Monday, March 06, 2006

Common Sense (Part 1 of ?)*

*Note/disclaimer: I may refer to people who have been abused, who suffer from eating disorders, and other related issues/circumstances in the third person throughout these posts, but that's mainly a device. I'm mostly talking about myself, other people I know, and the results of research I've done in the furtherance of my own understanding of what the hell is wrong with me. I am by no means attempting to make blanket statements that apply to all (or even a majority) of people who are or have been in any situation I have been. Also, sexist though it may be, I'll be using "she", "her", "the girl(s)" and other feminine pronouns/references for my writing, though anyone with any sort of understanding of EDs and abuse knows that males are also victims and sufferers. I'm simplifying things for my writing, that's all.

*** Warning – potential trigger(s) for abuse survivors and/or ED sufferers ***

After way too much deliberation, I've decided to try to undertake this "series" by addressing bulimia first, with what I hope is enough of the necessary "background" to set things up properly. Bulimia is just one of many repercussions my molestation has had on me, but I'd like to try to get it as much out of the way as I can before getting into other areas. Not that it can ever be dispensed with. Don't I wish! But it's the most "topic-esque" of the things I intend to discuss, so I may as well start with it.

From my own experience, as well as what I've learned through personal research, my understanding is that there are some basic emotional/mental/neurological similarities between the majority of people with anorexia and bulimia. They tend to be above average intelligence, they are people pleasers, and they're more sensitive than the general population. I don't necessarily mean sensitive in the "sweet and caring" way – more that physical, mental, and emotional stimuli affect them more strongly than other people (an excellent book on this concept is The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron).

The main result of the coincidence of these three traits is that these girls often "see" connections between events that others might not notice. They'll often feel responsible for things they shouldn't. And, because they're people pleasers, they'll keep these feelings to themselves so they don't burden others with them. They naturally accumulate guilt, and also try to be the buffer or go-between in rocky relationships. And if the people they're trying to help bring peace to can't get along, the girls feel it's due to some personal failing, rather than just the fact of two people not being able to get along. I'm definitely guilty of this – for as long as I can remember, I've tried to smooth things between my little sister and my dad. Their personalities are SO similar that they used to clash constantly. I actually felt physical pain when they would fight, and would often insert myself into their altercations to try to "fix" things.

I'm certain that there are TONS of people with these traits who go through life just fine. And I think that at the beginning of everything, anorexics and bulimics are very similar people personality-wise. In my opinion, the development of "normal" behaviors, anorexia, or bulimia is mainly dependent on intervening circumstances. Using myself as an example, if I hadn't been abused how and when I was, I might never have developed an ED. Or, if something different had happened, I might have become anorexic instead of bulimic. I think the potential for all three was there, and life events led me to where I am.

In order to address my personal experience with bulimia, I think I need to elaborate on my abuse. When I was in first grade, the woman who babysat me after school was married to a man who had both of his legs amputated (I believe he was a veteran). He was bedridden, and had an orthopedic bed in their living room that he stayed in, as far as I know, 100% of the time. The arrangement was that the school bus would drop me off at their house in the afternoon, and I'd watch tv and have a snack there till my parents came and got me in the evening. I know she regularly babysat a classmate of mine (evenings and weekends, NOT at the same time I was there) but I'm not sure if she watched other children. And to this day, I have no idea if she knew what her husband did.

I have to say that I blocked almost all memories of the abuse – I know he touched me inappropriately and repeatedly, but only from fragments of memories. I lied to myself until I was 18 and told myself that those memories were false, that I was making them up. I realize now that I was too innocent and ignorant to have made those things up because they were outside my sphere of reference, but I think I had to tell myself that to cope. I'm still not sure if I'm glad about my lack of memories. I know I've been spared having to relive the things I've experienced, but not knowing can be just as bad.

