Eating disorders destroy lives
By Melanie Blow
As I’m typing this, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is drawing to a close. Even though eating disorders are something I’ve battled with for more than half my life, something that almost killed me and that represent another societal taboo for me to speak about, this year I feel no need to shout my story from the roof tops.
Instead, I’ll use my “indoor voice” to tell you what you need to know. I was raped by my father when I was 13. After that, my family facilitated five more years of my sexual abuse from another relative. The eating disorders, as well as suicidal thoughts and desires, set in shortly after the first rape. My life got better when I went to college, then got a job in a medical lab, but I still struggled intensely with the eating disorders. The intensity of my symptoms waxed and waned, but they were still there. I entered a very bad relationship with someone who used every bit of my past against me. My symptoms became very acute, and I went to work one day with a brain so starved that I made a mistake that could have killed someone. I fixed my mistake, excused myself to eat something, and realized this had to end.
I got serious about therapy. I think I inflicted serious psychological harm on my therapist as I told her my story. Within the context of my abuse, something became clear- unattractiveness had always meant safety, attractiveness had meant I was useful, and therefore worthy of being kept safe. I couldn’t be happy and healthy while stuck in that paradox.
I started spending more time with child sex abuse survivors. In order to do that, I had to identify myself as one. When I could, I was able to see myself and my life, abuse and illness in a different context. I could move forward. Because I could be honest with people, because I wasn’t trying to hide my past, I could form better relationships. I had been involved in advocacy work on children’s issues my entire adult life. By identifying myself as a survivor, I could bring a lot more perspective and passion into it.
All studies show that eating disorders and CSA are strongly linked. While the Adverse Childhood Experiences study didn’t look at that link, per se, it showed a strong link between ACE scores and both depression and suicide- two things other researchers have linked to eating disorders. I have never met someone with an eating disorder who wasn’t a child abuse survivor. The more time I spent around people with eating disorders, the more people I met who weren’t able to move themselves away from the brink as fast as I did. There were two messages to me in that; one was that spending my time and energy focusing on an illness instead of a full life wasn’t helpful, and preventing child abuse was even more important than I had always believed.
My life is good today. I help make sure that every child has a safe home. I help make the laws against child sexual abuse enforceable. I bring a little bit of every survivor I’ve ever met with me as I do that. I carry pieces of all the mental illness diagnosis I’ve had, and that my friends and fellow warriors have. But I feel their pain, and mine, is best honored by preventing such pain in unabused children. And I have never met a survivor who objects to that.
If anyone reading this wants help dealing with an eating disorder for themselves or a loved one, check out http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ or www.pandys.org, which is a site for survivors of sexual assault but has a forum specifically for people with eating disorders.
Melanie Blow is on the Board of Directors for Prevent Child Abuse NY and the New York Coalition to Protect Children. She leads the Stop Abuse Campaign’s campaign to eliminate Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, and sits on the Rochester Area Coalition Against Human Trafficking. She blogs for the Stop Abuse Campaign and Prevent Child Abuse NY, has written for survivor magazines, parenting columns, and has had blogs and editorials published in local and national venues. She regularly testifies before the New York State legislator for children’s issues, and regularly provides educational talks about child sex abuse laws, child sex abuse prevention, and human trafficking.