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Almost a Perfect Match

By LJ Abbott 

You ask what is the relationship between eating disorders and trauma?  Well, I would like to be more specific and ask what is the relationship between anorexia nervosa and being raped?  Anorexia is almost a perfect match for a victim of rape, despite the fact that their relationship can kill.  It almost killed me. 

My body has never forgotten the violent invasion of what I call ‘the sacred place of creation within,’ every woman’s reproductive organs.  All other parts of my body rushed to help and then became frozen in time.  Sounds and words filtered silently through space.  No one heard.  No one came.  I was left barren.

Rape is horror that dares not speak its name.

Language is cut off.  For the pain speaks in a foreign tongue only known to the body. Deep wounds invisible to the eye; the fear, incomprehensible, forces the question: Do I live or die?

I desperately need a means to express and mask the horror without naming it. Unwittingly, eating less and less and exercising incessantly to the point of collapse evolve into my illusionary disguise.  I need to feel pain, for pleasure triggers fear and panic.

 

I want my life back! The black bile runs throughout my body. It’s evil. The body must be destroyed. The mind enhanced. Stop! No! I can’t. When I reach 75 pounds, I will stop. Yes, I will stop then. No, I can’t. They say I threw spaghetti at the wall. I went to High Park yesterday. Yet I don’t remember either. Remember the piece of apple pie in the window? Body froze. A great threat. Going to consume me.  Evil poison within me. Eat no food and it won’t multiply. Destroy it. No menstruating. No breasts, No hips. Stare at the second hand. It must stop now. I demand you stop. Noon. I will eat something at two, no not two, three, no not three, four . . .

(September 1977)

 

The horror within creates its own Frankenstein in a vortex – people’s repulsion of my appearance grows and destructive behaviours intensify, a slow suicide.  Wow!  This is a perfect disguise.  I crave and seek out isolation, for I trust no one.  It is the ideal punishment for one who is a sinner: “It was my fault;” “I am a bad person,” “I’m so ugly, no one will touch me.”  The image and name of the perpetrator and the act of the rape itself fade from memory, while the fear of the horror never leaves my body.  It becomes the driving force propelling the starvation, excessive exercise, paranoid thoughts, along with compulsive and obsessive behaviours.  Eating Disorder treatments only question the starvation and its accomplices: my domineering mother, my insecure self, and the sociocultural pressures to be thin.  The true horror remains silent, for its presence is never questioned.  It has no name, no language.  It lives in my body and if given oxygen or food, it will kill me.  I am dying anyways.

 

The darkness of the night engulfs me as I lie in my bed waiting for my life to end. While daring death to come forth, images of the past pass before me – a little girl with blonde hair in a white flock dress skips rhythmically in the sunshine, and then of a teenager lying in a hospital bed, her eyes and checks hollow, her pasty yellow complexion streaked with stains of old tears. Dear God, I confess that I have sinned against You and Your creation. There is no doctor who is capable of diagnosing such a horrid sin – one which has penetrated deep into the very core of my being. How much longer must I suffer in Your name? I am not afraid of dying but of a living death. The body rejects food in any form. The duvet, like a large sandbag, covers my legs of empty muscle, forbids me to move. I feel an emptiness – a cleansing of all my past pains and sorrows. I accept death, so I have nothing to fear. My eyes are heavy. My last shallow breath opens the door from which I must pass through, never to return.

(December 1995)

 

Death passes me by once again.  My prefect disguise very slowly wears around the edges.  Bit by bit, a wee ray of light cuts through the darkness with an offering… of what?  A third or fourth chance?  I’ve lost track.  Perhaps it’s the seventh.  Then talk of Anorexia and its accomplices is replaced with talk of trauma, safety, incomprehensible pain, triggers, flashbacks, body sensations, mindfulness and trust, and finally —

 

I say, Ben raped me. I was raped by Ben.

I write, Ben raped me. I was raped by Ben.

It happened. It was real. It was not my fault.

(March 2012)

Now my body is slowly revealing the wounds of horror, yet not ready to sever its relationship with the eating disorder completely.  The wounds express themselves in a foreign script, but I am learning to translate it into feelings as well as pictures and words, including these to your question.

[Almost A Perfect Match was presented as part of WCH’s Trauma Training for staff at The Regional Centre for the Treatment of Eating Disorders at The Ottawa Hospital, during the fall of 2014.]

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Further Reading

Read a feature about trauma therapy by Eva-Marie Stern, Art Psychotherapist.


Read "When a body's in trouble", a personal reflection by Nancy Wesson about her journey into healing from trauma.


Read "Almost a Perfect Match", a personal reflection by LJ Abbott about the relationship between eating disorders and trauma.


Read more services offered at the Sexual Assault and Abuse focused programs at Women’s College Hospital. If you are - or have been - a client of one of these programs, and would like to submit your artwork to the online gallery, please contact: Eva-Marie Stern.


Find out more about Violence and Health Research Programs at Women’s College.


Women's College Hospital Programs

Learn more about the following programs:

Reproductive Life Stages Program

Mental Health in Medicine & General Psychiatry

Trauma Therapy Program

Brief Psychotherapy Centre for Women

Women Recovering from Abuse Program (WRAP)

Child and Family Psychiatry Program

Art Therapy


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  • Women's College Hospital