I have never been particularly fond of myself, so my self-esteem has always been relatively low. So, I believed too much, was too trusting, and too naïve to know any better. In other words, I believed what people told me I was; I trusted that everybody was my friend, and was too naïve to know that I was worth more.
It came as no surprise, therefore, when I was sexually assaulted that I believed everything those guys told me.
“You’re not pretty enough. You’re not good enough. You’re worth nothing.”
These words repeated over and over again in my head, never shutting up or slowing down. The Game of Comparisons started, and I lost. Every time.
She’s pretty; you’re not pretty enough. She’s skinny; you’re not skinny enough.
Soon I became so full of self-hatred I was virtually incapable of feeling anything else. Every laugh, every smile, every tear was forced. I felt dead - a human devoid of emotion is no human at all.
In order to feel something, anything at all, I began to cut myself. And every time I cut myself open with the razor of hate, you’re worth nothing echoed in my mind. This routine continued day in and day out for six months. Eventually, cutting wasn’t enough anymore. So I stopped eating.
Well, okay. Technically, that’s not entirely true.
I stopped filling myself up. I started eating less and less, only eating enough to stop my stomach from rumbling. Sometimes, if I completely hated myself, I would skip a meal here and there. The cutting, not eating, and the voices continued for another year and a half. Until one day, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I wanted to die.
And I almost did. But there was a quiet voice in the back of my head whispering, you are good enough. That tiny voice was enough to give me hope that things could get better.
Over time, I stopped cutting. But I didn’t start eating again. It got worse. The summer before Senior year, I went two weeks without eating anything but a few crackers every day. Senior year I didn’t eat lunch, partly because I was taking too many classes to have a lunch period, mostly because I couldn’t stand the thought of people watching me put food in my mouth.
If I didn’t like myself, how could I expect anybody else to like me enough to want me to eat?
Graduation came and went, and for the first time in a long time, I almost, kind of, maybe a little, liked myself. I started eating a little bit more than I had before, and was pretty much excited for college.
Until I went to college, that is.
College is much like high school, at least my high school. There are the same groups of people - the popular kids, the athletes, the music nerds, the nerds. At a College like Roberts, where the number of girls heavily outweighs the number of boys, I found many more people to compare myself to.
When I walked in on the first day of classes, I was terrified by the number of people sitting there, talking in their groups. I saw many beautiful people and I wasn’t one of them.
Sitting alone at a table the first day, I was overcome with feelings I hadn’t really felt in a few months. So I retreated to the library; I felt comfortable there among the books. Nobody cared how much food I ate or didn’t eat. Nobody cared that I sat alone, procrastinating important things while scribbling away in my notebook.
But the Game of Comparisons continued, and I lost every round, even the ones I didn’t participate in. Only this time, it was different; the voice wasn’t saying “you’re not.” The voice was saying, “I’m not.”
I’m not good enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not skinny enough. I’m not ‘insert adjective here’ enough.
And trust me when I say that telling yourself you’re not good enough is a whole lot worse than having someone else tell you. It’s true, you know. You are your own worst critic.
Every day I would look in the mirror, hate what I saw, and compensated by being someone I’m not. It was physically and mentally exhausting. Between the not eating and the not being, I was having a really tough time.
But when you spend all your time in the library, among the books and the silence, you have a lot of time for soul-searching. Towards the end of November, I was sitting quietly sitting at my table, trying to study when the quiet voice was back.
Then it hit me.
I wanted to stand on my chair and tell the world, “I am having some major epiphanies going on up in here.” But I didn’t. I was in a library, and shouting in the library is highly frowned upon.
So I went in the bathroom and cried.
Three things hit me that day.
I am capable of so much more. In the battle between Who I Think I Am and Who I Could Be, Who I think I am won every time, because that’s what I let get a hold of me. That’s what fed off my energy. It doesn’t have to be that way.
We are all capable of doing something great. I am, you are, we all are. But we all have something holding us back.
Every mirror tells me something different. I can tell myself that I’m beautiful until I’m blue in the face but my brain that refuses to let me believe it. Even though deep in my soul I know I’m capable of greatness, there is something holding me back. And until I figure out what it is, until I figure out how to overcome it, I am destined to live in my own shadow.
