Presently, I feel such a connection to your podcast that I am compelled beyond description to share my story. BUT, then again, the little hateful me inside me is screaming and waggling her finger “oh dear, here you go again – seeking attention from intellectual men and the masses to feel more secure in yourself and your recovery than you REALLY are. It’s all about approval with you and if you fail… WHEN you fail… you will surely regret displaying your true identity to all the internet world.”
But that’s a voice ever present, and everFUCKINGannoying. I must ignore that self loathing part of me and move forward in what I am urged to do and be – share my story and continue in recovery.
Please post this or read it on the air as you wish under my first name only “Julie.” That’s as close to real as I can get for now. I hope you understand.
So we will start in the beginning…
My mother – it’s always the mother – grew up in an abusive household with a submissive mother and terrorist father. He was a holocaust survivor and coped with his trauma by becoming a doctor in America, marrying a demure lady, and spending the rest of his miserable life whipping his family into submission. He played my mother’s siblings against her and she pretty much spent her entire life in fear and shame. She had no one to support her or defend her, so she grew to be a woman seeking love and approval in inaccessable men. She married my father who was from the get-go intellectually misalligned with her because it was safe and easy. He was and is a simple man.
My father grew up in a household with a WW2 vet father and three siblings who had to defend their submissive nurse wife from his physical and mental wrath. My father was born a preemie twin, for his mother drank, smoked, and was beaten while carrying them. She eventually developed Alzheimer’s later and forgot them all. My father smoked since he was 13 and dreamed of owning a farm. But it was not to be as money was made elsewhere. He became a tree man and spray operator to make money for the family and worked as such until he was disabled later in life.
My mother was very controlling, manipulative, emotional, fretful, and anxious while we were growing up. Her identity was as a mother only – we were her identity. She immeshed herself in us and our successes were hers, our failures were personal attacks. She had no love her whole life until us and that put us in a very percarious position. She nurtured our artistic and intellectual prowess and passion for sure, and spent all her energy in bringing us up, but when you have a mother who is fueled by praise, love, success, and attention, you are the worst and most awful child if you do not live up to her insatiable emotional demands.
My father worked all the time – mostly to support our four person family with a $35k salary – but also because it was all he knew. We never saw him growing up unless it was at dinner and by then he was so exhausted he’s fall asleep in his dinner plate and shuffle off to bed. From very little I knew my father was special. He was slow mentally, awkward with others, and seemed very much in outer space most of the time. I didn’t know then that he had an IQ of 84 and his brain was beginning to degenerate even then.
My mother and father fought all the time. She was histrionically emotional and obsessive – he was exhausted all the time and beginning to show signs of frontal lobe deterioration (which as I know now tends to make individuals act violently in early stages). My brother and I were caught between them all the time and painfully aware that our emotions came second and their drama was first.
From very young I became hyper aware of others emotions because I had to so as to protect our safety. I was my mother, father and brother’s go-to for comfort, advice, and protection. I fixed the problems and mended the fights between them. I was everyone’s perfect little girl.
But when I was bad, I was very bad. And I did it all to myself.
When I was around the age of 9 or 10, I started developing physically. I was an early bloomer being the tallest and heaviest in my class until the age of 13. I was made fun of for being fat, smart, nerdy, and just generally odd. I didn’t mind as much until I became aware of my physical and emotional form.
Around that time, my brother came into my room one night and demanded to see my breasts. I told him no and he grabbed me and forced me to lift my shirt. I was scared and ashamed, but also really excited to be drawing attention. He looked at my chest and told me to let him touch them. I said no and pulled down my shirt and he begged and yelled and made me lift my shirt. At that point I was so scared and embarrassed at his fervour I complied and he felt and looked until he was full. He was 7 or 8. I don’t think he remembers this at all. That’s when the problems started.
When I was 11/12 my mother went into self-crisis. She all of a sudden woke up from the mom-daze her life had been all about since she birthed us and started loosing weight, buying thousands of dollars of new clothes, and going out to meet men who would actually pay attention to her – match her intellectually, emotionally, and physically like my father ‘could’ not. She ‘confided’ only in me, and from a very young age I was the only one who knew what she was doing, who she was giggling with on the phone or where she vanished to for days at a time. I helped her write her newspaper dating ads and hook up with men over the phone and in person. She made me think I was special because she was trusting me with all this, but at the same time, I became the truth buffer between her and the questioning world. When she would vanish for days, I was mom. I was the punching bag. I was the cover story. I was too young to know I could say no even though I HATED her lies and deception. At the same time, as an emotionally wise young lady, I knew she was miserable in a loveless marriage and her overbearing emotions suffocated my own enough that I helped her perpetuate this madness until I escaped at 18.
