Written by Emma-Jane Taylor
I used to be ashamed that I was bulimic. I was highly embarrassed to share with anyone my dirty secret, and because of this I hid it for years – pretending I was fine, when I wasn’t.
It all started when I was around 13 years old. A time when I felt uncertain/insecure about who I was, a time when realisation dawned of being sexually abused as a child and the pain as my Father told me that didn’t want to see me again. I pot of traumatic reality that hit me hard.
None of us know how trauma will show up in our lives. For some, including me, trauma made me feel better, for a short time. The events that had struck me so hard were completely overwhelming and trauma was almost a convenient distraction. That was until the mist cleared and the reality of the guilt, pain, horror of those events, hit home.
I felt powerful and embarrassed in equal measure, it was a horrible time.
My first ever therapy session actually started with a psychiatrist at school when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old. However, I wasn’t ready. Utter fear prevented me from barely speaking, let alone expressing inner thoughts and feelings.
The school had sent me to a psychiatrist when they believed there was no hope for me. They labelled me a juvenile delinquent, something I remember seeing on my notes when I sat with a psychiatrist. I’ll not forget sitting in that sterile little room, decked out with two basic chairs, a small wooden table, with a microphone resting on the top. My Mum sat outside the room. She must have been devastated. It was a truly sad, demoralising experience, both then and in hindsight.
I was never the juvenile delinquent I was painted out to be, just a very mixed-up child who was being sexually abused and who had been abandoned by her Father. Being in the psychiatrist’s room and being asked questions I didn’t know how to answer, was intimidating to say the least. My heart was thumping.
My school friends thought it was cool to have been sent to see a psychiatrist. I was just very confused, terrified even, but I was a great actress, so pretended I was cool with it all. I sat in the therapists chair, on that sad day feeling completely sick. Shaking inside and unable to answer any questions sensibly as I was full of fear and worried I would give the wrong answer, paranoid of what they might do to me. I feared I might go to some kind of prison.
Consequently, I never talked to my psychiatrist about any of the abuse, focusing only on my Father abandoning me.
My Bulimia started around this time; one day I remember making myself sick, and I suddenly felt in control – I wasn’t of course, it was just a painful part of the insecurities I was holding onto.
The shame of bulimia was immense. I really hated doing this to my body. Making myself sick was utterly unbearable some days, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to. It all started with me taking over-the-counter meds when I was at senior school. I don’t remember much from my traumatic childhood, but I do remember buying these over-the-counter meds, and taking them in the toilets at school break-time.
Writing and talking about this subject isn’t really comfortable, but I know it’s a real problem affecting so many, so I push on in my hope that this might help just one person, I felt so alone when I was experiencing this, and I now know I wasn’t.
As I’ve matured and recovered from bulimia, I now understand that trauma shows up in ways you least expect. I remember a girl I knew who was suffering from bulimia. She started losing her front teeth because of ‘this’ condition and it was this that persuaded me to go into therapy – it appeared that at this time I hated myself, but liked my teeth.
Discovering my triggers for bulimia took time, I was embarrassed to tell my therapist about being bulimic. For years I hid it from my therapy sessions. I figured I had enough to speak about with being groomed, sexually abused as a child and abandoned, so why add anything else to the mix. But, this was only half the battle; it was almost like I wanted control and could gain this through limitation of information. At times I felt like I enjoyed this self-sabotage – it presented me with that control.
When I did eventually tell my therapist, I remember shaking, looking at the floor and feeling utter shame as the words came rolling out of my mouth. Shocked at myself, a grown adult talking about being bulimic and the implications of what that meant. Worried about what he would think of me. I needn’t have worried. He took it all in his stride & of course now I realise I am one of many suffering, and through my own work as a mentor, understand that those affected represent a huge number.
My therapist helped me find coping mechanisms, tools and thought processes to manage this conversation. Bulimia wasn’t going to be a quick fix though. As my therapy deepened and as I felt stronger, the bulimia would stop and I would have respite, until the next trigger. It went like this for many years. Each respite lasted longer than the one before and gave me a better chance to get my head around the coping mechanisms and how to live bulimia free.
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