I think a lot of my eating disorder has involved me trying to hold on to what is familiar to me, trying to feel ‘safe’.
Despite all that it’s put me through – utter hell in which I lost everything, including nearly my LIFE – I daily find myself daydreaming about losing weight. More than daily – all through the day. And I dream of it at night.
It feels a bit like an old friend and lover. Familiar, and seductive. You know them so well. There aren’t any unknowns (although there are – you can never know anyone’s deepest secrets as you can never know anything’s deepest most hidden facets in this life).
Sometimes, despite this ‘friend and lover’ having being an abusive one, it feels safer than what I face now. It’s a prison that I actually daydream about returning to, of creeping back into the cage and shutting the scary world out.
Every step forward into LIFE is a step I have not travelled before, and a step that I travel without my peers, for they have all gone on ahead of me when I should have come this way. The fear of each step is so great, I have to fight to not just turn around and run away again.
I fear so many things. I fear failure most of all. That, and ‘not coping’. I’m not good at new things now, and find myself overwhelmed by the colourful, exciting, ever-happening quality of real life. The eating disorder kept me very closeted. It was a dark, isolated life, then. And despite it being my cage, I came to find it familiar and comforting.
There have been studies done showing that when you keep a creature in captivity for long enough, you can open the doors and let it free – and it likely will not flee. I feel that way, myself.
As a child in my abusive and neglectful home, I accepted that this was what was. I did not like it or agree with it, in fact, it was extremely traumatic, especially as I grew older and my brother’s violence and my sister’s twisted cruelty grew worse. And my mother’s ability (or desire) to either protect me, or to supply me with the basics of life at all – seemed to dwindle ever more.
I couldn’t change it. I hurt terribly from it. But I accepted it.
Accepting it, actually caused me less pain than not accepting it. I am sure that had I not been able to accept what was, I would not have survived – it would have utterly broken me. More than I was broken, anyway. I mean, fatally broken.
Picture a wild bird in a cage, just caught, terrified at their predicament and thrashing to free themselves. In the majority of cases, that bird simply will not be able to get free from the cage. If she doesn’t accept her fate, she will batter herself to death, or at least be weak, bruised and battered – and still trapped.
You need to conserve your energy and strength in order to fight what you can fight when you are that trapped (in any way). You need to realise which battles are worth going all out for, and which, even if won, would only be empty victories.
But looking back, I see just how trapped I had become by my own mind – and it wasn’t just because I’d accepted I was trapped for now.
It took me so long to run away from there, not because anyone was stopping me, but because I believed I could not run away.
Our home had so many LAWS. These laws were punishable if broken, and the punishment felt like it would be as bad as death (or as I felt, worse, because of the emotional and physical distress punishments could involve). One of these many laws was ‘thou shalt not step outside this house and yard’s perimeters without due cause and permission.’
Our yard was fenced by a brown, wooden farmstyle fence – planks of wood placed horizontally between each fencepost, with two gates that were always heavily chained and padlocked. Intimidating, especially with loud barking dogs and ‘dangerous dog’ signs, but very easy to climb over. It wasn’t even that high – higher than me growing up, perhaps shoulder height when I left. I climbed over it every morning on the way to school, and every evening on the way back home. But had I wanted to climb over it when I didn’t have permission? I couldn’t have.
That easily-climbed fence was as effective as an electrified, barbed-wire-topped prison fence for me.
And it took being pushed for me to grasp the courage to break the ‘law’ and leave – realising that I couldn’t stay here and stay alive any longer.
And so, I fled for the ‘greener grass’ out yonder.
This is where I look back and say “I fled the frying pan and jumped into the fire”. Because I did exactly that. I met Wanker.
I wonder, had I come from a family that wasn’t abusive, would I have fought Wanker harder? Would I have refused to accept things as they came to be? Talking to my headshrinking doctor about it, his theory is that Wanker was familiar to me. He treated me the only way I’d ever known – cruelly, and without any respect at all. And, right after my flight from my home, that was familiar to me and therefore in some way, a comfort.
That makes me recoil in disgust, to read that – that I found comfort in that rapist bastard’s treatment of me. I was hurting, I fought him tooth and nail at first, and the first day he raped me (in a rape that just went on, and on, and on for an entire afternoon, at least 4 hours) I kept saying “NO!” loudly the entire time as well as fighting – and I may as well have been battering a tree trunk for all that moved him.
I never, ever wanted anything to do with Wanker. Never. Not even before he hurt me. I simply didn’t believe I had any chance of avoiding his abuse of me.
So I’d taken my prison from home with me – wherever I went from there, I still wasn’t free. I still was trapped by abuse and resigned to being abused because that was all I had known and all I felt worthy of.
Later on again, in hospital, the treatment of me there just confirmed to me that this was all I deserved. I was nothing better than a wild beast – and that’s how they treated me. And I stopped hoping for better, because I didn’t feel I deserved better.
So the big question for me here is – how do I take freedom with both hands? Not only sum up the courage to step out of my prison, but to stay out of it?
I think the answer is, one step at a time. And with courage – despite the fear of it all. By reminding myself that there isn’t such thing as failure unless you are talking about the failure to even try. And that I have nothing to lose by pressing ahead – and everything to lose by taking the easy way out.
Because that’s what it is, really. It takes great strength and courage for a child to stay alive in the face of such trauma – but it takes none to stay in your cage after the doors are thrown wide and the monsters are gone – monsters in your reality that is.
This is not from weakness – child abuse actually impacts on our brain.
Healing will be different for everyone. For me, it’s a very slow process, perhaps it will be a ‘forever’ process. I might never be healed, but always healing – if that makes sense.
For me, little things are more important at the moment. Like being accepted by my peers. Adding activities that to most are small and of no consequence into my life. And repeating, and repeating.
Every time I leave my home to go to art, to go to ballet, to do volunteer work, to have coffee with a friend, go to the supermarket, or even to put the rubbish in the bins – I face my fears. And every single time I face my fears this way, I’m making myself stronger and another step closer to some day being able to embrace this big scary world as simply ‘the world I live in’ – because I’ll be able to live in it, enjoy it, and feel safe.
I think this is part of why when it comes to fighting an eating disorder or an addiction or a mental illness that keeps you isolated and trapped – such ‘little’ milestones are just as important to work on achieving as are the more obvious ones, such as weight gain, abstinence, or managing your anxiety. They are all the stepping stones, and you can’t just hope to yank out what you are trying to overcome and not freak out when there is nothing there to replace what it’s been in your life. We also have to practice at life, just like we need to practice our ballet or our piano playing or other skills daily to improve them. It comes by doing. This is a huge challenge to me, I who tend to keep retreating into avoidance!
One last important thing?
Forgiving yourself. You did the best with the situation, knowledge and resources you had at the time – you did your best. It’s not your fault.
Thank you to Motifake for the demotivational poster images.
Featured image source.