Continuing on from: Part 2
In the last two posts the story of my history with disordered eating has been the result of a writing exercise based on a food item that stands out to me. Here I wrote about significant experiences that included the presence of potatoes and how I understand them to have informed the story of my history with disordered eating.
I did not record my associations in a linear fashion because I did not remember them this way. Again, in this following writing exercise where I explore my adolescence according to food, fat and the body, there’s a lot of jumping around through time.
It could be argued that one of the contributing factors as to why I initially write and remember this way is due to the effects of complex childhood trauma. Nonetheless, once the story is out of me and I have had some distance to process it all, I can then go back and organise the content according to structure, linear time and sufficient context so the reader can elicit the meaning and significance of the content presented. But more importantly so I can fully absorb the meaning, significance and impact of such experiences and renegotiate whether or not it is necessary to continue attaching such meaning and significance to them.
For example: What if I looked at this differently? What if it no longer meant this to me? What if I placed emphasis and significance elsewhere? What if I considered it from another perspective by inquiring as to why these figures may have been speaking and behaving the way they were at the time? What if I reacted to it with compassion and forgiveness towards my former self and others rather than with judgement and defensiveness? Is there any way I could see a positive in it, learn or create something good from it now? In this instance the question for me has been: Can I be honest and brave enough to share what I’ve experienced after having spent years lying about it, denying and doing all I could to hide it? Is it possible that telling my story in conjunction with all I have learned and researched will actually be of help, value and benefit to others as lost, unsure, scared and sick as I once was?
In the following example of my story however I’ve done my best to remain coherent while staying as true to this jumping all over the place in terms of time as I write because I believe it is of value to have an understanding of the possible process involved when endeavoring to write your story.
Especially because you too may come up with something less neat than you prefer when you first sit down to write what comes up in regards to food, fat, the body and adolescence. Please know that it’s okay, you can come back to elaborate, modify and adjust it later should you wish to.
What follows in this post is a panoramic view of my experience of adolescence which serves as a storyboard for all the scenes I will to return to in later posts to expand upon one at a time. So as to understand the meaning and significance of each aspect within my larger eating disorder story.
Also, staying with one aspect at a time affords me the space and grace necessary to understand it as an adult and from an adult perspective so that I may fully forgive it and let go of the power it has to eat away at me from within. Again, sharing the process of uncovering the story of my history with disordered eating is so that you might know how to go about it yourself should you wish to begin to inquire into your own personal narrative.
I’ve always felt ashamed of my eating disorder because from as early as twelve I knew better. My understanding of the science of food and the body meant I knew so much better than to surrender to the compulsion to punish, hurt and deprive myself through disordered eating as it proceeded to grow more powerful than me. I’d read and researched enough to know what I needed to do to be kind and good to my body but I used that knowledge to be as cruel as I possibly could be to myself.
During this time I also felt great shame for how much beauty meant to me. How much I valued symmetry, sophisticated and simple composition, colour, light and ways the tiniest detail could offset the demise of an entire image. More than anything I loved colour, as bright and intense as those used by the surrealists such as Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali. I loved how magic, breathtakingly beautiful, mysterious and intriguing it made life feel.
I didn’t want to care about how things looked but I adored art too much not to and my body, like any other image I created on canvas, needed to feel beautiful otherwise I had to destroy it. And so when my dad said that I couldn’t study fine art because no one bought any of my fourteen-year-old amateur work at the Dandenong market I stopped making it by starving away my desire to create along with the need to be in the presence of beauty.
The lies, rituals and need for control, quiet, order and clean foods evolved over the years into alienation from others and myself. An eating disorder like any addiction is something that one automatically hides. Unfortunately I continued this for the best part of two decades and became good at it but once I hit thirty it became apparent to me that this insanity just had to stop. I was tired, alone, bored and unable to ignore just how ridiculous and life-wasting it all really was. But most importantly I refused to hide and lie anymore, especially to myself.
In fact I wish I’d never felt the need to hide and lie about anything at all. If it were possible to go back and help, love, accept, look after and protect my child self I would. I’d be the mother or big sister guiding the younger me safely through life so she could enjoy and experience joy with others. I’d make myself feel safe, good and accepted enough to let go and have fun, truly live and just enjoy life, the world’s beauty, and connecting with others.
