Being “evil”…

A couple of months ago, I agreed with Allison that it was time to focus on my disordered eating… Little did I realise, that by agreeing to talk about my eating, it would open the floodgates to my past. Almost as if the agreement was an acknowledgement, or the permission needed, to really start addressing what happened to me…

I’m still trying to comprehend what I’m learning… and it’s not that what I’m sharing in session is necessarily new information, but it’s from a different perspective… I’m not sure how to describe it, other than that there is an emotional connection to those events… That seems like a simple line to read/write… but it’s not… I’ve been left at the end of sessions reeling from the emotional impact of what I’ve just realised…

Some of the realisations are heartbreaking… like discovering that part of the reason I doubt my abuse, is because the different abuse survivor biographies that I have read in an attempt to understand what I experienced, described certain abusive events in a similar way… but, that wasn’t how I experienced them… The literature talked about “fearing death” during the event and provided enough detail that there is horror for the reader; but, it didn’t capture my experience… I wished for death… my body shook, no matter how well I managed to stop the tears, I couldn’t stop my body shaking… There was such confusion over the disconnect between what I read and what I experienced, that I took it as a sign that what I experienced didn’t really happen. I realise that if anyone attempted to publish a book with the details of an abusive event from a visceral perspective, that it wouldn’t be published… no one would be able to read it… the trauma involved in the act of reading the details would be too much…

One of the realisations that I’m really struggling to make sense of, is what it means for me to be evil. I was told from a young age that I was evil for making my abusers do these things to me… so young, that the word became part of my identity… I saw myself as being evil in the same way that I had blonde hair… But, whereas I could see and understand what having blonde hair meant, I couldn’t understand what it meant to be evil, other than it was really bad…

Throughout my childhood, I became more familiar with what being evil meant… Adolf Hitler, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot… were all examples that I learned about at school. I’m still struggling to comprehend what that meant to my young mind, but I seemed to link the idea of being evil to the ability to “make” other people do bad things… This makes sense, from the perspective that I was “making” the abusers do things, seemingly against their will… I know it doesn’t cover so many other areas of logic, but I was young and trying to make sense of the world around me…

When the rather warped religious messages that I was taught about evil are added to the mix, a huge source of confusion is created… I now wonder if this is part of the reason that I slowly withdrew from people over time… Why I can’t touch anything that is clean, new, or “perfect”… Why I need to have a clean house… I know it’s not a simple cause/effect relationship, and that there is a myriad of factors which influence my actions; but, are these attempts to combat the dirty evilness that is considered to be within me?

In many ways, I see how I’ve attempted to reject the evil label from my identity, and that I don’t really see it as “fitting” with my identity as a whole… But, the label has been a part of me for so long, that it feels like it will be there forever… A part of me strongly identifies with the concept of being evil, and wears the label like a badge of honour…

This conflict seems to be driving so many of my actions and reactions within the context of my disordered eating… the need to rid my body of the evil… the problem is, I’m trying to rid my body of something that is considered to be part of my identity…

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Now playing: Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars – Safe & Sound

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Power of shame

I live a shame based existence… the shame that I carry impacts on every aspect of my life.  I say that I “carry” shame, but that’s not quite right… I don’t carry the shame, it walks beside me… crowds my thoughts and actions… looms over me… drives my actions… fills my being… it is me… I am it.

I’ve always had difficulty understanding what shame is… All I knew was that I hated myself; but I thought that was because of my shyness, and low self-esteem.  In some ways, it’s about my perception regarding acceptability of the terms… in some sort of odd way, I thought it was “better” to hate myself, than to feel ashamed.  All you have to do is look at the talk surrounding shame, in order to get the idea that it’s not a positive thing… The Wikipedia entry on Shame mentions words like dishonour, embarrassment, humiliation, chagrin, etc; while the types of shame listed include “secret shame” and “toxic shame”…  Who wants to be part of anything that sounds so negative and dramatic?  Whereas self-hatred, and low self-esteem sound pretty bad; but, for some reason, I didn’t link them with so much negativity… possibly, I didn’t link them with the abuse that I have experienced, and considered them part of my personality, which would have been present, whether there was abuse, or not.

