TRIGGER WARNING: this post contains events of self harm and sexual assault.
Before we go any further, dive any deeper, please know that this was a difficult post. It has been in the works for several months and experienced many rewrites. I’m certain it is not well written in the least. And it took me ages to hit publish.
Organizing my thoughts brought up things I had not thought about for a long time. It made me look at certain events differently, and it was a very emotional journey.
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If you’ve been here or my other blog, even if just for a hot minute, you know that my body and I have been at odds forever. Like, seriously. FOREVER. I know it sounds dramatic but going back to my earliest recollections, there has been a massive wedge between us.
We cannot seem to connect.
I have written about it before, several times. I have seen doctors, dietitians, specialists, therapists, and psychologists, several times. In my early twenties I was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder (or BDD).
My body image issues run deep. They are interwoven through my person so much that I feel they are more me than I am or ever could be.
And they’ve always been there – as far as age and brain damage will allow me to remember. But I have this guttural response when I think about it. And an almost violent physical reaction whenever I look at myself in the mirror.
This summer has been HOT. And I was struggling working outside in the gardens wearing pants. So, I ordered some shorts. In a size much larger than I would like to have done. But this is where I am so that is what had to be done.
I tried them on and showed my family (aka Sparky and Bean). The fellas applauded – for real, they seriously fucking did – I think they were caught off-guard by my purchase – and told me I looked great.
And they told me they were proud of me.
Me? Well, naturally (for me), I was fucking horrified, staggeringly uncomfortable, and, quite frankly, appalled by what I saw when I looked down and again when I glanced up at the mirror…
Hungry and Hurting
Being a teenager is difficult. There is so much change and emotion, and life lessons. We really begin to emerge as the humans we will be for the bulk of our existence, forged by our experiences and interactions with others.
My long building contempt for my body led to a complete disregard for it, a lack of respect, during my teenage years. Being so disconnected and uncomfortable with my physical self created an odd sort of rivalry between me and myself.
Add to that years of being bullied and tormented, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Comparison and competition drove me towards unrealistic expectations. And ever further down dangerous roads.
Just before I was diagnosed with PDD, I stopped eating. Starved myself. Found excuses for not having lunch at school and avoiding meals at home. Eventually, after several months of this abuse, my body became run down. It stopped functioning properly.
I was frequently ill and in pain.
And so fucking desperate to be thin. To be skinny. To be appealing. To be accepted. To feel pretty. To be anything but what I was: me.
My mom had to give me enemas because I stopped having bowel movements, and was debilitated by constant abdominal pain. Things culminated with a trip to the hospital where I was diagnosed with a massive internal infection.
And the truth came out.
When I was well enough to return to school, my parents made me come home every single day for lunch. So they could be sure I was eating.
Fucking brilliant. Just what every teenager wants – to go home for lunch. As if this would help things…perceived by my peers as the kid with the over-protective parents; I had the earliest curfew in the group and was often times walked home by my boyfriend/friends before they all went out for the night.
Much to my dismay, I had not lost much (if any) weight while I was starving myself. And while, I did not expect a deeper connection to my body, my teenage self had hoped to like it a little more once/if there was a little less of it.
Others were now dictating what I was to do with my body. I no longer had control of what went in it and when…
So I found another outlet.
She’s Got Legs
In my nearly forty years, I have been all the sizes. Ridiculed by those closest to me and tormented by peers for being “too big” but no one ever commenting when I was “too thin.”
No wondering why the fuck that happened. Our society has some pretty fucked up views of what is considered acceptable and physically attractive, and that excludes a shit ton of people…
Except maybe my husband. There have been instances over the years where out-of-control blood sugars, stress, and other factors have caused me to linger in an unhealthily thin zone, and he has expressed genuine concern.
My legs, especially my thighs, have always been my least favourite body part. Even at my thinnest I could not stand the sight of my legs.
So they became my targets. Late at night, alone in my room, I would scrape and drag sharp objects (my nails at first, then pen caps, then push pins) up and down them. While blood seeped through the thin pink, crudely drawn lines and tears ran silently down my cheeks.
I didn’t cry because it hurt. I cried because it felt good. Release. And I knew it was wrong.
I never wore shorts in public or bathing suits. So it was easy enough to hide. While the behaviour stopped before I left my teen years, the emotional and physical scars are something I will carry with me forever.
Even now I’m not totally sure why I did it. I never told anyone, not one of the countless doctors or therapists. Never told friends (not that there were ever many of those).
I wonder if my deep dislike is what made them my target?
