I am a foodie—and, I’m very ambivalent about that. I both love and excoriate myself for that. My food war is facilitated by my having dissociative identity disorder (DID). If you’re unfamiliar, DID is a survival mechanism of the mind in the face of great trauma. Imagine, if you will, the natural conflicting opinions of human nature growing into full, thinking, feeling, articulate individuals who may, or may not, talk to each other and you have a primitive concept of DID (although it’s not that simplistic). Sometimes I experience it as just varying thoughts or feelings, sometimes I find myself in motion and feel I’m just along for the ride, and sometimes my spouse tells me I’ve done something moments ago, yet I have no memory. Increasing the complexity, each “alter” has his or her own food tastes and beliefs.
The childhood trauma I suffered by itself would make anyone want to buy a chocolate bar, but food and bodyweight in my family were a tool of control. My mom has strong anorexic tendencies and the accepted body weight was narrowly defined. Slender wasn’t enough—you had to be fit, and eat healthy (which was a tiny, moving target). There was little freedom for individuality. The pressure to conform was immense, and relationship and approval were lost if you didn’t. This dovetailed with the faith I grew-up in where, for many, food was a salvation issue. Food became toxic, and spiritually abusive.
Underneath all this was the hate of body and self, instilled by my abusers, holding me to blame for the atrocities suffered at the hands of adult men: “Johns,” paying thousands of dollars to rape and torture little girls.
Until I began writing this essay, I didn’t realize just how much anger I hold about this topic, and as I write I know I have much work to do. Yet, I find myself thinking, “No wonder I have so much trouble around food…”: a new, and rare thought of kindness towards myself in this struggle.
Perhaps if I were slender I wouldn’t struggle so much, yet I know it’d still be there, just less in my face.
While I have no diagnosed eating disorder, every disorder has a spectrum and if I’m honest, I flip flop between anorexic tendencies and binging tendencies. Mountains of guilt, shame, and berating go with that.
Keeping my weight in check was once almost effortless, but as trauma memories have surfaced, I’ve increasingly turned to food in a desperate attempt to numb the pain inside and wish the memories away. Combined with the utter exhaustion of chronic illness it’s been a perfect storm, and my alter dedicated to health, hard exercise, and whatever is required to keep a svelte body has lost traction. Some of that is good—I was fairly exacting with myself—but the new approach is more like a pendulum swing than balance. I shred myself internally for every misstep. That internal vitriol deteriorates how I feel, increases my yen for the salv of artisan chocolate and, indulging in artisan chocolate triggers self punishment. It’s a vicious merry-go-round.
My path to healing goes through “the valley of the shadow of death” of my past, and it means I will be at my lowest for months. At our lowest our defenses are down, and the battle within me for healthy coping habits is fierce. At my lowest, I frequent favorite restaurants, and stock, seek out, and make comfort foods at home—hoping to forget for just an hour. When returning memories overwhelm, I throw all rules to the wind, and often suddenly awaken to an awareness that I’m eating mindlessly—which catalyzes a battle between shame and not giving a damn.
The last, and perhaps most difficult piece of my struggle is that I’ve come to realize that I eat, partly, because I fear being attractive. When I’m slender, I’m beautiful, and having suffered unspeakable atrocities, I am terrified of being beautiful to men. Even to my husband.
It’s a savage war, and some days I wonder if I’ll survive…But, I’m trying to learn kindness towards myself. Kindness for why the war exists, and for why being beautiful strikes terror in my heart. Gradually, I’m learning to accept that it will be a long time before my war is over—and to accept that it’s okay. To hug the little girl within who suffered the unsayable, and tell her, “I understand. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long.”
Marín has begun a long journey toward healing from complex trauma, and invites you to be a part of her archaeological pilgrimage through the truths she’s only beginning to know herself. Through tears she’s starting to find beauty again in life, writing, artistic expression, adventure, curiosity, community, spirituality, and bringing goodness to her body. More than anything, she treasures her time with her husband and their adored four-footed friend. Marín cherishes being part of the Red Tent community and to free her to share the rawness of her soul with you, she requests anonymity.
Marin, First I want to say how sorry I am that you’ve suffered so at the hands of others. I wish I could hug you and tell you it’s all going to be okay. As I read your piece I felt the “pendulum swing” as you continue to seek balance. I love the last sentence as you express the desire to hug your little girl and tell her that you understand and that you’re sorry it has taken so long. She craves your tenderness. The people who should have tenderly protected you and loved you did not do their jobs. You were and are lovable. Please don’t ever forget that, Marin. Hugs and blessings to you.
Barbara, your note brought me to tears. Your kindness and insight truly felt like a virtual hug. Thank you.
Blessings on you and this long upward journey. Thank you for sharing this. Stay in the moment and breathe. I’m so glad you found RTL, and that you are using your writing as a source of strength. Onward, sister, with all our love!
Claudia, thank you for blessing my joining this community and my writing, and your words of care.
There is so much of this that resonates. Blessings as you continue to untangle the web. It is so fraught and complicated. Learning how to care for yourself when the very body you live in feels like a threat is bravery.
Thank you for naming the bravery. I hadn’t thought of it as that. It truly takes everything I have some days.
I sympathize and empathize. My body is in terrible shape. I “abuse” it by not taking care of it because I refuse to be just a beautiful object so someone will love me. I (silently/secretly) tell myself that I will return to beauty on the outside when someone truly loves me for the beauty on the inside. Please continue to love your little girl self; she needs you.
Thank you Bess. I hope one day to love the little girl within as much as she deserves.
Love is the only way