What I didn’t realise, is how closely shame is linked to the shyness and self-hatred.  In reality, they are just another manifestation of shame.  The self-hatred acts as a shameful check on my behaviour, while the shyness tries to hide the shame and self-hatred from the rest of the world… So, it’s all interlinked, and has become a pattern of being that’s developed over time.  It can both be incredibly logical; and yet, totally illogical.  In my moments of functional clarity, I wonder what I’m ashamed of… I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?  But then, the denial slips, and the shame hits like a tidal-wave.  I’m not sure that I can really describe how the shame “feels”; but, I can describe a recent example of how it caused a dysfunctional reaction that was off the scale in reaction to a situation…

As a warning, this mentions Halloween.

In New Zealand we’ve slowly adopted some of the American events such a Halloween.  They’re not big, but there’s usually decorations in the stores, and trick or treaters who roam the neighbourhood on the night.  In the 10 years that I’ve lived in my current accommodation, there have probably been less that five visits from trick or treaters… so, not a big deal.  This year, for some reason, I became excited at the idea of possibility of handing out sweets… I think as part of my current eating disordered behaviour – I can hand out the sweets, but not eat any of them. I had them in the house for days leading up to Halloween as a type of  punishment, and taunt.

On the night, I was both scared and a young kind of excited… I wanted to see the children having fun, and smiling… I wanted acceptance within the community…

But, no trick or treaters knocked on my door.  As the night wore on, the internal voices of self-hatred and shame, amplified… the main message was that everyone in the world knew how crazy I was, and therefore didn’t want their children to take lollies from the “crazy woman in that house”.

As the internal talk of hatred became more intense, there was a drive to punish myself for being so crazy that no one wanted to go anywhere near me…  The method of punishment? Well, that was easy…  There was this nice big bowl of food that I’d been punishing myself with for the last week… why not make the most of it?

So I did…

I had never understood how violent, and self-abusive eating disorders were, until now.  I look back on what happened with a stunned, rather hollow feeling.  Did I really say those things to/about myself?  Did I really do those actions?  It all seems so surreal now.  But, I know it happened…

Another layer of shame…

Shame… such a simple looking word, yet it is so very powerful.  It can destroy you… totally and utterly destroy you.  It comes from within, so knows which buttons to push to play with your head and emotions.  Once it starts, it’s almost impossible to reality check back into any sort of reasonable context.

Last night, it reared its head again… I found I’d been unfriended on a social network by someone I thought was a friend; and found out through a public forum something that in the past the person involved would have talked with me about, but didn’t…  That was enough for the messages about the world seeing my craziness to kick in again.  I went for a hard, fast, punishing walk as a result… but encountered so many people, that I was constantly panicking.

When I returned home, I had to comfort my mother, who had lost a good friend earlier in the day… always those demands to care for others… make sure that others are ok… make sure they see the socially acceptable me, rather than the well of darkness, evil and shame that I truly am…

I described some of this to a shocked Alison on Monday… she had no idea how extreme my self-hatred was.  She asked me to do something interesting… to put aside the shame, and self-hatred for a second to see what would happen… I tried, and memories and images came flooding through…  So, it seems as if my shame and self-hatred has a protective element to it.  They help keep me “safe” from the overwhelming aspects of my past… I honestly don’t know which is worse.

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Now playing: Seether – Remedy

Hurt and go

As a warning, the following poem could be triggering because of abuse and suicidal ideation related themes.