I have figured out what mine is: fear and self-doubt.
I decided I shouldn’t spend so much time in the library, because it was making me all emotional (but that will never happen because I love books too much).
Even though I have figured this out, it’s still a struggle. I’m only "fine" 20% of the time, which is good but not great. But it’s a whole heck of a lot better than 10%, which is how I felt before. There are still many days when I don’t want to eat (which is more than I’d like to admit). Oftentimes I can eat a little bit every meal but some days I don’t like myself enough to force myself to eat.
Sometimes, when I’m sad, hate myself, and don’t want to eat, I look at the lines on my hands. They remind me that I have been stitched together by the master sewer, and I’ve learned that sometimes, that is enough.
Dear 14-Year-Old Me,
Right now, you are a in a lot of pain; you are confused and your life appears to have been dismantled as you helplessly looked on.
You are about to deal with your fear and confusion by becoming angry. You will rationalise this in later years as 'taking control of your life' but I am telling you now, that this anger is driven by fear.
You will not accept or understand this for 35 years, unless you listen to me now.
If I was standing in front of you now, I would like to take you in my arms and talk to you about how you feel and explain a few things. Why have you always felt that you are a loner? Why has your family looked different from others, with you never seeing any affection between Mum and Dad, the constant rows, the underlying tension?
You should know that it is not okay to be hit and humiliated. It is not okay to see the same thing happen to your brother. It is not okay to see it happen to your mother. You should accept that your father is a very scary man. But to do this means that you will have to accept that your family is abnormal and you can't stand the stigma.
It has been drilled into you that things are "okay."
I should tell you that your mother will show you all the love that she can but that she is not capable of proper parental nurture. You will feel loved by her one minute and humiliated by her the next. She only sees you as a reflection of herself and will control everything that you do in order to feed her own needs. This will not stop, even in your adult life but you can't accept this because you are terrified of losing her because you already sense that she has abandoned you.
Your fear means that you will reject anything that confirms your subconscious terror.
I might be able to get through to you if I could explain that Mum and Dad had real, genuine problems. However, the terms Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder had not been coined then. Any suggestion that your parents or you were suffering for a reason will be rejected as pathetic and weak. And you must not be weak. However, you have inherited and learned elements of the same problem.
By now, you have defences. From an early age you have cycled alone for miles, for no apparent reason. You have cut yourself, developed OCD type rituals for every aspect of your daily living and have had a tic. In the past two years, you have started to run obsessively and coupled this with anorexia.
But, Little Me, you have never asked yourself, why the fuck has nobody noticed that you have a problem? It is because they are all too immersed in their own drama and handicapped by their own sickness?
You are there as a part of that and there is no help coming.
You have just been told that your mother has left home with another man. You have just seen your father break down and you have now been sent back to boarding school. In addition, you are just about to learn in a very violent way that your brother is actually your half-brother and that your mother has been persistently unfaithful. To add icing to the cake, within 4 years both your parents re-marry partners with NPD.
The only recognition at school from your house master is when you say that your fortnightly grades were down because you had had a hard week, he replied "I will accept that this time but I never want to hear that excuse again." He never did. From that day on you never cry, you never complain. You cope.
As a new (and probably) ultimate defence mechanism, you are on the cusp of throwing yourself into study. You decide to study medicine despite everyone telling you that you won't make it. Well, you say, "fuck them." I wish that I could make you see that you are doing this to ease the pain, to hit back at your Dad (a doctor) and to go for the hardest thing you can, to gain some self -esteem.
Guess what? You succeed. Everyone looks on in amazement as you transform from a lost academic second rater to a top-stream player.
You have never worked so hard and you don't stop for years.
I am sorry to tell you that this anger and fear will blight your relationships, especially with women and especially with your sons. You should know that it has taken the failure of your second marriage to force you to confront these issues and begin a process of recovery.
You will look on me with scorn, because you think that to acknowledge the suffering that has occurred is weak but I am only trying to spare you pain.
Together, you and I must stop this cycle of behaviour, because you will enact much of your parents behaviour. You must see that if you don't deal with your pain, you will pass it on. I am dealing with it now and it's very hard.
