Here are some excerpts from my book.
I enjoyed the parade as long as I felt comfortable and then scampered home, where I proceeded to eat most of the contents of Mark and Cici’s pantry. I wanted to drown my sorrows in food because I felt so lonely. My life felt so unsettled. As I sat on their couch, watching television and looking at the bowl of yogurt I hadn’t really wanted in the first place, I started to cry.
Here I was in San Francisco and I still couldn’t control my eating habits. I cried as I realized this was a problem for me. This was something bigger than me. I wanted to stop, really I did, but I couldn’t. Food called to me like a chick cooing for its mother, and like a mom, I was powerless to resist.
As a freshman in high school I became obsessed with my body and with exercise. I believed if only I had a great body then my life would be perfect, people would love me. They would shower me with attention and respect. I would cease to be the timid wallflower who sat alone at home watching movies on a Saturday night and would become the belle of the ball. People would call me up to hang out. Boys would want to date me. But it all hinged on a perfect body. I was already thin—5’6” and 120 lbs—but I wanted to be thinner. I wanted muscle tone and definition. I wanted the pooch in my stomach to vanish.
My brother Isaac bought a Tae Bo tape because he too wanted a great body. We worked out in his bedroom/den to the calls of Billy Blanks. Isaac’s commitment dropped off after about two weeks. Mine did not. I loved the thrill of exercise, of feeling sore as I walked up the stairs. I loved the hint of definition in my triceps. I subtly flexed during English class in the hopes someone would notice, but they never did. Even with all my exercise, I still couldn’t get the love I so desperately craved. But I kept at it!
Exercise became the best thing ever. I could eat whatever I wanted and then just work it off! And I did. I performed 20 crunches after every cookie. I stuffed my face and then burned the calories. Until Billy Blanks no longer helped me. Because I plateaued.
After almost a year of working out religiously, I sat at my kitchen table and decided this was unhealthy. Even after all that exercise, cardio and strength training, I still had a pooch, or at least I thought I did. Besides, working out after every bite? It seemed a little eating disorderish. So I snapped. I went in the opposite direction. I ate everything I had been depriving myself of—all the cake, all the cookies, all the second helpings. Deprivation wasn’t healthy and I chose to stop.
My life as a junior in high school became very stressful. I had a physics teacher who called us all jackasses and, being the straight A student I was, I couldn’t tolerate his teaching style. (Or the fact he gave me a B even though I studied for hours and hired a tutor.) As well as taking three AP classes, I became editor-in-chief of our yearbook, stage-managed several plays, and took an SAT prep class at night. To mitigate all that stress, I turned to food. Huddled in my room writing papers, I chowed down on baby carrots, oftentimes finishing the whole bag. My weight crept up—first five pounds, then 10, then 15. But I didn’t stop. I kept eating. I used to look in the mirror and want to cut my body in half: the lower part looked disgusting, but the top half I could keep.
My senior year, with graduation looming, life became even more stressful and I continued to turn to my oldest tool: food. I graduated, left for college, and kept eating. I wasn’t emotionally ready to leave home and the school I started out at, UNC Chapel Hill, wasn’t a good fit for me. To compensate for my loneliness I ate. I ate to fill my heart. I ate to provide myself the love no one else was giving me. I ate to forget, to numb out, to relax. I packed on another 15 lbs. It upset me, but what could I do? I tried compulsively exercising again, but it didn’t work. I was still eating too much to lose weight. Sometimes I worked out and used that as an excuse to eat, because I had just burned so many calories.
I couldn’t stay at UNC—I was becoming suicidal. Being away from my support system was too much for me. I transferred home to UNC Charlotte. While I didn’t have many friends in the area, at least I had my parents. That’s when my late-night eating ritual really began. After a long day of school, homework, and stage managing, I rewarded myself with yogurt and carob chips, a chocolate bar, tortilla chips. . .
My sophomore year of college I transferred to American University. I began swimming and made friends. The weight started to slide off because I was happy. I dropped to 140 lbs, but my dysfunctional relationship with food continued. I still ate to comfort myself, but since there were people around, I didn’t eat as much. I didn’t want them to judge me, and living in a dorm I couldn’t indulge in sneak eating because my roommates were always around. When they weren’t, I binged, especially in the moments life became too much.
Over the next three years, life often seemed like too much. Classes, boys, graduation. The stress was always a trigger to eat. After I graduated and started working full-time I still “rewarded” myself with food. There were periods when I could control my eating, but they were just that: periods.
So here I was in California with no one around and no one to call. What did I do? Picked up my spoon. I cried because I didn’t want to. I wanted to stop, I really did, but I just couldn’t. It was a compulsion. Why couldn’t I control this?
Sitting on Mark and Cici’s couch with my spoon resting in the bowl, I started to think something was wrong with me. Maybe I needed a recovery program around food. I’m not even sure how that idea occurred to me. It was one of those thoughts planted by something other than me because I had never even heard of a recovery group for food. I googled one and read the questions to determine whether the program was right for me. I took their quiz and answered yes to almost every question.
Well, crap. I was a compulsive eater. Part of me really wanted to join the program but another part felt ashamed I couldn’t tackle my food issues on my own. I am a perfectionist, and of course I want to be perfect. But I also wanted to change my life. I didn’t like the patterns I was in, the hold food had over me. I decided I had to go to a meeting. As scared as I was, I made the commitment to go to the next new members’ meeting.
