My experience of abuse and self-abuse
My experience of abuse and self-abuse
When I was seventeen I was raped, and I had an abortion. Although I buried this for many years, it came back to haunt me later when I couldn’t conceive a child.
I have recently understood that the rape and abortion affected the way I felt about my body, the way I ate for much of my life, which in turn affected my weight, my relationships with men and the way I felt about myself as a woman. I constantly dieted to erase the feelings of shame and guilt so I could feel better about myself. Even during the time I actually had a body that earned me the nickname ‘the body’ in my squash club, I still remember hating my body and feeling fat.
I was also very hard on the men in my life (those I was in a romantic relationship with), and yet I found it very hard to say ‘no’ to a man if he wanted sex. It was a long time before I was able to have a truly loving and equal relationship with a man, because it took me a long time to get over the hurt of the first three sexual encounters I had with men – yes, I went on to have two more disastrous encounters in my seventeenth year.
In neither of these encounters did I even consider lodging a rape complaint against the men, because I knew from experience (from my study of law, from reading newspaper reports, watching television reports of trials, and also from my father who was in the police force) that the police often did not take such complaints seriously and, even if they did, I knew that I would be subjected to very damaging and denigrating cross-examination by the men’s barristers and/or the Judge. I did not feel strong enough to go through the humiliation and embarrassment that I witnessed in the media other women going through.
In one case in my country it took twenty years for a woman who was subject to sexual abuse by two policemen to get justice. Her initial complaint was dismissed as a ‘lie’. I know there have been suicides of women who have been raped and disbelieved. This must have felt like they had been raped all over again, this time by the legal system. I knew deeply, as no doubt did these women, that physical rape was wrong and that justice should be done.
So, it wasn’t just the rape that affected me so badly, it was also the knowing that the legal system would make me even more ashamed and guilty than I felt already, and that I would be unlikely to get a conviction against my rapists.
There was also a lack of support from the medical system. Even worse for me than the rape was the way I was treated by the two doctors I had to go to in order to have a legal abortion. They treated me as if I was a slut; that it was somehow all my fault that I was pregnant at such a young age. They not only did not enquire how I became pregnant, for example ask if I had been raped or experienced incest (which I know many young girls experience in my country of birth), but at no stage did I feel any understanding or care, let alone empathy or compassion.
Further, I remember waking up from the anaesthetic after the abortion screaming and screaming. All the staff at the medical centre did was try and shut me up because of the noise I was making that could disturb others. Again, there was no compassion or understanding of what it felt to be a very young and naïve girl in a strange city and country, with very little in the way of support, going through an extremely harrowing and unknown experience. For a long time afterwards I felt like a slut and that sex was ‘dirty’.
In the shutting down it was as if the medical system had raped me all over again.
Looking back on it now, I would rather have been beaten up badly or even murdered than raped, not just because the consequences of the rape lasted a very long time, which they did, but because the rape felt such a violation of myself as a woman. It took something away from me somehow, so it left me feeling empty, deeply harmed and very sad. I lost a lot of inner confidence after it, and I also started to treat men very badly, although this is only something I have understood fairly recently. It is almost as if the rape was designed to denigrate my womanliness and to attack the very essence of me as a woman and to stop me reflecting that essence to the world.
It meant that, for many years, I could no longer feel how sacred I was, and how much love and connection I had to bring to myself and others, or how important it was for me to reflect these. It took me a very long time to re-claim my love, connection, sacredness, tenderness and stillness. I will now never let them go, as they are at the core of my being.
Back then, at the tender age of seventeen, I disconnected from myself as a woman. This left me feeling very empty, that there was nothing left for me, and also that there was something wrong with me as a person and certainly as a woman. So I started to deny myself as a woman. I would often say, “I want to come back as a man in my next life”. I said this tongue-in-cheek, but I actually really felt this. I didn’t want to be a woman in this life or future lives if it meant I would be abused and that I couldn’t just be myself. I became ‘tough and independent’, just like a man. I also got heavily involved in sport, and became very muscly, which led me further from my womanliness.
If we disconnect from the essence of who we truly are, what then? How do many of us deal with this – what are we left with? With what do we fill the emptiness we feel at a deep level, even though we try to bury it?
