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Book Excerpt: Weightlessness Part 1

The following is an excerpt from Theaters of Trauma, the acclaimed book by Dr. Richard Raubolt.  All rights reserved. Read part 2 here.

Ceely, a large twenty-four year old woman with deep ebony eyes and circles to match had inflated herself in proportion to the beatings she had suffered. During our first few meetings she would stand in my waiting room. When I brought her in for her session she would grab hold of the thick cherry wood arms of my office chair and slowly begin to ease herself down, her face would flush and her scalp would sprinkle rows of sweat just below her hairline. She also fixed her unblinking wide-eyed stare on me looking for a signal the chair would not crumble beneath her. Each time I would silently nod my head encouraging her, and each time the chair held firm. This  became our starting ritual for months.

In a voice reminding me of the delicate warble of an injured and terrified little bird, Ceely volunteered she was “way the other side of 350” and had been for years. She also quickly added she had a mother who “really did love” her. Then, almost as an after thought, she concluded, “except when I make her see colors.” These intriguing if enigmatic words were to become a central story line of Ceely’s therapy.

Ceely was the youngest of three children born to a pasty, timid father and a roaring, off center mother. Ceely would secretly enjoy the rare moments when her father wasn’t away working and they could steal off to a quiet hidden corner in the basement. Seemingly far from the prying eyes of his wife, her father would read to her or make up fantastic adventure stories of daring and courage. These were apparently the qualities he could not possess but only dream of safely in the presence of his child. Still these were the times Ceely’s father seemed most alive to her; laughing, making faces and bringing some resonance to his otherwise pancake thin voice. These playtimes were brief and unexpected, signaled by a subtle wink by her father on the move to the basement. Ceely was to wait by counting to one hundred and then follow. Neither of them wanted to alert her mother to their clandestine meetings. To do so would risk a screaming tirade and time “under the belt” for “sneakin and lyin and whatever else you do with each other.”

The innuendo was clear. These meetings were meant to exclude her and must be suggestive of something wrong or sexual in nature. The first supposition was true while the second was not. It was true that Ceely would sit on her father’s lap but even at age six this was the extent of their physical contact. While she admitted she longed for more “hugs and kisses,” only once did she try to touch her father’s “privates.” He gently but silently turned this overture aside and she did not try again. Ceely’s father was not a vibrant or strong man and he cowered in the face of his wife’s acid laced outbursts. Consequently, he could offer little if any protection or affection when such venom was directed her way.

Ceely’s special relationship with her father infuriated her mother who nursed every wound until its festering presence spewed forth in uncontrolled rages. Everything and anything could send her mother off depending on her rapid and violent mood swings. Ceely, however, was her favorite target because she was most like her father in personality and least like her mother in physical appearance. She was silent and fat. Her mother was loud and, while the years took their inevitable toll, she still retained the seductive curves of her modeling years.

Ceely’s mother craved the very attention she burned away with her scorching words of hatred. Her mother hated her life and blamed everyone in it for her misery but Ceely, being the youngest, was to redeem this tortured life. She was to be the supermodel and commercial starlet her mother let slip away with her tantrums and violence. If she couldn’t earn the spotlight herself she would take Ceely’s. But Ceely’s weight was a direct affront to these scheming aspirations. Each time her mother saw Ceely getting into or out of the shower was a stark visual reminder to her mother that her dream was being damaged. She would then grab handfuls of Ceely’s skin and squeeze as hard as she could. She was literally trying to pull the flesh off Ceely’s bones. She would say as much screaming: “If you won’t lose it I’ll take it off with my own hands.” Her mother was seeing “colors,” as Ceely described her mother’s behavior, a phrase that I took as disguised short hand for psychotic rages.

Ceely went on to describe equally extreme, if less obviously violent measures, her mother employed to change her body. Enemas, laxatives, periods of forced starvation for days on end, military exercise programs, even amphetamines purchased illegally were used in the desperate attempts of her mother to replicate herself physically. Still Ceely gained size; the more her mother tried to shrink her the bigger she became.

All of these experiences were related in the flat hollowed out voice of a child no longer in her body. Words did not match nor did they sound attached to the traumas she described. They were instead marked by resignation and absence. The more she said the less life there was for Ceely to feel. I was hearing a recording of events as if they were not hers, but another’s life story. I, on the other hand, was feeling enough agitation and anger to leave saddlebags of sweat leaking into my shirts from under my arms. I worked hard to contain the intensity of my own emotions to give Ceely room to tell her story as she saw fit and without any resemblance of the intrusiveness so prevalent with her mother. Not lost on me, however, was that my body was revealing what her body was hiding. I was moving into experiences Ceely denied but also transferred including fear and unregistered defiance.

After about six months of treatment where there was very little dialogue, I asked Ceely why she was telling me this history and what she expected from me. My question caught her by surprise and she said she didn’t know. As if suddenly returning from some far off place, she acknowledged she was “lost in the details.” She also seemed to see me for the first time in months and commented that I seemed upset. As a look of panic crossed her face she asked if I was angry with her pointing to the wet French blue shirt I was wearing.

I responded: “No, in fact you remind me of a sleeping beauty. I am not angry with you but I am at what was done to you.” I knew I took a risk in referring to her the way I did but I felt she was in a fairy tale land as she spoke and “beauty” captures many qualities beyond her mother’s restricted vision. Ceely countered: “I’m no beauty. You say you are not angry with me but you are angry enough to make fun of me.”

I answered: “ I meant no harm to you. What I said is true for me. I believe you are a sleeping beauty but not your mother’s. You don’t know it because you have been so busy protecting yourself from your mother’s assaults. Your anger with me about my remark tells me there is life in you and perhaps the spell silencing your emotions is about to be broken.”

Then in the familiar story line of so many traumas, as described in the pages of this book, Ceely asked: “How can you be so critical of my mother? She was just trying to help me become prettier, thinner and more appealing. It’s my fault none of it worked and I look like this now. Besides I’m the one who drove her crazy.”

The real work of Ceely’s therapy could now begin in earnest: writing her own life story without the lies, distortion and misrepresentations she had heard about herself for so many years.

Coming soon: Part 2 of Weightlessness.