But I can’t go back and undo the fact that I was so serious and remained dead serious, super-studious and always so terrified of sleeping because of the faceless men always trying to kill me in my dreams. In one recurring dream I was always running from a man with a gun held to the back of my head. He chased me on a long windy cartoon-like road suspended in the air against a navy blue night sky without a moon or stars. I was afraid of heights in my dream and always woke up just as he pulled the trigger to blow my brains out or I fell off the road.
In another recurring dream I was crawling through an underground tunnel. The passage was tiny, there were no lights and the smell of damp soil with worms oozing in and out of it had me borderline hysterical. I couldn’t breathe and felt almost too afraid to move but I had to. The silhouette of a man was chasing me through the maze, leading me ever deeper beneath the surface of the earth. Eventually my fear and claustrophobia would get too much, I’d become paralyzed and the man would catch up to me. The second he grabbed hold of my arm with a strength and force impossible for me to shake off, I’d wake up drenched in so much sweat I thought I’d wet the bed.
I was afraid of my dad at home, being left at relatives when all my stuff was in my bedroom, being teased during recess and lunch like I had been in primary school and saying something dumb in class. I needed to prove to myself I wasn’t the “stupid idiot” who spoke with a “monotone voice” and carried myself like a “zombie”. Being called a “stupid idiot” who didn’t know what she was talking about left me desperate to learn enough to understand everything I felt so nauseatingly confused by. I needed to know what was going on so bad that I was terrified of getting anything less than an A or 90% so I gorged myself on books like Winnie The Pooh does himself on honey.
By year eleven I was studying the body and nutrition like crazy because I wanted to be a dietician and use food to cure others of the cancer my grandfather died from when I was eight. Being an extremist and perfectionist, the fact that I’d taken healthy eating and exercise to the point in which it became unhealthy was starting to show on my skeletal body. I had to sit and lie on pillows otherwise chairs, couches and my mattress hurt.
I’d cook the healthiest vegetable soups and lentil dishes in large pots and wait until dinner. I’d make everyone’s plate except for my own, because I couldn’t give myself permission to eat it. I just couldn’t let myself have such goodness and feel energized enough to feel all the feelings of pain, anger and sadness consuming me. I was addicted to lacking sufficient energy to feel and react to them.
I was afraid, terrified of just how out of control my behaviour could get and how hateful and negative my thoughts about myself, others, the world and life would be. I was afraid of how bad I would reveal myself to be should I have the energy to do and say anything of what was taking place inside me. Without enough energy I could slow things down in my head enough to make sure I was as good, compliant, silent and as invisible as I believed I should be.
My family wasn’t a fan of my cooking and wanted me to eat so I ended up feeding the pots of soup and lentils to the family dogs and pretending that I’d already eaten. Instead I’d feast on the port, wine or whiskey and cigarettes I stole from my dad in addition to whatever I could find in my parents’ medicine cupboards.
This helped me eventually get to sleep because in addition to being afraid to sleep I was in too much physical pain to rest from how exhausted I was by the end of each day. By the time I was sixteen I had figured out how to make sure I had regular prescriptions for valium and codeine and had people who would buy alcohol and cigarettes for me so I no longer had to steal from my dad unless I got stuck. During this time I responded to any expressions of concern with a smile that I was fine, politely suggesting that they mind their own business with a not so subtle indication that I wished to be left alone.
Continued: Part 4
As demonstrated above, with the example of writing to adolescence, I will proceed in future posts to include concrete examples that show what I’m talking about in relation to coming to know one’s story with disordered eating.
I will continue to share the story of how my eating disorder evolved further from eleven and outline a detailed account as to my understanding of why. I wish to be clear that from this point on I will further discuss how my disordered relationship to food and my body, since the onset of puberty, is significantly bound up with, and informed by, experiences of complex childhood trauma.
Should this be triggering for you please do not read further however if what I’m sharing is of any assistance to you it would be greatly appreciated if you could let me know. Also feel welcome to share it with those it would interest and benefit.
Dr Angelina Mirabito
PhD on the therapeutic value of reading and writing trauma fiction and its potential value in the post-traumatic growth process.
To book a complimentary ‘Meet and Greet’ session over Skype to discuss the possibility of working together using story please feel welcome to contact me via https://writingthroughtrauma.org/contact/