking in the mirror and standing on the scales. Anna measures her body multiple times daily and the mirror has become her gauge to justify the talk that is happening more and more in her head.
Anna’s parents are still busy and leave her at home alone. However, for the first time she can remember, Anna is no longer lonely. She has purpose and personal goals. There is a relentless conversation in her head, and now she recognises it, she listens well. Anna will not eat unless she walks laps around her room as it is important to burn off more than what is eaten and if this is not possible, she has found ways to negotiate her intake by purging, restricting, or taking diet pills and laxatives. She starts to feel more in control. She knows the calories of any food ingested and knows what rules are set in stone. Her list of “bad” foods outweigh the “good” by far, but when she considers questioning this, the voice in her head becomes abusive so she shuts the thoughts down swiftly. She cannot tolerate the idea she may fail.
Mother and Father are finally proud as they comment on her size. “You look so healthy,”and “You didn’t eat desert tonight, well done for being strong”. Anna feels seen and worthy of space.
The next time Mother and Father leave to attend a ball, Anna tries on her mother’s newest gown and looking in the mirror, realizes it too large for her frame. This time Anna laughs out loud and knows this journey has just begun and no longer misses her parents when they are gone. At the same time, the forest has become a distant memory of someone she no longer knows.
She has constant company now; the voice is very strong. It urges her to be her best and while she is so very tired, nothing matters other than control.
Anna’s thoughts have been so consuming that she has not noticed that over the years the forest has been receding, new houses are being built and the dwindling forest she sees from her window is another part of her life she has learned to live without.
Anna knows something is wrong as most days she can’t get out of bed. She can feel her body shrinking and her bones are sticking out. Even when she wants to eat, she does not have the strength or inner permission to do so. While she drifts in and out of sleep, she understands the injustice that, finally, in a room without a window, she has Mother and Father’s full attention but not in the way she wanted it to be.
Anna turns away from them when they enter her room, she no longer has the strength to hear what they say. There is too much noise when they speak over the commotion in her head. She may appear mean, and may be cruel, but she has her inner critic; she no longer needs to be noticed by her parents.
Anna is too tired to tell her parents they were wrong; the forest was not full of danger. Their concerns of tangled and gloomy evil lurking behind every tree was not the truth. There was no peril hidden in the clear blue sky, the trees, the birds, or rabbits. Anna’s end is coming as the evil thoughts have consumed her within, they are part of her now and she knows she has no way out.
The forest is no longer part of her reality and she cannot see the trees or feel the breeze on her face as she looks towards the sky.
Her need for control and belonging kept her protected until the need took on a cruel life of its own. The irony that Anna is dying from anorexia nervosa is not wasted on the girl and she hopes her ED won’t abandon her as wellas she draws her final breathe.
We invite you to submit your fairy tale for consideration for publication. For details, email: june@junealexander.
About Karen Louise
Growing up, all I ever wanted was a large family and the white picket fence dream. Born and bred in Australia, I work full time in a high-profile job and have four children. As a high functioning professional and mother with a diagnosis of a severe and enduring eating disorder, life has thrown more challenges my way than seems fair. As I reach a crossroad in my life, I realise I want to live authentically, with purpose. Writing allows me to give voice to the battles that lie within in the hope my skills and hard-won experience will help move me in a direction of Eating Disorder and Trauma recovery and allow me to create changes in the eating disorder advocacy and eating disorder education world.