Excerpt from Full Lives
Several times in my life there have appeared individuals to whom I am instantly and mysteriously devoted. Eileen T. Bills is one of those people. Initially, she wrote to thank me for the inspiration she received from a booklet I had written in 1980. I was so moved by her words that I reprinted part of her original, hand-written, three-page letter in my book, BULIMIA: A Guide to Recovery, when it was published six years later. Shortly afterward came another note from Eileen, who said she had seen the new book and was surprised and happy to see her letter in it. We continued corresponding and spoke on the phone from time to time. She has also been in touch with Jean Rubel all these years, so I thought it appropriate to seat them together at the Full Lives dinner party.
I learned about Eileen’s interest in the topic of sexual abuse when she sent me a copy of her dissertation, “Eating Disorders and Their Correlates in Earlier Episodes of Incest,” which led me to ask her about writing a chapter for this book. Although she had never attempted to write about her own experiences, nor was I aware of the full extent of the abuse she had endured, I sensed that there would be power and inspiration in her story.
When I got her initial draft, I noticed a curious thing. After the first few pages of introduction, the narrative slipped from the first to the third person as she began describing specific incidents of sexual abuse in more detail. Apparently, it was still difficult for Eileen to face what had happened to her as a child-even after having gone through recovery from anorexia nervosa and bulimia, receiving a doctorate in Counseling Psychology, and working in the field of eating disorders for ten years.
Fortunately for us readers, Eileen is a fighter. She was, in her words, “willing to endure the anxiety associated with making changes and to persevere-I never gave up and it took a long, long time to get well.” The chapter which follows is evidence of this. But to understand her struggle, and why recovery seemed to take “forever,” we must face the horror and the pain underneath, just as she did. We must look beyond the obvious symptoms for their purpose and meaning.
When we do this, it becomes clear that although an eating disorder is in itself a problem, it can also be a way to cope with extreme emotional pain-in effect, it is a tool for survival. As Eileen writes, “Dieting and weight loss became an obsession because I had been repeatedly sexually abused. Indeed, they were my salvation. . . ” Her eating disorder kept the spotlight off her humiliation, powerlessness, emerging sexuality, and the conflict she experienced between wanting a connection with others and their continual betrayal. Eileen needed protection, and she found it in a deliberate relationship with food.
Unfortunately, her story will be tragically familiar to many women who have been fondled, incested, or raped. However, it can also bring to mind less extreme, but nevertheless traumatic, incidents of sexual manipulation at the hands of insensitive men. The blame for these violations is often assumed by the women themselves, as though the very fact of their womanhood is somehow shameful and potentially dangerous. In Eileen’s words, “My body, my femininity, and my sexuality became the enemy because, if it hadn’t been for these, those vile sexual acts wouldn’t have occurred.” Viewed within this context, an obsession with food and weight can be a way to take control of one’s own body in response to situations that have been uncontrollable, and escape the apparent risks of female sexuality.
However, an obsession with food and weight carries with it its own burden of guilt and embarrassment, and for this reason, complete recovery can be a double challenge. The process of naming and sharing all our secrets, developing compassion for the childhood self, placing blame where it belongs, finding our voices and speaking out, trusting others and eventually healing ourselves, can be long and difficult. But Eileen wants you, readers, to know that the process of recovery, “is worth all the years. Never give up even if you slip a billion times.”
During the editing process, tears welled up in my eyes each time I came to the end of this chapter and knew that Eileen was finally strong and happy. As she wrote in one of her letters, “This time (going over the manuscript), I was not swallowed by the material, and I appreciated my innocence even more fervently.” The last time I spoke to her, she was pregnant with her fourth child, happily married, balancing family life and work interests gracefully, and truly experiencing loving and living fully. It is with a profound appreciation for her honesty that I am privileged to introduce her story.
From Sexual Abuse to Empowerment
Eileen t. Bills
“I therefore put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experiences, occurrences which belong in the earliest years of childhood” (Freud, 1905). At that time anorexia nervosa was considered a hysterical neurosis (Lasegue, 1873; Janet, 1903).
My mother was very unhappy when I was a little girl. She cried all the time and fought wretchedly with my father. Sometimes the fighting got so bad that the neighbors called the police.