We search for something outside of us to fill us up, instead of searching for the true answers within ourselves.
We look for comfort in whatever we bring in from the outside. For example, some people may look to entertainment to distract them from feeling the emptiness, or may play sport or run to excess, or overwork, or read all day, and I too have done all these things. I filled my feelings of emptiness with food, sport, reading historical novels and with overwork. For me though, my main ‘go to’ and comfort, most of my life has been with food, either overeating or eating foods I know are not truly supportive of my body or being, even though I may lie about that (“a little bit of chocolate won’t harm me”, or “I deserve this ice-cream because I’ve had a bad day”).
I tried to fill myself up with food. However, this then became like a cycle of self-abuse. I ate way too much of all the unhealthy foods, then felt awful and put on weight, which actually made me feel even worse and made me eat even more to numb this feeling, and so on . . . I realised how I did this to myself and that with the excuse of feeling awful I justified eating, which brought me deeper and deeper into feeling horrible about myself. I started to feel my part in this.
Through realising how I was inflicting self-harm onto myself through eating, I started to reflect on the abuse that had happened in my life and I started to see the responsibility I had in anything that happened to me during my life, so I saw myself less and less as a victim.
I started to reflect on the rape when I was seventeen and how I was living up to the time the rape happened. When the actual rape happened I was drunk and unconscious and although it was no doubt a crime what the man did to me, I became interested in what brought me into a situation where I could become the victim of another’s actions. Yes, I was a naive 17-year-old and had never drunk alcohol before, but no one made me drink the alcohol. It was my choice to drink. Yes, there was the peer pressure, and a sense of ‘having fun’ (I remember doing cartwheels on the lawn outside the motel), but I also know now that drinking alcohol was a way to numb how I was feeling and/or to have an excuse to not be responsible for my actions and/or to be able to take back some control of my life from my mother.
I remember feeling a bit out of my depth, with many at the event older than me, and who I had only just met. I had an acute feeling of embarrassment when my girlfriend told me later what had happened, as I had no memory of it bar the odd blurry word or feeling. It was as if I squashed what had happened. Did I know that I made myself vulnerable by getting drunk? Not consciously at the time, because I had no personal knowledge of alcohol in this life up until then.
I also remember being physically attracted to the man who raped me, even though I could smell the danger; somehow there was something outside of me controlling my actions. The need for attention and love and not to be rejected was very strong and it was like I handed myself over to an outer force. Of course, I did not want to be raped and it was, and is, an absolute crime to rape or do any harm sexually or in any other way or form to another human being.
What I wanted was attention; I was craving to be loved, but because I held myself with a very low self-worth and I also had no one around me who reflected to me a different way, I handed myself over to being abused, as this was the only way I knew to be. It was like I only knew to do it that way and the consequences were horrendous – it disconnected me even further from myself.
So, what I have come to realise is that it is the model of life that actually put me on a path to hand myself over to abuse. It is the way we are taught to be and behave that does not offer us a connection to ourselves and our bodies, or give us the reflection to love ourselves and set standards. We live in a world and are brought up in a way that does not connect us to our inner strength and the love we innately are.
I realised how at the age of seventeen I felt so empty, disconnected and lost, longing for love, that I accepted the standards society had set and I played my role in it. I wanted to be loved and wanted attention, and I did not want to be rejected, and in a world that is not based on love I had come to accept anything that was remotely giving me attention as love, and with this it was easy to become a subject of abuse.
I understood how I had lived up to the moment when the rape happened was all about getting attention, being loved and not being rejected. As a child I experienced some physical violence/abuse by getting hit a lot. So this could well have pointed to getting abused, almost allowing it. Indeed, after the first rape I had two more sexual encounters where I brought myself into a similar situation – shutting my body and what I was feeling down to get the attention from a man who then abused me. It was like I couldn’t say ‘no’ to the men, because I didn’t want them to reject me for not being a desirable or attractive woman.
