*This blog post comes with a warning for anyone who is sensitive towards sexual abuse and eating disorder triggers*
A couple of blog posts back, I likened my eating disorder to a weed that was destroying my life. I said I wanted to pull it out at its root. I’ll admit, other than make an appointment to see an eating disorder specialist (which I’m still waiting for!), I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that. Roots deeply embed and bury themselves so they are hard to find.
However, over the last week, I believe the root of my eating disorder has been identified. It’s in the process of being pulled out.
This is a painful process.
This a sensitive situation.
Freshers’ week, September 2011. Anyone who’s experienced a freshers’ week will know that it’s a roller-coaster of emotions – it’s meant to be a scary but exciting time. All I remember of my freshers’ week is this: someone tried to have sex with me. It was not a violent attack. It was just a fellow fresher who was pumped with alcohol. They probably felt peer pressure to have sex that week, and thought they’d try their luck with me. But if this person had known me, they’d have know my attitude towards sexual behaviour. I don’t sleep around. I value my virginity. I see it as a special gift to give to the man I love and marry. I’m aware this is a very traditional view, and I don’t judge anyone who thinks and acts differently. We should all have the free-will to decide who we sleep with and when we sleep with them.
Which is why, in that moment (and it felt like the longest moment of my life!) I felt violated. I felt vulnerable. Someone wanted to use my body for nothing more than their own pleasure. They wanted to take something from me; something which I was not willing to give them.
I’m so thankful nothing more happened that night. I really am. I know it could have been a lot worse. But it shook me up. And it scared me. A lot. But at the time, I didn’t address how it made made feel. I didn’t talk about it or even think about it. I buried it.
Looking back now, it’s clear that’s what triggered my eating disorder. It all makes sense. Someone had tried to control me, so I needed to find something to control. Being away from home and responsible for feeding myself, of course food was the obvious choice (not that I consciously decided this; I was oblivious to it all at the time).
The incident that night (combined with several other incidents that I’ve been aware of over the years) gave me quite a negative, cautious view of how men view women. Starting uni at the age of 18, I’d pretty much finished going through puberty. I was getting used to having a fully-formed female body. But I lost respect for my body. I didn’t want it to be beautiful. I didn’t want men to look at me and my body and think I was good for nothing more than sex. So when I became sickeningly skinny because I was restricting my food so much, I didn’t really care that I was destroying my body. I became like a little girl who needed protecting. If anything, that made me feel safer.
Despite feeling physically and emotionally vulnerable, I’ve tried to be strong – probably as a reaction against being made to feel weak. But my eating disorder strengthened its stronghold over me – we’ve been wrestling each other for so long. My attempts to recover over the years have failed because I’ve never addressed the root cause. I’ve suppressed it for nearly six years.
But I can’t suppress it any more.
I’m releasing deep emotional pain at the moment. This experience is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The Latin derivative for the word emotion ’emotere’, literally means energy in motion. This is because emotions have physiological symptoms. I’ve been awake in the middle of the night, shivering and crying (such a good detox though!) and feeling violently sick. It’s exhausting, but liberating! I feel like an open wound. But open wounds eventually heal. I can see that talking about this issue is all part of the healing process. For me, this includes talking to friends and family, people who pray for me, counsellors… and writing my blog!
Why’s this all coming out now? Well, I’m not going to pretend I understand the psychology behind suppressed emotions resurfacing. But due to recent situations in my life, I’ve become aware of how that trigger has affected how I engage in other relationships. Relationships that I deeply cared about. I am so very sad, cross and regretful that an issue from years ago has been preventing me from living and enjoying my life to the full now. I don’t want to miss out on anything any more. I want to be the complete, whole person I know I have the potential to be.
“Until you are broken, you don’t know what you’re made of. Being broken gives you the ability to build yourself all over again, but stronger than ever.” Ziad K Abdelnour
I should probably make it clear that I don’t judge all men by the same standards of guys who just want to sleep with women. I know not all men are the same. Some of my closest friends are great guys. And in the last few months, I have been shown in a beautiful and special way that men can be kind. Some men do know how to respect a women and appreciate her for who she is as a person.
In my heart, I have forgiven that guy from uni; although he probably didn’t even think he was doing anything wrong that night during freshers’ week. And I expect he hasn’t thought twice about our encounter since. But the affect it’s had on me has been profound. I think we should all take this as a reminder that our actions – all our actions – have consequences. We may not ever realise how much what we do and say impacts other. And most of the time, we have no idea what hurt people are carrying around with them. So let’s treat each other with respect and kindness.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Just like our physical health, our mental health is something we should all be aware of. On a day-to-day basis, we are all processing emotional responses to situations – and some of these emotions should not be bottled up. Talk it out. People will listen. In fact, many people will feel privileged to listen to you. You may feel weak, but in talking some stuff out, you have to be brave – and being brave ultimately makes you strong!
“Emotional pain cannot kill you. But running from it can. Allow. Embrace. Let yourself feel. Let yourself heal.” Vironika Tugaleva