I’ve had a few rough weeks – visiting the town where my ex-husband lives, work related stress, inconsistent messages from the Eating Disorder Service, and an emotionally traumatic assessment by the Eating Disorders psychiatrist… It has stirred up so much in me, that I’m barely coping. Well, to be honest, I’m not coping…

Hurt and go

Hurt and go
Hurt and go
Hurt and go
That’s all they ever did
Even when they were smiling
Hurt and go

It was worse when they smiled
You knew it was going to be bad, real bad
They wanted you close
Relaxed
Then
BAM
It was all on

They taught me my worth
No matter what anyone else says or does
My worth was proven long ago
Everything since that time is an illusion
A pretense
A play on words and thoughts

I am nothing
No, not nothing
A thing
An object
A toy for amusement
An aberration
Disgusting
Stupid

If I was anything else
They wouldn’t have done those things

If I was anything else
It would’ve mattered

If I was anything else
It would hurt so much I’d rather be dead

Oh wait, it does.

The fallout

In my last post, I sound as if I had “dealt” with the visit to my hometown… I was wrong.  What I’d done, is stuff it all in a rather large room in the back of my mind, and closed the door.  My main thought was that I’d gotten through the past two weekends, and that was all that mattered.  I had expected that once those weekends were over, then the anxiety and dissociation would magically disappear… because I wanted that so much, I started to live it.  The trip became a “good, healing experience”, and I couldn’t even remember the weekend of the conference… they became like another couple of headlines in the newspaper, nothing more.

On Thursday, the little fantasy that I had created for myself, came crashing down.  I saw Allison, and we talked about the trip.  She didn’t force anything, but it ripped open the door that I had firmly shut.  We talked about my family not recognising me as I got off the plane… my sister-in-law who talks about her abuse history as if it’s a badge that everyone has to see, and know about… the doubts created when places weren’t exactly as I remembered them…  The session was “intense” according to Allison’s parting words.  So intense, I had to sit in the car for over an hour, talking to a friend in order to ground myself and stop the shaking.

This was when the real fallout began… flashbacks; lost time; constant internal chatter about how bad I am; images of self-injury; and so on.  Intellectually, I decided that the main issue was the denial created when details of the pub weren’t exactly as I remembered; so decided to do some research.  The pub has a history page on their website.  When looking for old photos of the building, I found a photo of my father.  I also found out he’d been given awards for his input into the organisation.  Again, denial slammed into me… was I falsely accusing this man, who was respected in his community, of horrors that had never happened?  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t accusing him in court, or that I have no intention of doing so… all that mattered was whether it happened or not.  I’m used to the dance of denial… it’s one I’ve experienced throughout my life.  In some ways, it’s comforting to know that the denial and doubt touch every single aspect of my life… it’s not just the abuse that I doubt, but everything.  At times my life just seems to be a big question mark.

I realise that I’ve already glossed over the impact of seeing the photo of my father.  I remember seeing the photo as a child… one of my brothers is also in a photo nearby.  It’s disconcerting to see those two, who look so similar, so close.  To say that it’s disconcerting to see how much I look like my father, is an understatement.  I hate genetics.  I hate knowing how much I look like him.  That’s part of the reason I can’t look in the mirror… I see his face and the cross that he wore around his neck during my teens.  Yet another reason to hate how I look, and who I am.  When I see him in my reflection, I become him, and part of the things that he did – not just to me, but to the family, and community.  He is an alcoholic narcissist, and has left a trail of destruction behind him, fitting of such labels.

Sorry, I know this is becoming disjointed… I need to write it out.  I need to try to make sense of it.  But, I don’t know if that’s even possible anymore.

Thursday night, I decided to clean out my wardrobe.  During the clean out, I found jewellery that my father had given me, as well as the lingerie purchased for my wedding night…  I don’t know how these items had lasted so long.  But there they were… a cruel reminder of my doubts, pain and confusion.  If you’re wondering why I doubt the abuse from my father, yet still react to him… well, apparently I’ve always reacted to him.  My mother once told me that one of the factors which caused her to separate from my father, was talking to me in the kitchen when he arrived home… she said that as soon as I heard his car, I looked to confirm it was him, then my face changed, and I walked away to my room without finishing the conversation.

