Continuing on from Part 3
Despite my obsession with ‘healthy eating’ it is more than evident at this point that nothing about me was healthy. I was terrified of most foods and fascinated by art and music. Like the artists I admired I had taken to alcohol, substance use and cigarettes in a big way. I could get drunk, smoke a pack of cigarettes and abuse pharmaceuticals, but pure olive oil, nuts, avocados and all animal products were bad. Bad because they had way too much fat. And fat was something that just couldn’t happen to me no matter what. It was as if the tiniest bit of fat on my body would reveal how dirty, disgusting and repulsive I really was inside.
I never thought this way towards anyone else who had fat on their body. In fact fat on others, I associated with strength and those who owned themselves. When I did life drawing women with curves had been the most beautiful to me. It’s only the fat bodies of my abusers that disgusted me. And while the way my dad and his mates reacted to the fat on women’s bodies made me afraid of causing such disapproval in their eyes, I didn’t see these women the way they did, I just didn’t want to be seen the way they were seen. I wish it had of occurred to me then that what they thought and said need not have mattered to me in the slightest.
Nonetheless, I hated to be in the kitchen when my mum was preparing food I considered to be ‘bad’. In addition to my aversion to fat being in reaction to what my dad’s workmates said about the “fat chicks”, they ogled walking the streets, at a deeper level my aversion to fat was connected to my abusers who were obese and had a putrid smell.
As a teen, I absolutely hated sharing a kitchen with my family. They ate heaps of toast, and the crumbs went everywhere. Breadcrumbs may as well have been a contagious disease back then because I was afraid of accidentally breathing them in. Then there were the smears of butter and dried up food juices, jams and honey spots left on the kitchen table and benches. It seemed as though no one ever wiped up after themselves because they knew I’d do it. They just didn’t care about all the filth because they knew I’d take it away like I always did. This is not necessarily how it was, but rather how it seemed in my highly strung OCD-like state.
I washed and wiped every fork, knife, plate and bowl before using it because everything felt greasy after my mother had finished washing. It seemed as though she was sick of all the cooking and cleaning my father never helped her with because he was a man who according to him meant we passed him the remote, fetched him a drink and cleaned up after him. And my mother did without a word of protest as she expanded by the month after having returned to work now that my baby brother was at school. My dad always passed comments that she was letting herself go, that women always let themselves go once they’ve been married and had kids.
I knew I had to be very careful in my mother’s kitchen, I just couldn’t risk accidentally consuming some of the oil, butter and too much salt she insisted on ruining everything with. I knew that if that if I didn’t execute absolute caution, I would swell into her just like my little sister was. She’d become obsessed with TV, particularly Disney cartoons while she ate chocolate and potatoes with tomato sauce, sour cream and mayonnaise. Up until age five, she was little more than skin and bone, now she was rounding ever out by the day with a vacant look in her eyes. She’d always been so full of energy and unable to sit still but the bigger she got, the less she moved, and I didn’t want to be weighed down and lost inside myself like a potato stuck to the couch.
I hated the TV and what it had the potential to turn me into; a person who didn’t move, do or say much. Again, this terrified me because it would make me like my abusers were, and indirectly remind me of what I was desperate to forget. It also connected me with how I was groomed, had been weak and dumb. Additionally, I always had to be moving, doing something because I was afraid that if I stopped and did something like sit in front of the TV the chances were something in me would shut down for good and I’d realise that I was too devastated to ever move again.
Looking back I can’t be sure that the dishes were actually greasy once my mother had washed them. I’d say it’s more likely that I was so afraid of the oil she drenched everything in that I imagined I could still feel it everywhere. Also, it’s more than likely the kitchen table and benches had been wiped down, but I studied them so thoroughly that any missed spot was catastrophised by me into abject filth. I couldn’t handle the thought of not being as clean and pure as possible inside which meant the kitchen and food needed to be immaculate. After all that I had learned about the body, it hadn’t computed that mine was just like everyone else’s.
If I ate fats or foods I considered dirty and evil it wouldn’t leave me indefinitely carrying round this fat and toxicity on my body forever. The digestive system would process it, assimilate what was of use to it and expel the rest. If I kept within the required calorie intake for my age, gender and height and did moderate exercise regularly these fats would be used rather than stored. I knew the brain was 60% fat and that omega 3 and 6 were its fuel. I wanted to be as smart as possible and yet I wouldn’t go near the omegas not even through fish oil tablets.
