I’ve struggle with distorted perceptions of my body since I was 9 years old. I vividly remember the first time I felt hatred towards my body. I was 9 and I was sitting on the floor in the upstairs hall of my parents’ house. I must have been getting ready to get into the shower. I was sitting with my legs out in front of me and all I could think about was how fat and ugly my stomach was. I thought it looked disgusting.
I remember during my years as a dancer how much I envied the other girls who were thinner and had more delicate frames. I was always cast in the role of the boy in the group choreography and I assumed this was because I was the largest, tallest and least delicate. Intellectually I knew some of the girls were younger and hadn’t gone through puberty yet, but emotionally it hurt. I didn’t want to be in the boys costume, pants, vest and button up shirt. I wanted the flowing dress. The main reason was because I assumed my body shape was to blame.
I remember feeling slightly more confident in my body for a few years, at the beginning of high school. My style changed fairly dramatically over the years, from dresses, to jeans and baggy sweatshirts, to grunge plaid shirts and doc marten boots, to short kilts and boots, to hippy long skirts…in high school I wore skirts and dresses the majority of the time and I never felt comfortable in shorts.
When I was sexually abused, I started linking my female body with being assaulted. I wanted to take up less space. I wanted to disappear so I couldn’t be abused. I changed my style again, and stopped wearing skirts and dresses and more feminine items, expect for special occasions.
It took many years for me to make the link between being abused and hating my body. I believed all the negative thoughts Ana was screaming at me. I believed I was fat, even when I was deathly thin. I saw things that weren’t there. I struggled with body dysmorphia and distorted body image, never seeing myself as others saw me. I became so used to this that I stopped questioning why it happened. I became increasingly invested in hating my body and blaming my body for being abused. I forged an even stronger link by engaging in severe self harm for many years and abusing my body by overdosing and attempting suicide. All my destructive behaviours distracted away from the root causes of my eating disorder and self harm.
I remember the moment the link became crystal clear to me. Up until that moment it was a complete mystery to me how my view of my body could change so drastically from day-to-day. One day I might see myself as thin, or even worry about my weight and health and the next day I’d wake up feeling obese, disgusting and unwilling to eat. I had a hard time intellectually believing that it was impossible for my body to change that much over night. I tried to control the dysphoria by altering my eating habits and/or exercise.
Around 2011-2012, during the years leading up to me leaving my ex-husband, I had a sudden realization. My weight was low towards the end of 2011, partly due to the ECT treatments and lack of appetite and partly due to Ana and depression. I remember feeling like I’d lost too much weight. I remember feeling concerned about how low my weight was (this was during the brief time period I owned a scale). I went to sleep one night and my ex-husband touched me sexually when I was asleep and drugged. Quite likely after I’d said no while awake. I remember us fighting about it in the morning. I went into the en suite bathroom and got ready to shower. I remember and overwhelming feeling of being fat. I hated my stomach. I felt massive and ugly. I wanted to harm myself and restrict food. I felt disgusting and shameful.
Then a light bulb went off in my mind.
“Wait a minute, just yesterday you felt you were too thin. Just yesterday you were worried about your weight being low. It’s impossible that you have gained that much weight over night. These self-destructive thoughts are linked to being assaulted and to the argument. You feel fat and dirty and shameful BECAUSE of what happened. It has nothing to do with your weight. Your weight hasn’t changed.”
Things started to shift for me after that realization. I suddenly had a clear intellectual understanding that I needed to try living alone before giving up and completing suicide. I realized that I hadn’t truly “tried everything” to recover because I hadn’t tried removing myself from my marriage. I think this realization saved my life. I began to slowly get stronger, to seek different types of help (from a rape crisis centre) and to talk to a few trusted folks about what was happening in my marriage.
It took me a full year to get strong enough to leave. But the leaving started with that realization. For a moment, I stopped blaming my body and myself and started blaming my abuser for my ill-health.
In the last two days I’ve had some incredibly frustrating text interchanges with my ex-husband. Trying to co-ordinate co-parenting with a narcissist is impossible. It is like pushing a spiky boulder up an icy hill, where you are blamed for the ice, the spikes and for not succeeding in getting the boulder up the hill.
Yesterday, Ana was screaming at me. Ana did NOT want me to eat. Ana was telling me I was fat and I’d gained too much weight. Ana was telling me to hurt myself. Ana was making me paranoid that my ex could see things on my computer, or hear things we were talking about at my house. Ana was activated and was not letting me rest. Noises startled me, I had a hard time relaxing to sleep.
All of this happened because of a 5 minute text exchange with him.
Co-parenting with an abuser is enough to make anyone miserable. But I need to remember that my body is not to blame. In fact, the healthier I am, the stronger I can be at resisting his abuse. I need to be healthy to take care of my kids and protect them as much as possible from his lies. Ana tells me to hurt myself, to shrink myself, that it’s my fault. But Ana lies.
I’m willing to bet that if you have an abusive voice in your head, it is lying to you too. Ana never makes us stronger. We are not to blame for the abusive patterns of another person.
I read a quote once…
This was certainly true in my case. I realized that hurting myself was not the way out. There was another way, a sometimes more difficult way, but a more productive one!