My father was usually a passive participant in these fights. While my mother was screaming hysterically, he would just walk away. This would upset my mother even more and she would go after him. Finally, his control would give way and he would spew out some vicious remark and shove my mother back. Eventually, one or the other would decide that it was time to get away. Frequently, my father would make motions to leave but my mother would get in the car and take off first. Then there was a struggle as to who would take the car. My mom usually won and would not return for days. I remember one time my father getting into the car, but my mother would not let him leave her and got in too. They drove away and left me alone. The next morning my father had stitches in his head, the car was smashed, and he showed me his blood drenched shirt saying, “See what your mother did to me!”
I was very afraid when they fought, but stayed close, believing that my presence prevented them from hurting each other too badly. Most of the time, they didn’t even notice me pleading with them to stop, nor were they careful about what they said or did in front of me. Going to sleep at night was awful when my parents were fighting. Our house felt empty and cold, and I felt alone and unsafe.
My father owned and operated a motel on the beach, and our house was connected to the motel. We had no neighbors, only transient guests. I was very lonely. We went to a cafeteria about once a week for dinner. When I was finished eating, I walked around the cafeteria and said, “Hi” to all the people there.
One time I met and old man who asked me to sit by him in his booth. He was very tall and slim, had a greyish white, straggly beard, extraordinarily long fingernails, and wore a tattered black suit that hung long on his elderly body. He had a leather coin purse and when he took money out of it, his hands shook. He had a distinctive odor, too. It wasn’t really foul but it nauseated me. . . .
Each time we went to the cafeteria, he was there and I began feeling obligated to visit with him every time. I don’t remember if it started on my first visit or a later one, but as I sat by him, he would put his hand up my dress, pull the crotch of my panties aside, and stroke my genitals. I would sit there and pretend that nothing was happening. Inside I wanted to get up and leave or ask him not to do that, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so I just sat there ’till he stopped. Then I rejoined my family and said nothing.
As young as I was (maybe six or seven), I already knew how “nasty” it was having that part of my body touched, and I was too ashamed to tell. I do remember though, that my mother always insisted that I wear dresses even though I asked her many times if I could wear pants—especially the nights we went to the cafeteria.
I also made friends with the motel guests. It was easy because my dad would frequently ask me to take someone a light bulb or towels. One day, a man moved into number 17. I think he was in his thirties. He always wore black-laced shoes, black pants, a white shirt and greased his black hair back with Brylcreme. He was one of our semi-permanent tenants as he had a kitchen, and my dad didn’t rent out kitchens with the rooms unless the person was going to stay for a while.
It was in the kitchen that this man started doing things to me like the old man had done. He would ask me to sit on his lap. It’s funny the memories that get triggered when I think about this stuff. I remember the chair—it was yellow, and where it was in the kitchen—against the wall that had the window. He would reach around my body and put his hand into my underpants and rub me. I don’t remember my age but I can recall that I didn’t have pubic hair. I was probably around eight or nine. A weird thing happened as he was touching me. My faced got all flushed, a wave of heat came over my body, my genitals became very warm and then there was a good feeling. The guilt that I felt afterwards was tremendous. As in the earlier encounter with the old man, I would pretend that nothing was happening and would leave soon afterward, walking down the corridor and the steps to my house, saying nothing to anyone.
One day the man in 17 did something that frightened me, after which I never went back. Maybe he moved soon after. He had bought a package of hot dogs. I was sitting on the chair opposite the window. He took the hot dogs out of the refrigerator and with an uncooked spaghetti noodle, he poked a hole in the tip of one end of the hot dog. I became afraid. Almost immediately, I realized that he was finding a way to introduce me to his penis. I remember thinking that I had asked for this as I had kept coming back to visit with him and had let him touch me. Then he took the hot dog and put it in his mouth and made his lips move up and down on it. He said that it could be sucked on, and if it was blown just the right way, it would whistle. Then he handed it to me and told me to try it.
I tried to blow, but it wouldn’t whistle. Then he dropped his pants and a huge erect penis was exposed. It was ugly and there was dark hair all around. He took my head and bent it toward his penis. I knew what I was supposed to do, even though recalling this event, I cannot tell you how I knew about this, young as I was. He held onto my head very tightly and I opened my mouth and he moved my head back and forth on his penis. He made it go too deep and I choked. Then he picked me up and carried me to the bed and took down my panties and tried to insert his penis into me. It hurt, but I was too afraid to make a sound because I didn’t want my father to know that such a nasty thing was happening to me—especially since I felt that I had asked for it. At some point he stopped pushing but had me face him again and had me orally stimulate him until his penis grew larger and then a horrible tasting, sticky stuff came out while his penis pulsated. When he removed it, I closed my jaw with considerable difficulty and as it closed, it cracked. For days my sore jaw was a sick reminder of this incident.
