Protection in emptiness
Eating Disorders and Personality Disorder – #5
“You will never touch me”
[I am sorry I have not updated this series for a while!]
In my first period of anorexia, one of the greatest functions of my eating disorder was a kind of defiance and separation. Anorexia definitely changed my personality, or rather, it was often as if there was a separate personality, much stronger than my own, rising inside me and gaining strength as I got thinner. She was strong and defiant and could not be hurt. She could keep me away from everyone and every thing that hurt me.
I was about 15 by this time and had suffered at least 11 years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse and exploitation. The family unit of my mother, my father and I were increasingly isolated and cut off into my mother’s sick (in both senses of the word) world and anything that tried to penetrate it led to terrible consequences (her sickness, her threats to kill herself, her threats to abandon the family, her threats of breaking up the family or of me causing her and my father to die, be taken away and so on). Anything that posed a risk to the world of her twisted thinking, delusions and manipulation had to be invalidated or removed. Visitors weren’t allowed to come into the home. Any social contact had to be planned and rehearsed beforehand, carried out to Mother’s specifications, reported back to her, analysed against her pre-prepared script. The daily routine had to run exactly according to her needs. She had to be recognised as super-human, a genius that nobody could ever sufficiently understand, the victim of everyone’s cruelty and misunderstanding who was so gracious as to forgive everyone because she “loved” them so much. Appease, pacify, agree, conform….the disaster wouldn’t happen, maybe….
My eating disorder couldn’t appease, pacify, agree or conform. It couldn’t be manipulated or invalidated. My eating disorder could defy, protect, shield, consume, grow stronger, defend, refuse to succumb and refuse to be controlled or analysed by her and even refuse to recognise her at all.
I remember that eventually, as my weight dropped and dropped, even Mother started to worry I was too thin and getting weaker. She’d encouraged my eating disorder at first, requiring my weight loss and dieting and reminding me how ugly I really was. Eventually it snapped out of her control and I think it was the one thing that actually scared her.
One evening, she called me into her bedroom. She told me to get undressed and stand in front of the full-length mirror. She’d done this many times before in order to shame and humiliate me and to slowly and methodically point out all the bits of my body that were bad and “too plump” and “too much fat”. Usually it followed a ritual weighing and reporting of my weight to her, her disbelief and being forced to repeat weighing myself in front of her. Now I flatly refused to weigh myself in front of her, but delighted in doing it in my bedroom in secret (always in exactly the same place, lining the scales up with a particular pair of floorboards) and was satisfied with the thrill of seeing the pounds drop. But for some reason, this day, I did obey her to get undressed and stand in front of the mirror. This time, instead of pointing out the places I was too fat, she pointed out where it showed I was too thin. Even I was shocked when I was forced to look at where the normal shape of my behind had started to flatten and disappear at the base of my spine. She continued telling me I was too thin and how she was worried.
A thrill of power went through me. It was frightening but I had never felt power like that. No, I thought. No. This is my body. All mine and you will never touch me again. In total silence I walked away from the mirror, away from her, out of her bedroom back to mine and got dressed again. I resolved to lose as much more weight as I possibly could and get as sick as I could, because this meant she would never ever touch me again. I hated her at that moment. I don’t think I was thinking of the sexual invasions, specifically (and indeed a lot of them I didn’t even accept as invasions at that time), but of all the hold she had on me and all the hurt. She would never do it again.
I had an awareness, somewhere, that she was worried for me and she was upset, and that my father was too. At that time, the need for the protection and power of my anorexia was much greater. I had become quite a nasty person, disregarding the hurt I was causing people who loved me (my dad loved me, if my mother didn’t). Or the anorexia in me was quite a nasty personality and I was becoming that personality. The power of anorexia was stronger than my usual nature.
Of course, it didn’t really stop me getting hurt, and it hurt lots of other people in the process. Eventually, it was acknowledging my father’s fear of what was happening to me that started to bring me out of this first period of starvation. To this day, I am not quite sure what, at that time, made me acknowledge that and shifted the balance of power towards empathy and reason, and away from the protective force of anorexia.