Likely, but also, like I said, it was easy to hide. I never wore shorts, short skirts, or bathing suits, so it became my dirty little secret. Just between me and myself. Some kind of fucked up intimacy that looked and felt a lot more like estrangement.
I think disfiguring them made me feel justified in my attitude towards them. As if intensifying their ugliness made my disgust acceptable.
Then the laundry list of diagnosis started, first polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS) and a collection of mental illnesses.
None of which would help the relationship between my body and I.
I lost my virginity about two years earlier than the reported average. Lost it to my first boyfriend. And I do not regret it.
About a year later, he broke up with me. And I had that first inkling that I would never be attractive to anyone else ever again. Even though I knew/know the circumstances surrounding our break up had nothing to do with sex.
Then, a few months after that, I was sexually assaulted. In a driveway, at a party.
There was an incredibly attractive and much older guy. When the music became too loud to properly converse he suggested we go outside. Our conversation continued. Briefly. At first the kissing was gentle and he seemed to follow my cues when I stopped him from putting his hands down my pants.
Then something changed. Suddenly. He had me pinned against the side of a truck with his weight, one hand shoved violently down my pants and the other covering my mouth. Next he picked me up and threw me to the ground. My head hurt. I could feel stones in my back, his one hand still over my mouth, and all of him, inside of me.
I have never shared that with anyone. Except my husband.
I have mixed feelings about that incident, if I am to be truly honest. What he did was absolutely wrong. Yet I have lingering guilt – like I let myself down – because I am not sure I did enough to try and stop it. I never made a sound. I never made a move, though I’m not sure that I could have…he was twice the size of me. And we were the only ones outside. In the middle of the night. Down a dark country road.
Nor did I do anything the time after, when a boyfriend raped me in front of his friends. Who laughed and made crude jokes while I pleaded with him to stop and begged them for help. Over and over again.
Those assaults left me with an altered view of attraction. Of my own appeal.
And that lead to misuse and abuse of my physical self during the next few years. Welcoming and allowing it when I shouldn’t have. Not reckless sexual behaviour but maybe too quick to invite it.
Because I thought acceptance meant I was desirable.
Right before I turned eighteen, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. That diagnosis created a whole new world of issues. Both physical and mental.
And then it just kept coming, sickness upon sickness. Drastic weight fluctuation. Vitiligo. It was unimaginably difficult to reconcile my physical and mental health. We even walked down the cancer road, my body and I. They hacked my innards and took parts of me away.
I had no trust left in this vessel. It seems to let me down at every turn.
And I have a whopping great amount of guilt. Like I should have done more to love my body, to nurture and accept it. But that shit makes me laugh. It just isn’t something I can do. I’m simply not wired that way, and I often wonder if my brain was a bit different than it is would I view myself different than I do…
For some reason I thought all of this body stuff would get easier with age. I keep waiting for that don’t give a fuck moment to happen. But it’s like I give more fucks.
Like a lot more fucking fucks.
As I have aged, I’ve grown more and more uncomfortable with my body. I am more embarrassed by legs, stretch marks, wrinkles, scars, weight gain, body hair…
And recently it has physically changed. A. LOT. My doctors cannot figure out why. I am heavier than I have been in nearly a decade. My face has changed and I do not recognize the person staring back at me when I am brave enough to look in the mirror.
My issues with my body trigger my anxiety and my PDD. Many times an unfortunate outfit choice (like shorts) has lead to a weeks long episode of depression.
Another addition to the mix is my recent laser focused fixation on it all. More so than usual. It has become consuming, enfeebling. I know this not because I feel it to be so but my husband said something to me. Out of concern…
The other day, it was really hot. And the kiddo wanted to go for a walk. So we did. And I wore shorts. Though I didn’t want to and I changed upwards of five times before we left the house. He said he was proud of me.
He said I was beautiful.
And one day I hope I can believe that to be true.
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I wish I could share with you why I wrote this piece. The truth is, I don’t know. Perhaps, it is my way of working through some things, tend to some wounds, I did not realize were still festering. My intention was not and is not ever to upset anyone. It is simply to share in the hope that someone out there may benefit from my experiences.
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Knowing what to do after a sexually assault can be difficult. You may not know how you feel or what options you have. You are not alone. If you are in immediate danger or seriously injured, please call 911.
Other things for you to keep in mind:
Your safety is MOST important. If you are feeling unsafe in any way, consider reaching out to someone you trust for support during this time.
What happened is NOT your fault. Something happened to you that you did not want and that is not okay.
Contact a sexual assault hotline/rape crisis centre in your area. Trained staff members will help you navigate the situation and direct you to the appropriate health facilities.
(I have added some resources to my resource page that may be helpful.)