Around this same time, my mother’s younger brother, Tony, came to live with us. He was sixteen or seventeen and had gotten into drugs. His parents couldn’t handle him anymore and thought that helping out at the motel might straighten him out.
Saturday nights, when my parent went out, was Uncle Tony’s “free for all.” He had complete reign over the house and approximately six hours alone with me. To this day, I wonder why my parents left me alone with him. Even if they didn’t know about how he took advantage of me sexually, they knew about the drugs and they must have been aware of how badly he treated me when they were around. I guess that my mom was too involved with her own life to see what was happening to me. My dad, in his typical style, chose to be oblivious.
One night, when my parents were out, Uncle Tony called me in his room. He was lying on his bed, his pants were off, and his penis was erect. He asked me to hold his penis and to move it up and down. He showed me just how he wanted me to do it. I don’t remember if he came or not, or how it ended that night, but that was the beginning of the sexual encounters with my uncle on Saturday nights that I came to dread.
In the beginning, it wasn’t really threatening. He would ask me to masturbate him and then he would touch me and it would feel good. But then, Uncle Tony started getting more and more into drugs and alcohol. Reds were his favorite. He would become very hostile and aggressive when he was high. He would tell me that if I’d do it he would be nice to me the rest of the evening, or he wouldn’t beat me up. I remember so often that I’d believe him and do what he wanted, and he’d beat me up anyway. I can remember saying, “But you promised…”
To get me to do what he wanted, he would threaten to break one of my toys that he knew I really liked. Another trick he used was to stand by the breaker switch and tell me that he would blow up the house by pulling the switches down if I didn’t comply. (It didn’t even occur to me that by doing that, he would have blown himself up too.) He even threatened to tell my parents what we did. There was so much shame surrounding what was happening that I didn’t even see my own innocence. I felt all alone and unprotected in those days, too ashamed to tell, and not certain that I would be believed, anyway.
All these incidents happened to me before I was twelve.
From the earliest grades, I had trouble sleeping. I was exhausted most of the time. Sometimes it was because I had been left alone in the house and I was afraid that I would be attacked by someone. I slept with a hair brush for protection. I didn’t choose anything more lethal because I figured the intruder would take a knife, or other weapon I chose, and use it on me. Nights that I wasn’t left alone, my mind was filled with distressing thoughts, making sleep nearly impossible.
There was absolutely no similarity between my world and that of the children with whom I went to the private school. I was sure that everyone knew that I was an outcast-a product of a chaotic, drug infested, violent environment. My emotional development was uneven, my social development warped. Paradoxically, I was both a very young, emotionally insecure, frightened child, and a street-wise individual who had had adult sexual experiences.
I felt dirty, unlikable, and different from everyone else. I had no friends. I believed that my “badness” was transparent and I think I gave off vibes to keep other kids away from me. I had too many secrets to maintain. I also isolated myself on one of the green school benches because of pain in my genital area. This experience was too distressing and consumed all my attention. That was grammar school. I don’t remember learning. I don’t remember playing. I don’t remember being happy.
Puberty brought the issues surrounding my abuse to full force. I didn’t want to grow up and be a sexual human being. There was too much terror associated with that idea. A developing body, sexuality, guilt, shame, powerlessness, and being out of control were all one and the same thing…and I wanted none of it.
Once I started to develop physically, though, I seemed to attract boys and adult men who would fondle me, have me touch them, or want sex from me. My self-esteem was so low that I didn’t know how to say “No,” didn’t think I had the right, thought that that was what my body was for, and felt that somehow I must have asked for it. My insecurities made it obvious that I was too afraid to tell. Someone was bound to be mad at me, and I couldn’t bear the rejection-it would have been all my fault. I might hurt somebody’s feelings if I didn’t allow them to do what they wanted with me.
Puberty was just too painful an experience to allow to proceed. (In retrospect, I am amazed at how powerful the psyche is. I stopped menstruating even before any weight loss!) I was emotionally still eight years old. There was no hope of integrating the sexual aspects of my maturing body into me as a whole person, because I wasn’t one.
Repeatedly, over the years, I had lost control of my body and my will-vital connections to my emerging sense of self. Nor was I immune to the social emphasis placed on a woman’s body. Thinness was equated with self-worth, success, and social acceptance. At the time, the pre-pubescent, boyish look was in, i.e. straight hips, no fat-a total disregard for the normal female shape. In search of an identity, I was extremely vulnerable to this value system. So, when puberty and adolescence struck, (the critical developmental period of identity formation) I went looking for a sense of myself through my body and through control over it. After all, my body was the earliest identity I had. I went back to find it. The alternative, I believe, was to go crazy.