I do remember him telling me on several occasions that the other little girl was never as bratty as I was when she was there, and that she always behaved and sat still. Of course, NOW I know that what he was doing is referred to as "grooming" – putting me in a position of having to earn his approval, so that I would comply with his abuse. Being the people-pleaser that I am, I tried to behave as he told me to. I don't remember him ever telling me NOT to tell anyone what he did, or threatening me, or anything along those lines. I was so young and na├»ve that it never occurred to me (as best I can recall) that he was doing anything wrong. My parents gave me back rubs, and my mom would rub our arms in church to quiet us down – this was different, but not so much so that I remember questioning it. Halfway through first grade, something came up and his wife couldn't watch me any more, so my parents made other sitting arrangements.

As I've said, I blocked those memories, and the few snippets that came through I would deny to myself and push to the back of my mind. I remember reading about molestation when I was a little older (there were several campaigns in the 80's to raise awareness and teach kids to say "no"), and thinking it was stupid. Why would some kid let an adult or another kid touch them in a way that was "wrong"? It was pretty much the ultimate denial. I truly had no conscious knowledge of what had happened to me, and when I learned about the concept, it was insane to me that anything like that could ever happen to me. That it already had wasn't even a blip on my radar.

The point of all this is that for me there was no conscious or direct correlation between my abuse and bulimia. It's actually kind of sad and ironic, the circumstances surrounding my decision to start purging. I was 15 years old, and had a subscription to Seventeen magazine. There was an article in one of the issues that was one of those scare-tactics articles they always have, like "My Boyfriend Convinced Me to Hold His Marijuana and Now I'm in Prison Forever". I'm sure you know the type. Well, this one was by/about a girl who was bulimic, and was clearly intended to convince "other girls like her" not to do what she had done. She talked about how her family knew what she was doing, and how it hurt all of them, and how she lost too much weight and almost died, etc. I wasn't happy with my weight at the time, and I figured that if this dumb bitch could lose weight purging, then I could too; but *I* was smart enough not to get caught by my family, and not to let it take over my life (that's literally what I thought – I was 15 and full of myself!). So I started b/p-ing (bingeing and purging) purely for weight loss, and I was thrilled! I could eat what I wanted and still lose weight. I thought I had found the perfect solution.

A lot of books don't say this (probably don't want to encourage the behavior), but purging brings a HUGE physical relief, and an emotional relief as well. It's hard to describe, but as the pressure of all that food leaves your body, it's like an emotional weight is lifted at the same time. It's also been noted/discovered/whatever that purging causes the release of endorphins, which contributes to that feeling. There are some women (I'm not one of them, probably fortunately) who actually orgasm when they purge, the release is so immense. It's the emotional/endorphin release that becomes addictive and takes over.

Even after I lost the weight I wanted to, I continued to purge several times a day. After every meal and snack. And I began overeating JUST to purge. This was still in high school, and though I wouldn't admit it to myself, it definitely went from a weight-loss behavior to a mood-altering behavior. I can't pin down exactly when the shift took place, but it did. I didn't realize it till years later, but this is how/where bulimia and molestation are linked. I don't think anyone starts purging with the conscious connection to their abuse. Rather, once they start (for whatever "reason") it's value as a sort of coping mechanism takes over, and they get hooked on that. And this brings it all back to the abuse aspect. Although I didn't undertake this ED due to my abuse, I have definitely continued because of it. This brings me back to psychology, and is where my buddy Dr. Phil comes in. I'm paraphrasing him in most of what follows, because he verbalized it SO perfectly on one of his shows that I wrote it down. He was able to articulate something I had never been able to express myself, something so vital to my experience as someone who had to grow up after being molested that I cried with relief when I finally had the words to explain it.

The main issue that survivors of childhood sexual abuse deal with is that their emotional development stops at the age the abuse begins. From that point on, no one can ever touch them and they can never touch anyone without being suspicious of the motive. They learn to be paranoid about every physical interaction with other people, and it's a child's mind that decides that. Emotionally, they're/we're like children who never learned to walk and are still crawling - there are tools we didn't get, abilities we didn't learn, social skills and coping mechanisms being among the foremost. We pretty much never developed past the point we had reached when the abuse began. We're basically emotional children soothing our hurts the best way we know how, and dealing with nearly everyone from a place of mistrust and fear.

