I Recovered from Weight problems and Bulimia Triggered by Sexual Abuse As soon as. And I Can Do It Once more.
As Gila Lyons tells
I’ve dealt with weight issues and bulimia since I was 16. My weight has gone up and down throughout my life, and today – at 55 years old – I am 5’3 “tall and 190 pounds. Sometimes my weight makes me feel depressed and humiliated, but I hope I do will lose weight when i’m ready. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. But being ready to lose weight isn’t always easy when you have a history of childhood sexual abuse.
As a teenager, I loved to dance and I seemed to have a talent for it. Between my sophomore and sophomore school years, I gained between 10 and 15 pounds. I was still only about 135 pounds, but some of my dance teachers told me the only way I could do something in dance was if I lost weight.
I was exquisitely calibrated for bulimia to set in when I heard this news. Bingeing and vomiting became a precise expression of everything I couldn’t control but still couldn’t accept. I felt like it was giving me back some of the control over my body that I lost as a child incest victim. I instinctively understood the connection between eating and sexual assault. How comforting, those big pillows made of cake, the smooth dream that was ice cream.
I found it difficult to diet, but I could do it when I vomited and vomited. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to be able to diet most of the time and then vomit and throw up. I returned to school my senior year of school weighing only about 120 pounds and reduced that to 107 pounds over the course of the year.
During my studies, my gag reflex subsided and I could no longer throw up. But that didn’t stop me from scolding, and my weight rose to 175 pounds. No matter how much I ate, I couldn’t escape the abuse I endured. After graduating, I didn’t want food to rule my life anymore. I found Overeaters Anonymous (OA) which was amazing for my weight, food and mental health struggles. OA offered me a community of women who were just as willing to be honest about weight and eating disorders as I was. It was a great relief, and I fell gratefully into the arms and support of this community. OA helped me stop bingeing by giving me people to call if I wanted to overeat, people to discuss my feelings with so I wouldn’t feel the urge to stuff my feelings with food .
Replacing my addiction with spirituality has been of great help to me. I was careful with “God” and the associated pronoun “he”, but as I discovered my own spirituality through the 12-step program and reconnecting with my Jewish background, I learned to develop a deep relationship with a loving God whom I like to refer to as “she”.
After a year in OA, my sponsor suggested that I take a tai chi class with her. Just like OA, tai chi had me on hello. I have been practicing for 32 years, not only for the benefit of the exercise, but also for the calm that comes immediately and over the long term. I also started seeing a therapist.
Therapy has been a great place for me to work on problems on a deeper level and in more detail than was appropriate for meetings – especially when memories of my abuse came to mind. I have gone to therapy once a week for the past 30 years and find that therapy can be extremely useful for incest survivors.
After two years of therapy, OA, and tai chi, my weight stabilized between 120 and 130 pounds. For the first time in over 10 years, I didn’t count calories or weigh myself obsessively. I stopped overeating and started exercising. I felt confident in this way of life and in my normal to lean body for about 15 years, but kids in my late 30s destabilized my weight again.
Having children can be very triggering for child abuse survivors. We were molested as children when we were fragile and vulnerable. We were not looked after or respected in the way we deserved from the responsible adults, and seeing our own children so fragile and vulnerable can remind us of everything we went through at this stage. We may fear that we might repeat our caretaker’s mistakes and keep getting angry about what happened to us. It took me years to trust that I would not abuse my children in the way that I was abused.
Raising my girl child when I was molested as a girl child is the greatest challenge I have ever faced – even more difficult than surviving the initial abuse. All the feelings that I grew up with as an abused child reappeared. I felt trapped and hated my body and put on and off a roller coaster. Now I am struggling with a 10 year relapse from overeating that has made me weigh more than ever, and I often feel frustrated and unmotivated when it comes to losing weight.
But I have hope.
I have many things ahead of me: I have a great marriage and valued children. Tai chi is still a staple of my life and I try to fit in with cardio whenever I can. I see my life as a success, especially when I think about where and what I come from. I am in therapy and I will not give up. As a child I had less hope than now, and I still managed to get through.
I don’t think anyone can really address their addiction without understanding and processing their trauma. You don’t have to do it like me, but finding the things that bring you comfort, fellowship, insight, and joy are vital to healing anything that affects your body or mind.
For abuse survivors, I want you to know that life is too good to be hurt by dysfunctional people who no longer have any power over you. I am so grateful that I no longer bear the pain as before. I also wish you this freedom.
National Resource Center for Sexual Violence
National Telephone Hotline for Sexual Assault – 800.656.HOPE (4673)
RAINN (National Rape, Abuse, and Incest Network)
Incest Survivor Anonymous