The Perfect Solution
One day I was walking home from school experimenting with a more deliberate walking style, and I felt a calmness inside. I had figured out a way to regain my innocence. It involved being deliberate in everything I did and thought. In a way, it was a great solution for where I was emotionally at the time-in search of an identity. This new plan necessitated that I stop and examine what I wanted in every situation in which I found myself.
It became a problem when I needed extreme control in all situations. No, I wasn’t going to allow anyone to “feel me up” anymore. I didn’t want that. But I was also going to dress very carefully, fold my collar just so, and walk with my heal touching first, my knees very rigid, and my posture erect. I was going to run between the two piers on the beach every day and do my series of floor exercises. I could only eat once a day and only after postponing it (mainly with exercise) as long as I could. In fact, eating was not allowed unless I had completed my exercise rituals and organized certain of my belongings in special ways. I carefully selected and measured portions of the same (“healthy”) food day after day, chewing each bite a certain number of times and putting my fork and knife down between bites.
I changed my writing style by printing very neatly and extremely small. I also changed my tempo of speech and I chose when and to whom I spoke. I started withdrawing from people and feelings because I felt that I could maintain my path better without these interferences. I became extremely controlled in all areas of my life, especially those areas related to eating and exercising. With this new lifestyle, I started losing weight and defying puberty.
As the pounds came off, I began to feel cleaner inside. I still didn’t have any friends, but my obsession with my body shape, weight loss, and exercise camouflaged my need for companionship. Instead of feeling like an outcast and undeserving of friends, my obsession allowed me to feel like I was rejecting them, instead. I didn’t need them and, in fact, I was better than they because I was becoming pure inside from not eating.
I can see clearly today the choice I made back then. My body, my femininity, and my sexuality became the enemy because, if it hadn’t been for these, those vile sexual acts wouldn’t have occurred. I wouldn’t have been prey to others who used my body-used me-to gratify their own selfish needs. The experience of guilt because my body had become sexually aroused by such “unacceptable” acts was tremendous. I truly believed that I was “making up for my sins,” and becoming pure, by feeling the gnawing tightness in my stomach from not eating or from making special additions to my exercise routine.
I never learned to trust. I had shameful secrets inside of me that I would never dare tell anyone. So, no one could ever know the “real me.” Relationships remained shallow and unfulfilling. I never felt connected to anyone. I didn’t love or care for myself. I didn’t even know myself. How could I get to know, love, and care for someone else let alone ever believe they felt anything nice towards me?
The issues surrounding my weight and the food I consumed, vomited, or denied myself continued to be my companion, my identity, the tools I used to disguise my pain, and the measures of my worth and lovability. However, while my eating disorder had helped me cope with the issues that surfaced during and in the early aftermath of the sexual abuse, it now caused more feelings of self-loathing and shame. My capacity for relationships and for intimacy further deteriorated, fueling the eating disorder into adulthood. For this reason, resolving the issues affecting my capacity for relationships and for intimacy was at the core of recovery.
The First Steps Toward Healing
The sequence of events from early adolescence until I first went for help is basically an eating disorder blur. I developed a bonafide case of anorexia nervosa, was obsessed in that arena for a good two years, added bulimic behavior to my regimen, and alternated between the two for about ten years.
Although what brought me into therapy was a bad relationship, I really went because I threw up food, on purpose, and I was not able to stop on my own. After eight months, my therapist had earned my trust and I was strong enough to tell her about this behavior. She wanted me to explore deeper, but I just couldn’t relate to the idea that there were issues underlying my need for an eating disorder.
Once I let my secret out, I was ecstatic to learn that I wasn’t the only one in the world to do this. There were even books written on the subject. I would plant myself in the psychology section of our school library and go through book after book, journal after journal, day after day.
During this implosion period I began my first attempt at quitting cold turkey, which actually worked for a couple of months. I’d dream about it though, that I had eaten something forbidden, but I was unable to find privacy to throw it up. I’d wake up relieved that it had only been a dream, but also overwhelmed by the power of this disorder. Eventually, I couldn’t take abstaining any longer. I needed to feel that relief from throwing up.
Once I blew cold turkey, it became harder to believe that I could just quit. I kept having to devise more complicated ways to prevent the behavior. I’d come up with things that were more important to me than throwing up, like a favorite t-shirt, my harmonica, an album. One time it was $100. What was sad was that I didn’t consider me an important-enough person to fight for. I used so many “tricks” on myself.