I hid my struggle with food and body image, but many members of my Italian family have always called me out on it. I hated them for it because all I heard from them was judgement. And feeling judged made me defensive as hell during my teens.
At a deeper level though, as an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve never been able to handle my body resembling that of a woman, and this hatred for my body betraying me all over again was the energy pushing me beyond my physical limits. I didn’t care about the consequences I just had to make being in my own skin as tolerable as possible. It was all about getting through one minute to the next.
Without exaggerating puberty had me wanting to die. I hated the thought of being at an age where I was supposed to like boys, sex and be capable of falling pregnant. Once again my body was out of my control, and the curves, menstruation and my friends’ obsession with boys and sex was unbearable. If it hadn’t been for alcohol and cigarettes, I’d have had nothing in common with them.
Among all this, I was devastated about not being good enough to study art. I loved it. It made life exciting and something I wanted to be part of. My father would not give me his blessing to study art because I was not good enough to make a living. So with the doors closing in on me with this, I was left with a black sheet of paper for a future. At least that’s how it seemed to me. As I’ve already mentioned if I didn’t have enough energy to make art, then it wouldn’t matter so much that I wasn’t good enough to create beauty. Not to eat couldn’t have been easier because by this time I was really good at it and have another reason not to make it even easier.
What was hard was to resist painting, drawing and taking photos. It wasn’t just hard, it was excruciating. I felt physical pain like I did at the loss of my grandfather Angelo. I couldn’t let the man who had protected me from my father’s strap and anger go like I couldn’t make my love of painting go. To pass the time I spent all my free hours at the library consuming books and writing about how it felt to be dying because that was what life without art was to me. A slow, drawn-out death.
Bored I’d drink a couple of mugs of wine from my father’s cask and walk hours upon hours along the beach, completely lost and afraid of the rest of my life that I had to live out because I was too gutless to kill myself. Back then I thought it was because I was a coward that I continued breathing but now I see that there’s always been a part of me that wanted to live, loved life and was determined to do all it could to have me survive my compulsion to act on the majority of my self-destructive impulses.
As a teen, I remained bored with my friends’s obsession with boys and being sexy. Boys and sex was the last thing I wanted to know about; the sexual abuse I had experienced as a kid had only just stopped. My peers were experiencing sexual awakening and discovery.
Their preoccupation was as natural as my aversion given my experiences. It makes sense that we didn’t meet halfway, but at the time I just assumed I was a freak. My mother always said I wasn’t normal and called me “pazza” which means crazy in Italian instead of saying my name, Angelina. I hated her calling me this so much it filled me with rage because deep down I was afraid of how much I believed she was right.
I knew for sure I wasn’t normal like the other girls in my year level. Little details were confirmed this on a daily basis. But most of all inside I felt crazy as hell. If I ate enough to have the energy to show just how crazy I believed I’d be locked up and sedated for sure. Well, at least that’s what I believed and I never once questioned my conviction that the consequences of being honest about who I was, what I had to say, how I felt and what I wanted would make my life worse than it already was.
And I couldn’t handle the thought of having less freedom and control over what happened to me and my body in a hospital, so I just couldn’t allow going there to happen which only served to further increase my fear of eating. All I could rely on was the fact that my parents couldn’t afford to put me in a hospital or a clinic. I would calm myself knowing that they wouldn’t because they simply couldn’t follow through with their threats.
I hated not liking boys or wanting to be touched or kissed by them like the girls in my class because it made what my mum said right about me being “not normal”. Eventually, I figured that if I just drank enough of my dad’s alcohol and mixed it with enough valium, I could make myself pass as “normal” by staying instead of walking away whenever some guy approached me to say his friend wanted to talk to me at some party.
Sober though, even the thought of being touched by anyone, regardless of age or gender, remained terrifying to me. Touch brought me back to my body but I needed to stay separate from it which was another reason why to not eat was so easy for me. Not eating for long enough made it feel like I no longer had a body. In fact, that one had to eat to have the energy to move annoyed me to no end. I’d fantasise about being in The Jetsons world where meals came in a pill.
Continued: Part 5
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 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 continue discussing 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 much 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/