In public I was this wise little lady but in private I was a mess. I cried and screamed in self loathing and anxiety alone in my room. I began to self harm with knives and burn myself with incense and lighters. I could not contain this anger and boiling emotional turmoil inside me and self harming was a private thing I could do to calm myself and prepare for the next chaotic day.
Around the age of 13 or 14, I was waiting in line for lunch food. I had made a few friends for the first time and was eager to keep them. A crush at the time looked disgusted at my lunch tray and urged, , “you know french fries make you fat.” I looked at him with shock. “They do??” I had not been raised to understand that there were such things as bad and good food for your health and was unaware of what my body looked or felt like. So in that moment, I became, without ever having heard the term, anorexic.
At 13/14 I just stopped eating all meals except for dinner. I figured that I could control this aspect of my life. My home life was utter chaos and I never knew what kind of toxic and dramatic home situation I was coming home to, but this… THIS… I could own. I could change myself merely by controlling what went into me!
I lost 45 lbs in a year. I went from 187 to 140 something and upon entry into highschool I was around 130. Healthy right? NO.
I started receiving male attention for the first time and unconsciously associated that with the weight loss. To me, loosing weight some how made me less invisible to others. I made friends and developed a social group because I no longer had this barrier of fat between me and the world and I convinced myself that in order to keep them or have them love me more deeply would involve loosing even more weight.
When I was 16 I was in a band as a backup singer when I was raped by the lead singer in the back forest behind an antique shop. I had to call a friend crying to take me to planned parenthood asap because I was ovulating. My mother found out about the trip to planned parenthood but also that I had been smoking pot for a while. I was sober at the time of the rape. She grounded me for the entire summer. I was only allowed to see two friends and only for a little bit each week. I was confined to my room in my thoughts. For the next year I lived in a detatched state. I knew I was alive but I wasn’t “there.’ I was doing everything I had to but felt nothing. I gained a lot of weight stuffing my feelings with food.
I ‘woke up’ when I was 17 and met a girl I fell briefly in love with. Until then I had been attracted to all genders but only dated men. We had a brief tryst before I met my next long term partner, but it was enough to bring me back to life and into my anorexia.
By the end of my high school years I was 120 lbs and stopped getting my period. I would not get it again until over 5 year later.
I fought long and hard to get into my dream college where I could be away from my insane family and immerse myself in my passions. I had long before known I wanted to be a therapist and focused applying to artsy hippie schools in the northeast. I got almost a full scholarship to a school that cost over $45k a year and leapt into my college years with zeal and bliss.
I was mostly on studying psychology and anthropology there but it was really the freedom to truly be ONLY me that helped me to learn so many beautiful things about the world and at the same time, drove me into the worst days of my controlling eating disorder.
Even from a far my family was terrorizing me – my mother was playing me against all her foes – she claimed my issues as her own and made her problems mine. I had to manager her life from afar and because I did not want any one to hurt, I complied. My brother was leaft alone in the chaos and went berzerk without me. He began to fail school and fight my family. I would get calls daily about his rages and my father’s suspicions of her cheating. I was begged to help and hide her secrets. I complied over and over.
To balance the chaos there, the perfectionism I portrayed in college, and the turmoil inside me, my eating issues blew up. By the age of 20 I weighed 106 lbs. I am 5′ 6”. My skin was pure white, my veins an ocean blue beneath the almost transparent epidermis. I was in size 0 pants that were too big and it hurt “so good” to sit down. My breasts shrank to nothingness (which I was so grateful for at the time) and my nails and teeth began to fall out. It felt cathartic. I felt like I was purging myself of the toxicity of my home life – shedding my skin into a new better me though college and my anorexia. I had NO CLUE that I looked like a concentration camp victim 0 a shadow of myself.
I had no physical or sexual attention because my partner at the time was miles away and abusive in her own way. I cannot get into it for fear of her knowing I am speaking of her, but sufficed to say, her selfishness and cold nature left me without physical or emotional attention for 4 years while I gave it all to her.