While my reaction to finding those items didn’t help ease any denial, it added another layer of stress and provided more fodder for flashbacks…

What does all of this mean?  Well, the short version is that I’m a mess… the long version is that I’m a total and utter mess.  I’m reacting to the slightest of triggers… unable to concentrate on anything for even moderate timeframes… want to go out and get totally drunk… the list goes on.  I’m trying to remember that the world keeps turning, and that means that this turmoil will pass… please, pass soon… please.

When safety contracts fail

I’ve talked briefly about Allison’s encouragement of a formal safety contract (see Becoming unstuck); well, something happened about a month ago which forced the issue, and a safety contract was written.  It has been covering one week at a time and listing the two actions which are considered to be the most dangerous, the reward for keeping the contract, and the consequences of breaking the contract.  It is kept simple, and driven by me as a way to try and maximise the chances of success.  This week, there was huge resistance to making the contract for an entire week for several reasons… but mainly because there is a big rugby game being played here tomorrow.  My reservations weren’t about wanting to break the contract and self-injure; but instead, there was a fear that I would break it, and in so doing, break a promise.  The idea of potentially breaking a promise created huge amounts of tension… like lies, broken promises is not allowed.

Allison listened to my fears about shortening the contract, but said that part of the reason to have the contract, is to see what happens when it is broken.  That sounded reasonable, so with little thought, and despite the warnings, the contract for the week was sent through to Allison.

The backlash was severe, and immediate.  I had again ignored the warning signs, and instead of listening, I rode roughshod over the concerns.

I’ve done this before, and it’s never pretty.  In my head, I counter all the concerns with very adult logic… “It will be alright, there’s only three days difference.  What’s the big deal?”  Implied within that line of thinking is the thought… “Just get over it”.  It’s a sign of my intolerance, as well as my inability to accept what is happening in the present, and what happened in the past.  It’s telling different ones that their opinion doesn’t matter, and that their feelings are meaningless.  It’s another way in which I try to express my need for control…

Whenever I’ve tried to impose any form of unilateral control in the past, there has been an outright rebellion.  The control tends to be harsh, and the responding consequences are just as harsh.  This time was no exception. I have no one else to blame, but myself.  I should have listened.  I should have paid attention.

The problem is now that the contract has been broken, there is a reaction to breaking a promise to Allison.  Ones within the system don’t want to see her again, for fear of what she will do and say.  Others see the breaking of the contract as an invitation to push the self harm to new levels – the contract is already been broken after all, so may as well make the most of it, right?  I know that the feelings driving this line of thought are the worthlessness and shame arising from the self harm, but it’s still confusing.

My head is a mess.  I’m struggling to stay present.

As I write this, I hear the background chatter… the taunts, the derisive comments, the hatred, the self-hatred, but most of all… fear.

The rugby game hasn’t even started.  The tourists haven’t arrived.  That will happen tonight and tomorrow… how ironic that the big game should happen on a Friday night, which has always been one of my most difficult nights to get through.

Did I mention that my head is a mess?

My relationship with food

Of all the relationships in my life, my one with food is probably one of the most dysfunctional.  It started from when I was a baby, when I was defined as a “fussy eater”.  This warped over time into odd eating behaviours… when my mother used to get us ready for school, I remember we would have breakfast and a prepared lunch; but that only happened for the first couple of years of my schooling, and I was soon going to school without breakfast or lunch.  I don’t remember ever feeling hungry during these times, but I do remember the embarrassment when it was raining and we had to eat our lunch in the classroom… I always pretended that I’d forgotten my lunch.  It wasn’t that we were poor, and couldn’t afford food; I just didn’t know how to make lunch, and I wasn’t really interested.  The couple of times that I did make my lunch, I recall looking at it as an oddity, and as if it was some sort of foreign thing that had arrived out of the blue.  I never felt jealous of my friends who had lunches, only boredom as I waited for them to finish eating.

