Penance

Therapy has become very difficult.  We’re starting to work through memories of sexual abuse and assault, which is causing so many reactions in my mind.  This came about as the therapist and I searched for the root of my eating disorder.  She kept saying there had to be a trauma root, and I was completely unaware of it.  My therapy homework was to write out the negative thoughts that popped up in my mind when I did anything related to food.  One idea came up time and again: I don’t deserve to eat.  That’s when the trauma connection was made clear.

As a child, my relationship with food was disturbed, to say the least.  Sometimes, it was used for ‘reward.’  I got taken out for ice cream when I did sexual things that were required of me.  It was my ‘reward’ for being a ‘good girl.’  To this day, eating ice cream requires heavy dissociation for me.  We’re working slowly through those memories now, but that’s for another post.

Food was also a punishment sometimes.  My mother would choose which child got to eat on any given night and make that child eat whilst the others watched.  We were told that our behaviour determined whether our siblings could eat.  The chosen child felt horrible, because he or she had to eat whilst the other hungry children watched, knowing they wouldn’t get food that day.  The children who were not fed felt horrible, because they were filled with both hunger and anger.  We were pitted against each other like that.

There was a twisted middle ground, as well.  My mother would buy junk food, allow both my sister and me to eat, and then berate us because all we ever wanted was junk.  If we refused to eat the junk food, we were punished for being ungrateful; if we did eat it, we were taunted for being slovenly.  Not that that would cause food issues in the future, right?  It was the catch-22 we often found ourselves in.  Regardless of the choice, you would be punished.  The real choice was to decide what action would yield the least punishment or the easiest to take.

Fast forward to today.  I don’t want to eat, because eating makes me *feel* slovenly.  When I do eat, I feel guilty and like I should purge it all to avoid being selfish.  It goes back to taking food from others.  I can see my siblings’ faces as I ate when they weren’t allowed to.  Even thinking of it makes me want to throw up.

That brought me to an idea I know trauma survivors will understand: penance.  The things I put myself through, be it self-injury, bulimia, or anything along the spectrum are my penance.  People tell me all the time that it wasn’t my fault and that I don’t have to pay for the things done in my past.  Still, I feel the need to do my penance for all the people who were hurt by my actions and all the people who suffered simply from my existence.  I didn’t even realise this is what I had been doing all these years.

Penance, according to the folks at dictionary.com, is ‘a punishment undergone in token of penitence for sin.’  All the sins of my past, regardless of whether they were ordered by the cult or controlled by others, haunt my present life.  I do my penance for things I’ve done and seen.  And I have no idea whether I even *want* to move past this.

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