*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 naïve 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.