What I'm trying to explain here is that I'm short on coping skills, as are most (all?) people with EDs. I don't know how to deal with things. So when purging had the unexpected side effect of making me feel better emotionally, even for a little bit, of COURSE I latched onto it. That's why these behaviors are addictive. Yes, there's a large "control" aspect to EDs, but I'm fairly sure that applies a lot more to anorexia than bulimia. When I'm in the middle of a binge, I feel so out of control it's scary. But again, I think it's due to life events – nearly all bulimics were molested at some point in their lives. This is not the case with anorexics. My *personal* belief is that anorexia is the result of a girl trying to establish control over some aspect of her life, and bulimia is the result of a girl feeling so out of control of her entire life that all she feels she can do is soothe herself with food and purging.

Ok, I think that's enough for now. As I think/hope I made clear these are just my opinions, based on mostly anecdotal evidence, much of which is firsthand. I welcome any and all questions and comments. And - as I stated in my "Dr. Phil" post - my purpose here is just to get this stuff out there. There can be no "common sense" about issues we keep hushed up. Although it's not comfortable, the more we talk openly about these things, the more solutions we can find. I'm not looking for sympathy, just turning stones over so the creepy-crawlies have nowhere to hide.

19 comments:

Jill said...

I really appreciate this post. I went through a few periods of anorexia, and I think you are on the mark there. At that time, I remember being awed by the control I had over my body. " I went all day with only 1 cup of air-popped popcorn or all day on an orange." I remember having a steely reserve about managing that. There were other issues in my life at that time that were out of control and I couldn't control (ie. family stuff), and I think I coped by controlling the food issue. It was also a terrible circle; my mother was ecstatic about me losing the weight and rewarded my with shopping trips, etc. Every time someone told me how much BETTER I looked, it would drive me on even more. Of course, I hit bottom at some point. I went and talked with therapists who got me straightened out. I applaud you for taking the time to write all this down, and I understand what you mean about wanting to let things out from under the dark places. Reminds me of Peter Gabriel's "Digging in the Dirt" song. Thanks for the post.

cjblue said...

Thanks for this post. I am reminded to have that talk again with my own first grader. The one that is so dangerous, because I don't want to scare her, but I do need her to be aware of what is appropriate and what is not, and to know that the lines of communication are always open.

This is fascinating and horrifying. I'm so sorry you had to go through all this, and continue to deal with it every day of your life. I am glad the silence is not being maintained. ♥

Atreau said...

Oh T, I've been yearning to speak out about these issues within the past few weeks, typing for hours and then deleting it all.

Your description very much describes me, as my sister says "Sand, you are so fragile! It's like are made out of glass!"

One of my biggest issues is not being able to cry, I hold all the pain in and that's what makes my triggers worse, to the point where the smallest issue is compounded by such a fierce amount of force.

For me my issues with my weight problem, self-injury and bulemia are all linked.

My issues with both my weight and self-injury began at three which are tied to sexual abuse. I blocked out a lot but the severity of those issues increased over time.

At five, I was put on my first diet, that was the same year when I was first caught injuring myself.

Atreau said...

Before then I didn't hide my self-injury. After that I kept it incredibly hidden, my parents and sister were aware of it but it was never talked about.

Here is where I feel I should mention that while the majority of self-injurers are cutters, I am not. Because of my immense fear of blood I do everything but cut.

As severe as cutting may seem, there are even higher levels of self-injury - one being headbanging.

Headbanging is inflicting injuries to the head, more so the skull. Headbanging was/is my primary way to injure myself. Unfortunately, it's not my only way of injuring myself as I mentioned before.

It's not understood by everyone else but to me, I mask my emotional pain by physical pain.