In truth, I'm a little pissed off with you!
By the way, you will have your heart badly broken by your first love and make no connection to our mother.
So, Little Me, I find it hard to see what I can do to help you. I can see what is going to happen but I know that your determination and defences will stop me getting through to you. Nevertheless, here are some gems of advice and if you can, please heed them.
- Please try to understand that all of this is not your fault. Also, it is not your job to make it all right.
- 99.9% of your suffering belongs to others, mainly the adults. You have been and still are a child. Hand this pain back to them and make them be responsible for it, if you can. Let them know how you feel, try to make yourself heard.
- People do care about you. Please, please let them in. Open up to them. Your running coach will approach you in a few weeks and ask you what is wrong, tell him, he is a good man.
A girl who you are chasing after at university will turn to you and tell you that you are great but she can't get close to you, listen to her and open up. Andy and Ian are the best friends you will ever have, they love you and care about you, don't leave it 35 years to let them see you for who you are.
- Know that you are a good person, you are quite clever, you are not bad looking, you are not, never have been and never will be fat.
- Cutting is not the only way that you self-harm. Over-exercising, over-working and eating "control" are just different faces of the same thing.
- When your defences are overwhelmed, you will rage and scare people. This is unacceptable. The earlier you can accept why this happens, the less damage you will cause to yourself and others you love.
I am not sure how this will get delivered to you.
Perhaps in a dream, from which you will wake up from in the morning. If that is the case, that residual "I have had a dream" echo should leave you with the feeling that there are some hard times ahead but that we will have the courage to accept the past and to walk the hard, challenging but wonderful and enlightening path of recovery.
I hope that you will start your day in the confidence that someday you will make sense of the madness and show that the hideous cycle of dysfunctional behaviour does not have to happen. This will be a gift to your children and theirs and you will be proud.
I wish that I could walk with you now, as you walk with me always.
Your 49-Year Old Self
Hey There Band,
I've been meaning to write a post - a few posts, actually - for a long time. However, it seems that no matter what I do, it ends up a long-winded, horrible brick of text that I know I would not be happy with. I scrap it. Throw it to the proverbial hounds of the interbutts, and move on.
Tonight, I'm going to change that. Why? For one sole reason: I am fucking fed up.
My mother has taken up my father's alcoholic legacy, determined to do his dawn-til-dusk habit justice in light of his recent passing. He died a little over a year ago.
I'm tired of fighting with her about her drinking. About her smoking. About... everything.
I've been trying to save money so that I could do something with my life. I had three amazing scholarships and so much potential that I threw away for an eating disorder. I've been going nowhere for over two years, now. I consoled myself with sex, drugs and starvation but now that I have none of the above, well, I want more for my life.
Where did my hard-earned money go?
I gave it to her. I gave her my money - my hard-earned fucking money - so that she could pay her bills. I don't expect to be paid back. I just want her to stop drinking so much - maybe not having bills looming will help.
I have no friends.
I lost the majority of my friends after I decided I'd rather feel pretty than alive. The last two friends that I thought I could really count on? Well, they seem to have disappeared too.
I thought I could say, "Fuck them, I don't need them," but you know what?
It hurts to hate yourself and be completely alone. Maybe at one point, I didn't need them. But I do. The man I was sleeping with appears to have plucked himself from my life, too.
Who can blame him? I'm fat and ugly now.
He was the first man I'd ever slept with willingly. The two before him raped me. I know I used him - at first as a way to punish myself, then as an excuse not to eat. Then he started sharing drugs with me, too. I told myself, well, why the hell not? He used me in bed and I used him in return. It was only fair.
Except well, fuck, it hurts.
I can think of a million reasons why he's not sleeping with me any longer - his long-term girlfriend just gave him his second child, we no longer work at the same company, I moved farther away), but the only one that sticks is that I'm fat.
I have no friends, no money, no future.
All the things that anorexia did for me - I no longer felt the suffocating depression and loneliness, I felt wanted, I felt pretty and right - are gone. I want so badly to be that girl again. I was stick-thin and dying, but I loved it.
