I think I’ve been dreading completing my food history – hopefully part three will wrap it up!
I will begin part three at leaving home. Actually I ran away. I was sixteen, going on seventeen, and things came to a head – I couldn’t stay there with the violence and abuse any longer. I had been planning for quite a while to get out, not really knowing where to go or how – since we were so very controlled and I had no real experience of the world – but I knew that it was going to have to happen if I wanted a life in which I wasn’t beaten to a pulp every single night and abused emotionally and sexually too.
The morning after things got worse than awful, I left, with only what I was wearing and what I could carry in a small box – I took my ballet shoes and clothing, some books for university (I’d just been accepted into the performance dance course) and a few changes of clothing – I didn’t have more than a few changes of clothing full stop. I had only enough money to catch the two buses and train that would get me to the university and then the same home – the home fare could come in handy for something else but it wasn’t much more than $2!
I told my mother I was leaving – it was early morning and my bus left at 6am. It was pouring down cats and dogs outside! My first cat, Hotchy, had died a year earlier from a snake bite, a snake that I still believe was thrown AT her by my sociopathic older sister who seemed to enjoy watching the two of them fight for life. It seemed fate and my family conspired to see that she didn’t survive despite at one stage seeming to be on the mend.
If she’d still been alive, I would have stayed. She was my best friend and I couldn’t leave her behind – especially in a place where she too, was kicked and mistreated and went hungry.
When I said goodbye to mum, she tossed me an ATM card – MY ATM card. I’d never used it before. I’d been getting payments from centrelink for a few years now – payments to cover my living costs as a school and now new university student, and a payment for having a disability. My mother also got payments from our father to cover costs of my living too. I’d never had this money and she’d not exactly provided me with very much to show for it!
She told me how to use it – the first time I’d ever had control over my own affairs – and then said – By the way, there is only about 69 cents in your account for the next fortnight when your next pay from centrelink goes in – and that adds up to about $60 for a fortnight.
There is no way anyone can live on $60 a fortnight! Or 69c for two weeks either.
(I later found out she had kept the other payments that she was being paid for me, one of the reasons that I had such a struggle to get any sort of help from centrelink was that she had claimed I still lived at home, all that time!)
Well money or no money, I had to get out! Better poor and alive than the other..
Uni was only just beginning. I spent the first few days obsessively going to so many places, trying to find somewhere to live first up. I went round every backpackers hostel I could find, I went to real estate agents. I was upfront about my situation. Of course, noone could help me. I spent the first few nights hiding in suburban parks, trying to sleep and pretty soggy and miserable. I felt that being in the suburbs overnight was a lot safer than the city – where most people seem to go when they are homeless. I didn’t trust ANYONE, I didn’t want to be around people.
A few days later I finally rocked up in the uni counselling/welfare services – and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier! They helped me get into the student hostel and said, I could pay them back when I’d gotten my money sorted out. It was such a blessing. I had a room, I had breakfast and dinner daily, and lunch on weekends, I had a bed, linen… it was the Ritz!
I set about the money. In the end I ended up trading 50% of my student grant for a huge loan that would cover the huge board – $140 A WEEK (This was in the 1990′s so it was MASSIVE, you could rent a two bedroom home for that) with 50% interest on top of what I’d given back. I knew I was in for huge debts – but I had to live.
The very first time I ate in the hostel dining room – dinner – was so overwhelming! I joined in the line for the main meal, and was served up this heaping plate that smelled delicious. But eat it? I couldn’t… It felt like I was doing something awful. What right did I have to this food? It was not something I deserved! I saw the supervisor staring at me, and she nodded slightly, I think she understood. So I looked back to my plate and ate it, very self-consciously. It was a very new experience for me for it to be OKAY to eat. And it was very ‘strange’ food! Sauces on everything! Nothing was plain!