Still, I was able to make progress. I gave myself stars for each day I went without vomiting. I learned to look at progress in cumulative increments. I built up memories and experiences of my ability to keep food inside under various circumstances and conditions. If I could resist throwing up during a “nearly impossible” time, I had that memory to carry with me the next time an extremely difficult situation arose. I also drew upon my recollections of the “after glow” when I succeeded and the pain and sadness when I didn’t.
When I moved to another state after five years of therapy, I was better, but not completely well. I had learned that it was possible for me to eat and keep the food inside, and I did feel better about myself. I was occasionally able to feel what came to be labeled as “connected” although it never seemed to last. Much of the time I experienced my body as being “shattered”-not completely lost, but the parts were disconnected from my heart and mind. I also remained ferociously angry with my mother but didn’t understand why. I began putting it all together one night in a group I had joined in my new town.
It was the last five minutes. The topic must have been families or something. As I recalled mine, a feeling of intense hatred and disgust for Uncle Tony welled up inside of me. I said how much I hated him, unable to stop repeating it. I became wild and then suddenly sullen. Sinking from my seat onto the floor, I collapsed like a rag doll. I felt beaten, exhausted, with no will left. I was experiencing for the first time the emotions I had kept buried for twenty years.
I had been a member of this “personal growth” group for one and a half years, but I was too ashamed to tell these seemingly “normal” people that I was working on an eating disorder. Until that night, I had no feelings related to the sexual abuse that I had experienced as a child, and had convinced myself that this latter experience was irrelevant to my present state of unhappiness and not worth bringing up. Besides, I had plenty of issues to work on! I had low self-esteem, was uncomfortable around people, and couldn’t break down and cry about anything. I was lonely, depressed, and came across as helpless. In fact, my appearance and demeanor were frequently described as “childlike.”
But that night, I felt hatred as I had never felt it before. A woman in the group asked if Uncle Tony had sexually abused me. I nodded. Group ended. As I walked to my car, emotions flooded over me. I felt terrified, naked from exposure, and afraid of what was to come. Driving home I couldn’t get the images and memories out of my mind.
Over the next several weeks, it became nearly impossible for me to sleep. Self-hatred and shame had been re-awakened. Intrusive thoughts and memories of the past offered me no relief. I decided to try individual therapy again, this time with a male therapist, the group leader.
Sleep continued to be scant during those first few weeks of intensive therapy. I was afraid of something, afraid to let go, lose control, and dream. I was exhausted, running on empty anxiety, thinking about the past-things I had not thought about in a long time. Rather than anger at my abusers, though, I was feeling ashamed and embarrassed. What did those people in the group think of me? I felt so dirty. I wanted to hide and never show my face again.
The night before my third individual session, I did not sleep at all. I drove to my psychologist’s office as though in a trance. His approach seemed different this time. There was more questioning, more prying. With a will weak from sleep deprivation and defenses in a fog, a window finally opened. The hesitancy that had previously accompanied my speech was gone. This time images poured into my mind and the words flowed without scrutiny.
I told about the pain I had felt when Uncle Tony would punch me in the breasts. “It made him laugh,” I said. I told how he would hold me down, with his knees upon on my wrists letting spit drool from his mouth into my eye. “He peed on me, too,” I shuddered.
Then I told about Saturday nights being left alone with him. An image came into my mind as vivid as if it were happening right then. I was about eight years old. It was Saturday night. I was standing in the alley behind my house. My parents were all dressed up-my father in a suit and my mother wearing her mink coat. I watched their car back out of the garage and drive away. My voice rose, becoming frantic as I begged my mom not to leave me alone with him. “I would beg her!” I repeated, becoming hysterical. And in a torrent of tears I exclaimed that, “She didn’t care!”
I was shocked at the intensity of my rage. I believed that if indeed I was not sleeping because I was afraid to face something, it must have been some sadistic, sexual experience that I had not, as yet, recalled. However, the rage that I was so afraid to face was directed towards my mother for failing to protect me all those years. I hadn’t told and she hadn’t seen. That night I slept seventeen hours!
As the months went on and memories surfaced, I came in touch with live emotions from the past. I not only came to understand the choice I made at age fourteen to diet, but I felt it. I was able to sense myself back then and feel my reasoning with clarity. Somewhere deep down inside of me, I raged at my vulnerability, my femaleness, my powerlessness, and at the vultures to whom I had been exposed. I had tried many times to vomit up that rage. For me, dieting and weight loss became an obsession because I had been repeatedly sexually abused, and there was no one available to protect me. Indeed, these obsessions were my salvation.