I had strong emotional desire to feel close to others. So much so I fantasied all the time about others around me to the point of having to leave class to masturbate. I was my own lover and loather for so many years.
Around the age of 20, two things happened. My father fell 40 feet from a tree and I met a man who would start my recovery process.
My father fell 40 feet from a tree when trying to make money to come get me home for break. He shattered his leg and fractured his spine. At the same time, the doctors diagnosed him after many tests with dementia.
The family was falling apart around me and I was desperately trying everything I could to hold them and myself together.
At the same time, at the worst of my disorder, I met a professor who gave me such unabashed support and love and companionship free from all ties and conditions that I began to seek some help. Although my body and mind were still very much not in it, I went to therapists and doctors on campus and when I graduated, I was mildly happier and weighed 115.
My mother and father had gotten divorced in the mean time very violently (it involved threats and guns and police and all sorts of madness). So by the time I came home from college to try and begin working as a therapist, the world I once knew was shattered in pieces all around me. My mother was living alone and working for the first time since she was a teen, my father was living with a stranger living on social security due to his dementia, and my brother had run off to join the marines.
I got off on my own very swiftly and began work as a counselor less than a week after graduation. I was making money at a job I loved and was very good at. I knew this was what I wanted to do the rest of my life – working with individuals with a variety of mental health issues and co-ocurring substance abuses seeking to better understand themselves. I was establishing a social circle and feeling a little less tethered down by the madness of my family. I was starting to understand that I did not have to and in fact, could not FIX THEIR problems. I was not their life coach and needed to focus more on my own physical and mental health more than anything.
In 2009 I met the love of my life – the man I will one day marry and on that night, for the first time in 5 years, I got my period and wasn’t afraid. I felt loved and incredibly secure in my life. I could not believe I had met someone so beautiful and caring in all aspects and thought that this was the beginning of the rest of my life.
But very soon after that, I began feeling very ill and not myself. Every day I would awake feeling like I had been beaten in my sleep. I began thinking more and more paranoid and erratic thoughts. I was loosing control of everything I had worked so hard to wrangle in and had NO IDEA why!
Since getting sick with mono in the winter of 2008 during college, my sleep had been disturbed to the point which I was involuntarily waking every few hours and never getting full sleep. I started feeling sick in body and mind – the result of years of body abuse and more than anything, sleep deprivation.
With my love’s support, I began seeing a plethora of specialists – EVERY ONE – to find out why I was slowly becoming sicker. I was gaining momentous weight, my mind was unfocused, and my entire body hurt. When I woke up, EVERY day, I felt like I had been hit by a car. My spine felt as if it was going to collapse and every day I felt myself DECAY.
I stopped eating again. I cried all the time. I wore ugly shlubby clothes. I had an anxiety attack whenever a camera came out or if I saw a photo of me on Facebook. I went to work but felt miserable – detached. But most of all I was ANGRY. Angry that my body decided to give NOW when I FINALLY found love in another and within myself. I was SO scared.
After a LOOOONG time and with A LOT of support from family and friends, we figured it out. I have a sleep disorder where due to eating disorder trauma, my body immediately wakes me up with a rush of adrenaline when I reach Stage 3 and 4 sleep. So without REM, the restorative part of sleep, I was slowly, well, decaying.
So we got me on meds – Cymbalata for my untreated body dis-morphia, depression and anxiety, and Gabatril for my sleep to help me enter REM. After meds, getting my period back, quitting smoking, eating more and better foods, going to consistent counseling with an incredible therapist and letting go of some things I held tight onto, I started to feel recovery.
My love was with me unconditionally and helped me slowly learn to accept and GASP loooove myself!
In the years since, I have become a person and practitioner that I can not only be proud of, but worship unabashedly.
Yeah, I still have my nutty moments, as recovery is an ever lasting journey. But I am learning how to live and love more healthfully. I am setting limits with family that are sensible and secure. I am taking care of myself and others better than ever and when I get upset, I am better equipped to handle it in the moment and thereafter.
I draw, I read, I adventure, I play RPGs, and play with life. I find joy in racooons in my backyard and typos on paperwork. I can honor moment to moment what I could not for my whole life long because I accept life as it is and know that if I am unhappy, I have the power to change it with positive action and peaceful reflection and expression with myself and others.
This is recovery. It’s fucking awesome.