I started to see that, although I was not responsible for the rapes or any abuse inflicted onto me by another person, as this is a crime and the abuser’s responsibility, I couldn’t just look at the moment when the actual abuse happened, because it was ‘too late’ to look at the after-the-event outcome of a behaviour I had subscribed to. I realised that I lived in a way that made me open to accepting abuse, be this self-inflicted or from others.
In fact, whenever I overate, overworked or over-exercised, I could clearly feel how I disconnected from my body and my essence in order to allow the comforting behaviour and with this the abuse, so I did not have to feel what my body was saying to me. It is almost as if I handed my body over to another force.
We are not intending to harm ourselves when we overeat, over-exercise or indulge in endless rounds of entertainment or seek attention of another – we are simply trying to support and comfort ourselves with food, drink, movies, music, sport, work, reading, touch, sex . . . instead of accessing true support from others or finding support from within ourselves.
I have come to learn that when I eat chocolate, ice-cream, or any junk food for that matter, there is a lot more happening than just eating it – it is obliterating who I am truly within. Recently I was verbally attacked by someone who had been very close to me and this made me feel very sad. I moved away from my computer and started to eat some chocolate. I was halfway through my first bite when I stopped and asked myself, “What are you really feeding? What is behind eating the chocolate?”
We think it’s just expanding our waistline and making us put on weight, but we are actually engaging with an energy when we consume food and drink, just as it was the energy behind my rape that led to the desolation, the need to protect myself, the abuse of my body through food or sport or work.
But was it actually the energy behind the rape that led me to these behaviours, or was this energy already there before leading me into a movement of low self-worth and emptiness that made me experience abuse from others, which then led me to even abuse myself more?
I started to ask myself if it was actually the man who caused the lasting harm, or if it is the food or what we do that harms us the most. Do we stop to think that we are subject to a consciousness and forces that feed us to not self-love and appreciate ourselves, so we then focus on the outcomes of this lack of love we hold ourselves in?
We are brought up to believe that we have to look for the answers in analysing the ‘after events’ of our lives, instead of going to the root cause of all evil and seeing how we are set up to accept abuse from the day we are born, and that the socialisation process is actually a way to make us feel normal in that way of living. We learn to become dishonest with ourselves and our bodies, and to live very far from the sacredness we innately are.
I now understand that my overeating is about protection. If I was ‘fat’, maybe men wouldn’t desire me, or maybe the extra layer would cover up my fear or lack of inner confidence, or maybe it would be an excuse to not really let men into my life. Or maybe it is all these things.
But I also have come to understand that if we go about trying to protect ourselves – from either past or present trauma or conflict, or trauma we think may happen to us – with food or other substances or work or entertainment, we deny who we truly are. Then we are back to square one – abusing our body in one way or another.
Eventually I understood that there was nothing on the outside that could fill me – indeed, I realised that everything I used to fill the emptiness was actually harming me and making me feel even more uncomfortable with my body, so it not only didn’t fill me, it made me even more disconnected from my body. I then start hating my body.
So the comfort I was seeking was actually a lie and basically was self-abuse.
My inner hunger for myself – my feelings of emptiness – gave me great insight to what overeating actually is: it is numbing the emptiness we feel inside.
- I found that even after eating until I was really full and my stomach bloated, the feeling of emptiness didn’t go away. The food simply was not working.
- Even when I over-exercised or competed in some sports event, the feeling of euphoria didn’t last.
- If I stayed in the office until really late that didn’t work either, because I often had to re-do the work the next day.
- If I read all day I found it really hard to get back into the ‘real’ world and would often be grumpy.
I realised that my true hurt and my need to protect myself through overeating was emphasised by the rape and the abuse I had experienced, but that these horrible events in my life haven’t been the root cause of my inner misery. The inner misery was there before, but not because I was born with it; on the contrary, I was born being love, but then life set me on a path to disconnect from my essence and when I reached adolescence and then adulthood, I literally had forgotten who I was.
Today, the one and only answer for me is to re-connect to who I truly am, and to the best of my ability (without perfection) live from the inside out; in other words, live from my essence, which is pure love, joy, harmony, truth and stillness.
If we were to all do this, then perhaps we could hold our sacredness and re-connect to who we truly are – divine beings – and re-take our true place in the Universe, where there is no abuse at all, only love.