I miss the sex and the drugs and the utter mindlessness of it all. I was too malnourished to think or feel clearly and yet even because of that, I couldn't tell the difference. It's amazing how many "friends" work their way out of the woodwork when they think you might drop dead at any moment.
If only I would.
Here at The Band, we believe in kicking stigmas to the curb, flinging glitter, and shining a light into the dark. And now?
Your bandmate needs a sounding board.
It's time to Ask The Band!
I apologize in advance for my terrible writing, but I'm like 14, y'all, and I don't even know how to say this...
I have weight issues. Serious weight issues. "So?" you ask (or I assume you do). "So do most women."
Well shut up and listen (I say lovingly). I've dabbled in quite a few self-destructive behaviors in my lifetime, but I've always been obsessed with my weight. I've starved myself for days, chewed-and-spit, and tried countless times to make myself throw up unsuccessfully (my hidden talent? I can touch my uvula without throwing up!).
I know I have no justification for this. I am not fat, or even a little overweight. But being skinny; really, truly skinny ... it's like a shining beacon of light in the distance. In all the things I deal with, this is by far the least serious (...isn't it?), but I've never told anyone and I feel like I have to.
And isn't that what The Band is for?
Quite honestly ... I'm scared. I'm scared it will never go away. That I'll forever spend my nights in front of a freaking distorted full length mirror, analyzing every single thing about my body. That I will always compare myself to every single pair of thighs I walk by, wondering if mine are fatter or skinnier, because I can't tell anymore. That I'll never stop taking videos of myself walking around and watching them over and over trying to see if my butt is too big.
I'm asking for your help here, Band. What should I do? Is this normal?
I know it's not that bad, I just can't live with it as a secret anymore. Thanks for reading this, The Band!
You're so amazing.
Here at The Band, we believe in kicking stigmas to the curb, flinging glitter, and shining a light into the dark. And now?
Your bandmate needs a sounding board.
It's time to Ask The Band!
During the summer of my sophomore year, I became fed-up with being slightly overweight and decided to do something about it.
I started dieting and continued my regular physical activities, along with adding a few actual workouts here and there.
Soon, I was a little fitter, and I liked it.
Maybe a little too much.
My diets became more and more restricted. My workouts rougher and more frequent as I tried harder to lose more weight.
My family began to worry and tried to get me to ease up on myself, but unsuccessfully.
By that point, I was anorexic and set upon staying that way.
I was muscular to begin with and had gotten a little more in the beginning, but that completely changed after a few months.
I could barely stand, walking was an ordeal, and forget about weight-lifting for my athletics class - I was constantly dizzy, and concentrating was next to impossible.
Yet, I still remained stubborn. Not even problems with my heart or lungs could convince me. I was unstoppable.
And I was miserable.
I came to my senses at the end of the following summer.
I ate again, I stopped working out for a while.
I became truly happy again.
I gained all the weight back, but it didn't bother me much.
I could walk without feeling like I was on the verge of an asthma attack or my heart was about to explode.
Senior year rolled around, and it was time for me to start planning my future.
I decided I wanted to join the military, and I began to work on getting in better shape so that I'd be accepted.
I worked slowly.
I was determined to do it right this time around.
I lost a little weight and went to the recruiter, who told me I needed to be a little lighter. I was excited and tried to lose the rest.
It's been a year, and I have yet to meet my goal weight.
I'm becoming frustrated. I've been doing everything correctly and healthily, trying very hard to not go back to my eating disorder.
But I stay in the same weight area no matter what I do.
This is the first time I've ever seriously considered being anorexic again.
I hate myself for wanting to do it.
I know it's wrong, and I didn't like myself when I was. But nothing works, and all I can think of is how well my eating disorder worked.
I've given myself nightmares thinking about it, and I've gotten more and more depressed by both my lack of success and the fact that I'd consider sinking so low again.
I see how my boyfriend, who's been working to join the military as well, has has easily gotten into shape, and I'm immensely happy for and proud of him.
But I hate myself.
I've talked him out of turning to eating disorders and doing insanely hard workouts to meet his goal, so when I turn to look at myself, I feel like such a hypocrite.
I'm beginning to feel desperate, and the pull is getting stronger every day.
I don't know what to do anymore.
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