I finally finished Eat, Pray, Love, and after reading about Elizabeth Gilbert’s experiences, I wanted to know the name of her guru, and I wanted to do some chanting. I love Ananda Marga, but we have only three chants: one for before meditation, one for directly after, and one where we get on our knees, imagine a lotus flower, and surrender it to God. On special occasions, like weddings and baby namings, we have another chant. But since it’s just for special occasions I don’t get to hear it much. I wanted to do the same chanting Elizabeth Gilbert did at an ashram. Two days later, an Indian woman came to me in my dream and gave me the mudra for fearlessness. She raised her right hand and smiled at me. In my dream I said, “I already have a guru.” She said, “I know.” “Oh, OK then.” I thought it was strange and interesting. The next day I met Sam, a friend of a friend in my recovery program. Talking to her on the phone she said she had to go to bed early because she was getting up early to do some chanting. I asked if she was chanting the Gurugita and she said yes! Then she told me the name of her guru. After Sam gave me the name of her guru, I did a google image search and it was the woman who appeared to me in my dream! I felt really confused.
When I came back inside I heard a woman telling Sam, “Jai is having some of the young people over at his studio to chant tonight. You should come.” Sam said thanks, but no thanks, she felt really tired.
We went to the bathroom just before we left and while we were in there Sam yelled over the stalls that the guy who was having people over to chant was the brother of the celebrity Ben Blakely.(Obviously there is no celebrity named Ben Blakely; I changed the name to protect his privacy.)
“Wow, really? I know exactly who that is!”
Sam and I walked back to her car and she asked me if I wanted to go chant with the young people. Sam was too tired but she offered to drop me off at the studio, assuring me someone would give me a ride home. A part of me wanted to go and felt disappointed the night was over already, (it was only 9:15), but I also have a policy of not going anywhere without knowing how I’ll get home. So I declined. Sam started talking to me about Jai, and asked me what kind of guys I’m interested in. When I told her I tend to like the creative types, she turned the car around so we could go to Jai’s studio (he’s a musician). She said she felt like he and I had to meet.
Someone buzzed us into the apartment building and my heart hammered a million miles a minute. I felt nervous. Really nervous.
We walked into someone’s bedroom, crowded with people. The apartment renter had a roommate who wasn’t into chanting, so the living room was off limits. There was a crowd of young adults, 18 to 35, sitting on the floor, on the bed, jammed into every nook and cranny possible. I sidled toward the bed, the only place with any room to sit. I shed my coat and assessed the crowd around me, trying to ascertain who was related to Ben Blakely.
The chanting started up again and, while I didn’t particularly love it, I enjoyed being around like-minded people (I asked for this!). I enjoyed being with people around my age who were into spirituality. It was a whiff of fresh air after the stagnancy of Eli’s company.
As I sat on the bed, I heard the man behind me chanting in my ear. I think you can tell a lot about a person by their voice. You can know whether they are warm or not, whether they’re kind, if you’ll get along. I place a lot of stock in people’s voices. The guy behind me? I liked his voice. I thought to myself, “He may not be Jai Blakely, but he would do.”
The chant ended and we shifted positions. I got off the bed and moved to the floor. The guy sitting behind me jumped up and crossed the room. I looked up and it was the guy I kept passing at the ashram, the one I immediately felt attracted to!
He lingered in the doorway and then sauntered across the bedroom to talk to someone on the bed, which was caddy-corner to where I started sitting. I really, really wanted to introduce myself but he crossed the room again before I could interject.
Then he saw me.
I looked at him intently through lowered lashes. I felt hot, a blush coloring my cheeks. I pushed the sleeves of my long-sleeve shirt up to my elbows. He smiled at me, the kind of smile that turns women to mush. The kind of smile where your heart pounds faster, makes you melt, and prompts a smile in return. Then he crossed the room to talk to me.
He proffered his hand and said, “I’m Jai.”
“I saw you around the ashram tonight. Did you go to the chant?”
“That was a recording, this is live.”
I nodded because, yes, I surmised this was live and not a recording. And with that he walked back to his doorway.
After the chants finished for the evening I popped up and headed toward the doorway to talk to Jai. A magnetism, a force greater than myself, seemed to propel me toward him. Normally I’m shy and have trouble talking to guys I’m interested in. In the past I would have sat in the background and looked on from afar. Not so with Jai. I wanted to know him better.
Jai was in conversation with someone else, telling him about upcoming events. I stood there waiting for a break in the conversation. Jai said to the guy, “You should come to my shows. Then he turned to me and said, “You should come too.”
I smiled as he fished for a piece of paper and a pencil from his pocket so I could write down my e-mail address for him to put me on his listserv. I took them from him and turned to the door, using its hard surface to write down my e-mail address.
I turned back and asked, “Can you read it?”
Instead of taking the slip of paper from me, he cupped my fist with his two fists. As he did so I felt a shock, a jolt of electricity course through me while our skin connected. I felt tingly all over, like all of my nerves were firing.
I’ve had crushes in the past and I’ve touched those crushes—either hugged them or grazed their arm—but I have never in my life had a reaction like that to anyone. I have never physically felt electricity from a point of contact.
He released my hand and Sam came over and said, “This is Jai.”
He told her we’d already met.
He asked if he would see me at the ashram. I told him I wasn’t sure because I already had my own spiritual practices. He nodded his head and said, “OK.”
When Sam and I left I realized I was hooked.