During my childhood, there were a couple of significant events involving food and my weight that strongly effected me:

  1. My father commented that “at least she’s not fat like her mother and sister”.
  2. My mother would compare myself and her friends daughters regarding our weight.  One time she pushed in my loose t-shirt, to show that I didn’t have a “fat stomach”.

These events dehumanised me, and made me think that if I was overweight, then no one would want to touch me.  That weight would act like a protective barrier against the world.  This thinking became strong during my teens, and I gained weight…  I no longer wanted people to touch me.  But what I didn’t expect, was the teasing and self-hatred that my weight caused.  This is what started the roller-coaster that my weight became – I would lose weight, and feel vulnerable to abuse; so gain weight, and feel disgusting and gross.

When I attended university, my weight issues came to a head.  I couldn’t afford food, and there were stressors which meant that some of my other self-injurious behaviours became out of control.  My weight dropped drastically.  It was the first time that the doctors started weighing me as a way of monitoring what was going on.  As I’d never owned any scales, this was the first time I’d been weighed since I was in school.  I remember being horrified at my weight… it was much too high.  I’ve never had an ideal weight in my mind, but what was being shown on the scale was way above what I thought it should be.  I remember the doctor talking about nutrition, and how I was showing signs of deficiencies.  I remember him talking about having to monitor my weight unless I got it back up to a healthy level.  All I wanted, was to run and hide.

When I finished university, by weight went back to the roller-coaster, mainly dipping when I was going out with someone.  In many ways, I considered eating to be an inconvenience.  People seemed obsessed with it, and I couldn’t understand the obsession.  At other times, I would be eating, and part way through a mouthful of food, become so disgusted with what was in my mouth that I didn’t know what to do with it.  Sometimes I would have to go and get rid of it, sometimes I was frozen in disgust.

During my marriage, food was a control issue… everything else in my life was so out of control, that I had to have some control somewhere.  The ex-husband was a big man, and a big eater.  He liked to think that he was a chef, but in reality, he was a glorified kitchen hand.  He preferred fatty, unhealthy foods.  That, in combination with the memories surrounding the times when my father was a butcher, were the final straw for my brain, and I could no long touch uncooked food.  It became difficult to touch any food, but uncooked meat, was especially difficult.  The feel of it on my skin was stomach churning.  This, combined with feeling that I didn’t deserve good nutrition, again led to more signs of malnutrition… oddly enough I was overweight at this time, but not eating food that had any nutritional value.

During the process of my divorce, the food issues ramped up again.  I soon couldn’t eat at all.  I was surviving on nutritional drinks, and trying to show a smiling face to the world.

Other forms of self-injury have co-existed with my food issues, and often if one of the other forms increases, then the food issues ease off.  It’s seemed like some sort of warped trade-off.  But now, it’s revolving solely around food.

Over the last few months, I’ve lost a fairly significant amount of weight.  But oddly enough, even though I weigh myself every day, with the hope of losing weight, a part of me doesn’t connect the dots between losing weight, and losing dress sizes.  So when I had to go and buy new clothing, there was a panic about going down in size… fears of the abuse starting again resurfaced, and ironically, drove a need for more food control.

I’ve never been diagnosed as having an eating disorder, so I feel a bit of a fake talking about this… but as someone recently told me, you don’t have to be diagnosed with something, in order to have a problem with it.  I have a problem, I’m just not sure how bad it is.

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Now playing: Fauré: Cantique De Jean Racine, Op. 11
via FoxyTunes

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Ever wanted to reach out for help, but too terrified to do so?  Something inside tells you that you aren’t worth it, that no one will be interested… no one will care.

So you don’t bother.  You crawl further into your isolation.

You look out at the people around you, and wonder how they can smile when the world is so bad.

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Now playing: Enya – China Roses
via FoxyTunes