I can deal with the physical pain, that I can take. It's the emotional pain I can't take!

Add to that my issues with food/weight. The more weight I'd gain, the more I was teased and the more I was teased, the more I would injure myself.

Since I was a child I have used food to inflict pain upon myself as well, shoving food in my mouth to make myself choke. Eating/drinking hot things to purposely burn my mouth. Over-eating to feel sick.

Atreau said...

I have severe guilt issues with food. I feel like a failure for eating, no matter how healthy or unhealthy the food actually is.

For me bulemia was not only a way to injure myself but for the first time I felt as though I had some control in my life.

At first it worked and I was able to "control" both issues with my new found solution of bulemia.

After a while it started getting harder and I was not only b/p every day after every meal but I was self-injuring every day, several times a day.

This went off and on for over two years around the same time where my body was being attacked by my then undiagnosed Graves Disease.

At that time I was at my absolute lowest because the thyroid affects everything. I wasn't b/p any longer at that point but would self injure everyday. I was slowly dying because of the Graves and I didn't care - that was when the majority of my hair fell out, my heart was beating out of my chest, etc... There were multiple suicide attempts at that point.

This was my "fight or flight" moment. Where I still had a choice to go either way and I chose to fight.

Atreau said...

I was stuck in the hospital for nearly a week while they ran multiple tests on me and diagnosed me with Graves. I never disclosed my issues with weight or self injury.

I had to have the iodine radiation treatment and because my heart was in such bad shape I had to take heart medication for several months to bring down my heart rate. I was put on extreme prohibition on activity at that time.

The entire week I felt out of control and wanted so badly to injure myself but couldn't do so as I had no privacy. Sadly, it was the very first thing I did as soon as I arrived home.

I easily packed on the pounds and that's when bulemia was again in the picture until I reached my all time highest weight which was a year ago, that was when I decided to reach out for help and join Weight Watchers to control the issue the healthy way.

Since joining WW I have b/p twice but think about it every day. Some days are easier than others but the desire (I don't know if that's the right word for it) never disappears.

I still have severe issues with self-injury. I was hoping to control my issues with it by this point as I've been working with my issues for a year now but am not quite ready to do so. Last year was really hard and I would injure myself still quite a bit.

There isn't a situation that goes by where my initial reaction is to injure myself. I'm proud to say that since the new year started I have only done it twice.

I struggle with it every day, same with the weight but I'm gaining ground and look forward to the day when I can say I battled my demons, where I can say that I am in control.

A Novel Approach said...

Trina, I am so sorry for what you have gone through. I apologize, in behalf of truly good men, for the pigs that some of the rest of them are. I hope you are healing and can learn to genuinely trust again.

Steve

kyahgirl said...

(((T))), I'm so sorry to hear of your pain. I hope you're proud of yourself for how well you've learned to function, despite these awful burdens. Good luck in turning over all the rocks and exposing the dark stuff to the healing light of the sun!!

Laura

(((Sand)))-You're so brave. I'm glad to hear some of your story. I've long suspected there was something really painful going on with you.

Anonymous said...

i think that, for me, the control thing is double-edged. i'm not a survivor of sexual abuse, but i grew up in an abusive, alcoholic household where i was expected to take sides and, from a very young age, take responsibility for my mother's emotional well-being. i am fascinated by the idea of emotional development being arrested. it's given me a lot to think about.

as for the bulimia, i'm totally with you on the relief-of-it thing. for me though, it's all about the control. yes, my life is spiralling, but when i choose to purge i am deciding what i do. at least that's how i saw it. again, lots to think about.

thank you for writing this. i'll come back.

Trina said...

Jill,

Thank you so much for your comment.

I've toyed with restrictive eating behaviors over the years, though mostly when I first started with my ED. I remember the pride and almost heady euphoria over *just* eating a small bag of carrot sticks over the course of one day. Eventually the "reward" of purging outweighed the more anorexic behaviors, but I remember how they drew me as well.

