My body, rape and recovery

Part seven of ‘Ten years after rape’

My body and I have been at war most of my life. I see my body as something I have, not part of me. I am not a dualist. I don’t believe my mind and body are truly separate, but from the way I have treated my body, you would think I do.

As a child I was constantly pushing my body. Could I beat yesterday’s skipping record? How long could I hold my breath? Running my hands under the burning water in the bathroom sink, I willed myself to keep them there just one second more, and then another, and then another…

By ten I was self harming, by 14 I was anorexic, by 16 I was taking overdoses, by 17 I’d discovered asphyxiation. I piled on the self destruction, picking the best tool for the job. Overdoses for the depression that felt like I had weights in every limb, anorexia for the chronic anxiety and unwanted attention, cutting for the sadness, head banging for anger, asphyxia for when all else had failed.

At 14 my body betrayed me. It started bleeding without my permission and attracted men at a frequency I was unprepared for. It wasn’t supposed to change and I hated it for disobeying me. I punished it by denying it food. The bleeding stopped. The attention decreased. I had won.

My teens were spent yo-yoing between emaciation and borderline health. I didn’t want to worry my mum, but I wanted to prove I owned my body. Between the catcalls and the inappropriate touching, it certainly didn’t feel like I did. As I approached a healthy weight, I had an unwanted and frightening experience in a shop. I didn’t want to have breasts when they caused things like that to happen. I blamed my body.

Immediately after that experience I started rapidly losing weight. I applied the same competitiveness to dieting as I had to holding my breath as a child. The numbers were everything. When the numbers were everything, nothing else mattered. By summer 2006 I was borrowing clothes from my eight year old sister. Being thin didn’t keep me safe though. It just attracted a different kind of attention. It was sleazier, more predatory.

In summer 2006 I was raped. My eating disorders nurse said “Maybe if you’d been bigger you would have been able to fight him off”. I heard that my body was to blame and, as the person who had reduced it to skin and bone, I was to blame.

I found the aftermath of the rape almost impossible to handle, so I cut to quieten my thoughts and block out the feelings. I sliced open my arms with the detachment of a surgeon. I was performing a lifesaving operation, after all. Once again I found myself pushing the limits of my body. How far could I go? When would my body fail me again? Each cut was a little deeper, a little closer to an artery. I wasn’t trying to end my life, but I didn’t care if I did.

In the years that followed I reached a truce with my body. I maintained a weight that kept me out of danger and in exchange my body kept menstruation away. I still cut, but more infrequently and not as badly. We generally maintained this delicate equilibrium, but when something bad happened, my body took the brunt of it. When I couldn’t cope with life, I took it out on my body.

It’s hard to pin point exactly when I stopped scapegoating my body. I think a huge turning point was when restricting anorexia morphed into the binge-purge subtype during a severe relapse in 2013. Restricting is almost a passive suicide. It is quiet and sad. Binging and purging, however, is angry and violent. Restricting is leaving someone on the floor to die, binge-purging is pushing them to the floor and kicking their head in. One day I stuffed food into my mouth until my distended stomach felt like it would burst and then I stood over the toilet. As I thrust my fingers down my throat, I had a moment of disturbing clarity. I had embodied my abusers. I was now the one violently forcing things into my body. I was now the one telling myself I was disgusting and worthless. It didn’t end the binge-purge cycle, but after that happened it felt different. I didn’t feel quite as compelled. I felt as though I had at least a small amount of control.

I’ve consistently been a healthy weight now for about a year and a half. I still struggle to accept my body but I am not prepared to risk my life anymore. I don’t need to risk my life anymore. My body was my enemy because I couldn’t place my blame in the correct place. My body received the brunt of my pain and despair because I had no idea how else to handle it. In the past I ran from my demons. Now I bring them home and tend to their wounds.

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