This was one of the first things I was helped to acknowledge-that the choice I made was not only reasonable, but it very likely saved me. However, it took more than working through the past and understanding my choices to put the eating disorder behind me for the last time.
The early work I did-going through the struggles of keeping food inside of me despite the anxiety, daring to gain a pound, whittling away at my forbidden list, learning to exercise reasonably and not compulsively, failing and having the courage to start again, substituting adaptive for maladaptive behaviors, learning to trust my body and myself-was critical to overcoming the disordered eating pattern. However, what I believe made it stick for good was that I finally believed that the little girl in the school yard wasn’t at all bad or unlikable. She was really very lovable. She did what she did to survive.
In order to come to this realization of my unconditional worth, I had to dredge up the past and reawaken the emotions and thoughts of the child. Next, with an adult mind, I had to challenge those feelings, beliefs, and thoughts. Then I understood the travesty and its effects. With this understanding came love and acceptance of myself, which enabled me to finally risk intimacy and thereby accomplish the final stage of my recovery.
Intimacy, Relating, and Recovery: The Final Stage
As an adolescent, I avoided relationships and intimacy because I didn’t want anyone to get close enough to me to hate me as much as I did. As a young adult, I had sex because I thought it was expected. There was no relating, feeling close, or feeling love. I just felt used and trapped. I didn’t know that I had the right to say “No,” and feared I would lose whatever companionship I had if I did. Rejection, I believed, was worse than thirty minutes or so of feeling exploited.
As I came to find out later, I followed a pattern found in many other individuals with abuse histories who get involved with another abuser and repeat the past in hopes of making it go better this time, or who believe they are getting what they deserve. Thankfully, I got help and eventually became strong enough to sustain the uncertainty of being alone and starting anew.
As I came to like myself better, I was able to risk having others get to know me. I began to gain control of how much intimacy I got, and I stopped agreeing to sex when I didn’t want it. This made me feel empowered. As I began to assert myself more, the intrusive memories of my abuse experiences were no longer being triggered, and they went away. This meant that I no longer needed the obsessions with food and weight to block out negative thoughts and emotions, and I stopped needing to starve to prove my worth and power, resulting in even greater gains in self-esteem and personal integrity. I began to feel free and strong enough to relate to others as me. Being able to “connect” to others was filling the void I had inside, and the empty craving for thinness became less and less intense. I felt more in charge of me, and therefore needed less and less to be in charge of food.
Inside, I began to feel and enjoy my femininity. My sexuality became fun, exciting, and something I got pleasure and satisfaction from sharing. Perhaps the most significant change in light of my abuse experiences is that I came to feel proud rather than exploited when my sexuality was appreciated and enjoyed. My partner was my lover and friend, not an extension or reminder of all my former abusers. I was finally feeling lovable inside and out.
A Retrospective Look and Today
Where did I begin? I got desperate-so miserable I wanted to die. Then I let someone earn my trust and I asked for help. I explored myself and how I got to be me. I wrote and read a lot. I learned to think for myself and challenged my beliefs. I tried new behaviors, and new ways of relating. And I kept on working.
I tried several therapists until I found one that felt right to me (this in itself was a sign of “wellness”). I worked through my experiences of sexual abuse-I remembered, I cried, I grieved. I understood my choices and I found no present relevancy for these. Towards the end, I concentrated on relationships, intimacy, and finally on learning to “parent” myself.
Recovery for me was like climbing a sand dune. The effort was continuous and tremendous, the progress tediously slow, and the slips were numerous. But there came a time when I saw that I never slipped as far back as where I had started. Eventually the slips got fewer and their duration shorter until, one day, I realized that I was really free-free from my eating disorder and from my past experiences of sexual abuse. I am left with me and that is finally a secure and comforting experience.
It’s morning. I wake up to a crying baby. I bring her to my bed and nurse her under the covers. I feel her warm body against mine. We fall back to sleep. I feel a gentle kiss as my husband leaves for work. Some time later, I feel a soft tapping on my arm. My four-year-old wants us to get up ’cause she’s hungry and wants some Honey Nut Cheerios. I ask for another minute or five, but she’s persistent. We all get up and the day begins. At [7:45] the school bus comes for my seven-year-old. A seemingly ordinary scene, but miraculous to me.
Reprinted with permission from Full Lives: Women Who Have Freed Themselves from Food and Weight Obsession
By Lindsey Hall
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