I'm sorry you had to hit bottom, but SO glad you got some help. Thank you so much for visiting!

Love,
Trina

Trina said...

R,

I talked to you about this already, but have to say it here too: thank you so very much for having these talks with your children! Too many parents want to think/hope/wish these things "just don't happen", but the stats tell us otherwise. My experiences and interactions with other people tell me otherwise. And the more we can bolster and warn our children (hopefully without damaging their innocence), the better.

And I agree about the horror and fascination. Although it tears me up to read/watch/hear about the subject, I can't tear myself away when it presents itself. It's painful beyond imagining, but every story gives me an opportunity to learn and heal, and I don't dare pass any up. Not that I think there's a magic bullet out there for survivors, but I've gained insight from some unlikely sources, so I discount nothing.

You know I love you!

Trina said...

Sand,

Your openness and bravery here are absolutely awe-inspiring. I learned so much from your comments, and can never thank you enough for them.

I totally get the whole fragility thing. I don't like to think of myself that way, but I have to say that it's accurate for me too - the strangest and most random things can totally crush me and cause pain beyond the expected "norms". In my case, it's not always necessarily so much that I'm easily crushed as it is that my resilience is so brittle that it usually snaps unexpectedly. And once I'm down, the smallest things can keep me there.

I know I say it all the time, but you really are an inspiration to me. Your strength in the new year is *especially* - it's so much easier to envision controlling these impulses, knowing someone else who can and has! (((S)))

Love,
T

Trina said...

Steve,

I truly appreciate your comment. It's the truly good men (and women) who are helping me get to a better place, and I appreciate finding every single one that I have. Sorry you visited on such a downer day!

Love,
T

Trina said...

Laura,

Thanks so much! As trite as it sounds, it really does get easier (for me, at least) as it goes! And though most days I'm pretty critical of myself and where I'm at (or NOT at, usually), I *do* have times when I can sit back and appreciate what I've managed to work through. Thanks for the love and support!

Love,
T

Trina said...

anonymous,

Thank you for visiting! I'm glad I gave you something to think about, even if you end up disagreeing with everything! Any time you're up for input, I'd love to hear your perspective.

Love,
Trina

Kyahgirl said...

((((T))))

just came back to give you one more hug!! :-)

Anonymous said...

Trina,

THANK YOU. I am also a bulimic in my late twenties and was sexually molested by a babysitter and by a man who was training to be a priest. Dr. Phil is right - every touch from that point on was a big question - and motives are so screwed up and confused. I was so scared or children for a while - that I would touch them wrong. But I want to have kids at some point so I volunteered to be a Sunday School teacher for two years and that fear of children went away. I am blessed in that respect. The purging is like an orgasm, and it is one that I control, that is why it is so hard to give up. I felt so out of control and helpless when I was beling molested and I didn't understand taht it was wrong becuase I did not think that my parents would leave me with anyone unsafe...

I was free from b/p for three years and have started again - it started again when I started to confront my sexual issues and my anger towards and mistrust of men in therapy. I have not made any progress becuase once I started b\p again it becomes all about that, you know...

Well, thanks for writing this.

Anonymous said...

hello, my name is Bridget. i read your blog about ten minutes ago and im still in a bit of a shock.

your story is so similar to mine, it's scary. im still afraid to say i've been molested, because im not sure.


I understand.

Trina said...

Bridget - I'm sorry that this was a shock. And I understand your fear - even after I finally admitted to myself what had been done to me, it took months (and, in some cases, years) to say it to anyone else. And, honestly, I don't think you HAVE to say it to anyone if you don't want to. It is your body, your experience, your life. Even after all this time, I still sometimes question my perception of what happened, depite now being certain.

If you haven't yet, I definitely encourage you to read the rest of my "Common Sense" posts, one of which was relatively recent. Even if it ends up that they don't relate to you, they might give you some perspective. If nothing else, they at least add more to my narrative, which might help you delineate your own.