Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Long Story of Pain With a Sane and Happy Ending

Once upon a time, when I was about twelve, I was molested by a stranger at a circus, in a dense crowd, within yards of my father who could not see what was happening from his elevation. I didn't yell or fight or anything. I didn't know what to do. My father was nearby (but not near enough) and I was worried he would think I was to blame. My parents were always warning us kids against doing things to cause them to be embarrassed by our behavior. I didn't understand I had a right to put  my safety and well being, first.

When I was finally let go I never said anything to my parents. Under-informed on such things at that age, I didn't know what sexual abuse or molestation was. I knew that in some way I had been violated but I didn't think much about it because I had clothes on and there wasn't any marks and I never saw the other person. I did not repeat it to anyone. I never forgot it but I denied it meant anything in my life. My weight stayed steady and I was not obese at that age. By the time I was 17 I was even a normal weight - with an attractive hourglass shape. I didn't binge and I didn't feast on any particular foods over others.

Then I started college and met my future husband. In the year that I became a sexually active, I gained 60 pounds and the weight kept coming on. I never, ever saw the connection between my eating and sexual activity so, with regards to my weight, a sexual issue was the least possible reason (in my mind).

My spouse does not own this tie.
It wasn't a sex issue; it was a sexual abuse issue. Fast forward 38 years from that day at the circus, past all the many, many, many little signs in my life that something in me was wronged -signs I never realized were there- it is now 2013 and several things happen over the course of six weeks time. First, I read Fifty Shades of Grey. (Spoiler alert on that story line coming up). At the end of the first book of the trilogy, Ana leaves Grey after he uses a belt on her (when she agreed t o try it). She had safe words to stop him and she did not use them. She could have said no, stop -RED. I was very upset at the ending  and I did not understand why it pissed me off.  This is a work of fiction - What the f*ck did I care about' how it worked out for the damn characters'? Yet, I found myself suddenly obsessed with the book and the character's stupidity for not protecting herself when she had safe words and someone who would respect those words and stop. I was pissed at myself and I shared being vexed over and over again with several family members who were starting to think I was a bit nuts.

 Around this same time there was a quick series of events that lead to me having a panic feeling I could not identify. While all these incidents were small in themselves, I had no idea they were opening up a festering sore inside of me. When I finished reading Fifty Shades I was on my cruise - in fact it was the day I picking up the sugar and started overeating. On the day the additional incidents each took place (a TV show, a newspaper article, a conversation with a friend), I picked up each of those days. It should be noted that ever since October my mentor noted I was displaying some of the signs of someone in need of help. Finally and with some coaxing, he got me to agree to speak with a mental health professional.

I went to a therapist, sure it was nothing to do with any sexual trauma because I have never felt that I repressed any sexual memories - so what was the problem. In therapy it came out that while I never denied my mind from knowing what happened that day, I have always denied that it hurt me. I have always denied the feelings of pain, helplessness, fear and instead accepted unwarranted shame.

Suddenly I could see things in my life that happened over and over and over again - things would happen and I would unconsciously be triggered and pick up food for no apparent reason except for my belief that I just had to have it because it was food. I was using it as a substitute protector. So many of those incidents were in some way related to fear, strangers, crowds, security, intimacy and physical interactions, sexual or not. Now I know why I feel safer alone on the streets of NYC at midnight than I do in a room full of people at a convention center in the middle of the day.

The hero of the story was my food. It would save me, avenge me, protect me and then love me. We all know it would do none of those things, really. However, during the time I used it as such, it served whatever need I had. Now that I am aware, it can never again fill that need. It can never again be an unconscious choice. 

I have been taking this all in for the past three weeks and feeling much better about it all. Through this new awareness I am finding triggers I never acknowledged before. Situations that led me to suddenly start the cycle of crave/binge/remorse/shame/deny/forget and repeat - are now being thwarted by a brief pause, a few deep breathes and bringing my mind to focus on an awareness of what I am feeling right then and there.

Why are unicorns always white? I want
an appaloosa unicorn!   
I cannot tell you what a relief it has been to finally know I am not crazy and to know there is hope on the other side. Oh wait - I am on the other side! The obsession with food has again been lifted. This time it feels different. The best way to describe it is this: Where there was once darkness, gloom and pain, there is now goodness and light, rainbows and magical unicorns.

I am very grateful to the mentor that pushed me, the therapist that challenged me and the response of the people who love me. The story will continue ~ bring on the magical unicorns!



A said...

Thank you for sharing your story. There are some things in your story that I have connected with and I feel will help me as well.

I love how you realize that you are on the other side! Just victory from such pain.

Mary Ellen Quigley said...

Thank you for sharing this. I'm so glad you are "on the other side" and can see the reason behind things more clearly. This will definitely help the healing process.

Anonymous said...

This really resonates with me, as I have a very similar experience. Thanks for sharing it. Yes, bring on the unicorns!!

Vickie said...

Very interesting, thank you for sharing. You are not alone, there are a lot of us with varying degrees of sexual abuse in our backgrounds. From what you wrote, it seems like you are saying you were turning to the food as the substitute protector. Not arguing, just noticing. Many would describe it as layering on the fat so the actual fat was the protector. I had a very tough time when I dropped the first 20lbs and then the last 20lbs, feeling like I was very vulnerable in public. Your difficulty with crowds is something I share.

Really good post.

I am trying to remember if you have worked with a therapist before now -? Honestly I think almost all of us need that to truly turn things around in our lives and for our families.

Unknown said...

Hi Jane! My post today is about the very same thing. I hope you read it.

I also have abuse from my childhood, which poisoned me for more than two decades before I connected my childhood problems with my adult issues.

I'm sorry that you had to go through that too, but I do know for certain that facing it is the very best thing you can do. It's brave of you to face it.

:-) Marion

Karen said...

Thank you for sharing. I'm glad you are talking and healing and sharing.

You are not alone. You are very strong.

Jane Cartelli said...

Thank you all for your encouraging comments.

Vickie - I do think the food was the substitute knight (abeit a false one).
I do not beleive I used my fat as protection from sexual abuse however, for a long time I used it as a false sense of security against illness. If I had all those extra pounds I would not die from cancer because I got too skinny . . . oh the things a mind can twist to make the irrational seem sane.

I never, ever noticed a problem with crowds before now. I just thought I was looking to escape to food without thought as to what was the trigger. Awareness is very empowering.

I worked with a therapist once (for food addiction) for four months when I was in my 20's. That did not go well. It was hard to speak candidly with an anorexic therapist when I weighed 300 pounds. My husband and I did therapy together for our marriage when I was thirty and again when I was about 35. Those were good experiences.

I am finding much good in my current therapy.

Jane Cartelli said...

Marion -
I will go read it right now. Together we get better, right?

Jane Cartelli said...

Vickie -
PS - and I appreciate that I may be completely wrong and find that I was using or will in the future seek to use fat as a protector.

That part of the journey is still ongoing.

Vickie said...

It is on going. Peels of an onion. Layers we work on as we can/need. On going positive strides.