The first big event of the dance course was a getting to know you camp – it was wonderful. The food was wonderful – help yourself. I just ate and ate and ate. On the last day, one of the dance counsellors looked at my heaping plate of salad and asked me if I was going to go on a diet. I realised my clothes were tight and I was bigger than I ever remembered being. After years of being too skinny, it was a new and not very welcome feeling. I filed it away for later.
As I became more used to eating, I started to overeat. I went crazy with all this delicious food and the desserts. At first it was just enjoying the meals and not really overeating all that much – it felt like it to me as I wasn’t used to it, but looking back I wasn’t eating any more than anyone else at that time.
Then Wayne happened.
I met him at the hostel. He raped me.
I was fighting with my family, trying so hard to patch things up with them, show them that I was someone they wanted to love, too. I’d realised that being on prozac when I was still at home really had been helping me, and going cold turkey when I left had meant I’d hit lows in depression I’d never hit before.
I was hurting, and then Wayne hurt me too. And later on, when I’d moved out of the hostel and into my first attempt at renting with a friend, he grabbed me off the street and raped me again – and I didn’t get away from his control and constant abuse for many years after that.
I started stuffing myself with food. I ate till it hurt, lay in bed and cried, then when I could eat more, ate again. I ate everything I could get my hands on.
I gained weight. Heaps of weight. All my clothes were too small. The dance lecturers noticed and I got severely told off and told to lose weight – I was too big to be a dancer.
Somehow my mind seized on this. I was too fat. That was the core of all my problems! That was why I was such a MESS – I was too FAT.
I made up my mind to LOSE IT.
At first my diets were cutting out fat – I binged on apples and bread and jelly beans and wondered why I stayed fat. That didn’t work. So I did some research. The library seemed to have so many more diet books than any other subject! Wall to wall of them! And the first one I picked up, the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, sounded awesome! You only ate protein, and then each day you got to binge for a whole hour – but only an hour – on anything you wanted!
I gained even more weight – obviously. Back to the library.
the next book I picked up, Slim Forever, was also low-carb – but this made sense. This wasn’t a starve all day, binge at night crap thing. This was a real plan.
I really enjoyed eating protein – every day I had half a BBQ chicken to eat, carefully jettisoning any stuffing. If this was dieting, it was fun.
However things started to get a bit obsessive. Soon BBQ chicken was too oily, and I graduated to tinned tuna. In the end I was eating only egg whites and a horrible jelly made from gelatine and artificially sweetened herbal tea. (These were the days before there was much sugarfree food in existence, certainly not Jelly).
The weight fell off. I’d started being treated for depression at the university’s GP and counselling services, and soon they realised they were really treating anorexia. I started being pressured to add carbohydrates back into my diet, I particularly remember a fight with the doctor about eating a single peach – that terrified me! I was so phobic of carbohydrates that I was scared of milk because of the lactose, and lettuce because.. well it wasn’t protein, so it had to have some carbs in there.
In the end, the pressure won over, and I switched to calorie counting. It was all downhill from there as the number went down lower and lower, and I became obsessed with the numbers. I remember a complete mind-switch from anything that hurt me to the numbers. I no longer dealt with anything – my life was all directed at the numbers, the walking I’d been doing after being banned from the gym, and heartbreakingly, banned from dancing.
Losing the dancing was the last straw – it had been my LIFE and my reason to keep on fighting through so much that had been traumatic and felt inescapable. It was my ‘beyond this’ that I kept fighting for – the thing I knew that was so worth fighting for that would be my life beyond this nightmare if only I hung in there – and now it was gone.
It was all downhill from there – all the way to my first hospital admission – about three or four months after I’d embarked on my very first ever ‘diet’.
And I’m exhausted! I still have so much left of the food history but this is enough for now. Thanks for bearing with me – this has been a pretty boring and very self-centred post although it’s helped me massively to think about it and write about it.
Did thinking about and engaging in your food/weight/exercise/eating disordered obsession help you to cope with a hard time of your life – or help you to not think about what was really the problem for you?