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I have shared that I struggled with an eating disorder (binge & compulsive overeating) for most of my life. My weight used to yo-yo by 20-30 lbs. each year. I have been on a bunch of different diets, but nothing ever worked permanently because emotional distress caused me to feel hungry, and eating calmed my emotional distress.

When I was in regular therapy, I was surprised that my therapist was not bothered by the eating disorder. He said it was a symptom of the childhood trauma and that as I healed the trauma, I would let go of the need to binge eat. I found it hard to believe at the time, but he was right. Over the years, I have gradually let go of my need to binge eat to manage my emotions as I developed other, more positive coping strategies.

Despite working out regularly, I still carried ~ 25 extra lbs. I had accepted that this is what my body would always look like. That turned out not to be the case.

As my regular readers know, I have struggled with acid reflux all year. The reflux was so severe that I was unable to eat much for weeks at a time. I felt like an old woman living off of vanilla Ensures and melons because that was about all my stomach could handle. As a result of all of this, I dropped the extra 25 lbs. and have been a “normal” weight for the past couple of months.

I could enumerate the many negative aspects of acid reflux, but one positive aspect has been my inability to turn to food to manage my emotions. The last time I consciously chose to compulsively overeat because I was upset was in June, and I paid dearly for two weeks with painful reflux. Because of the reflux, I have been forced to disconnect managing my emotions from eating over the past eight months. As a result, I have severed the connection, which is something I honestly did not think could happen.

Additionally, my stomach cannot process eating a bunch of junk, so my eating habits have changed. Half of each meal must be something alkaline (a fruit or vegetable), which has forced me eat healthier. Also, overeating kicks off the reflux, so I eat five small snacks/meals a day rather than big meals.

It has taken me a while to mentally process that I am no longer fat. I was the fat girl in middle school and have pretty much worn that hat for most of my life. My life is not magically changed, but it is definitely an adjustment (in a good way).

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Rainbow (c) Lynda BernhardtOn my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

… however much I accept they [self-injury compulsions] are a byproduct it doesn’t make them easier to cope with them and eventually the MUST be eliminated…….for my survival………and I only know one way to do that. How do I change this? What do people do to stop themselves? I hate myself for being so weak. ~ Sam

Compulsions are normal aftereffects of child abuse, and masturbation through self-injury is a normal aftereffect for people who have been severely sexually abused. Many people find my blog believing that they are the only one who struggles with masturbation through self-injury, but that one blog entry has over 150 comments, all of them related to trying to heal from this. You are not alone.

While I do not have personal experience with healing from this form of compulsion, I do have experience with self-injury (head-banging) and binge eating. My compulsion to binge eat was my most deeply-ingrained compulsion, which is why I am going to use it as my example in this blog entry. Don’t get caught up in the form of the compulsion. What worked for me with binge eating can also work for you, no matter what form of compulsion you are dealing with.

Step one is to stop feeding the shame. This was my cycle, which applies to any type of compulsion. I would binge eat. I would then feel guilty and shameful about binge eating, telling myself I was a fat cow and a terrible person for eating so much food. This would heap new shame on top of the old shame, and the only way I knew to get some relief from the shame was to binge eat again, which I would do, which fueled more shame, which led to more bingeing. It was a never-ending cycle that I repeated just about daily since I was age 11.

Step two was to give myself permission to binge eat. Let’s face it – I was going to do it, anyhow, so I was only acknowledging my reality. I would binge eat with no guilt. This took a little wind out of my sails because I was no longer heaping new levels of shame onto the “old” shame.

Step three was to explore other avenues to deal with the shame. I tried things like yoga, meditation, exercise, watching a comedy on TV, calling a friend, and writing in a journal. What works for me might not work for you, but explore other ways to manage the shame. Do this parallel with the compulsion.

Step four is to give yourself a cooling off period. When you feel the compulsion, give yourself permission to do it in 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, try the other strategies you have explored. If you still feel the compulsion after 15 minutes, do it with no guilt. I found that I only gave in to binge eating about half the time after a 15-minute cooling off period, and I built confidence that binge eating was not the only way to self-soothe.

Step five is the most important – focus on healing the pain that is driving the shame that is driving the compulsion. Get into therapy if you aren’t already. Work through the Survivor to Thriver Manual or another healing book. Talk or write about your history. As you heal the pain, you will feel less compulsion to engage in the activity you want to break.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. My healing from binge eating has been so gradual that I only recently recognized that I haven’t had a true “binge” in months! I will still emotionally overeat sometimes, but my weight has dropped by 15 lbs without dieting over the last couple of years, and it otherwise stays stable. I used to go up and down by 30 lbs a year. Healing a compulsion is possible. I know because I am doing it!

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Masturbation as a Form of Self-Injury after Sexual Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I masturbate… A LOT; I do it mostly when I’m frustrated or upset. I don’t hurt myself necessarily but I hate myself the hold time, start crying and picture myself getting abused. I don’t understand why I get all… well you know when I’m upset. Does that have to do with being abused? Or am I just weird… [I]s it normal to touch yourself five times in one day? And is being overly sensitive an effect of being possibly abused or being hormonal or both? Because I’m also very sensitive…. with girls and even more so with boys….And whatever is the cause of being sensitive is there ways to calm it down? …. ~ Kolbey

This is an excerpt of Kolbey’s comment so I can address the questions specifically. Kolbey is a teen, so I will address that as well.

Let’s start with the “normal” part and then move onto the parts that are not “normal.” It is normal for teens to masturbate (both male and female), and the frequency will vary from person to person. Some might not ever or only rarely masturbate, and others might masturbate multiple times a day. Your body is hormonal and transforming into an adult’s body, and your sexuality is being awakened. So, if your question was solely about the frequency of masturbation, hearing about masturbating five times in one day would not concern me a bit. That is the only part of your comment that sounds “normal” (meaning typical for a non-abused teenager) in this comment.

Since I have never been a “normal” (non-abused) teen or adult, my next comment is based upon what I hear is normal rather than I what I have experienced as normal. I have been told that “normal” masturbation feels really good, which is why people do it. When someone who has not been abused masturbates, the draw is achieving an orgasm that feels good and is relaxing. That doesn’t sound like Kolbey’s situation, which is the first red flag I see.

Reacting to masturbation by hating yourself, crying, and visualizing being abused is not “normal.” That is the way I used to react to having consensual married sex, and that also was not normal. When I started having consensual married sex, I had no memory of the sexual abuse. I had repressed all of those memories, but they still colored all of my experiences, including my sexual ones.

At the time, I viewed myself as a very conservative and innocent “girl.” However, to achieve an orgasm, I had to visualize some really sick and perverted stuff. I would climax but then hate myself afterward. I would feel sick inside and filled with shame. Since recovering the memories, I recognize that I was forcing myself to relive the abuse because the abuse and sexual arousal was all intertwined in my head.

I am not sure what Kolbey means by being “overly sensitive,” but I suspect this is a reference to being easily triggered. Someone will say something innocent that triggers a flooding of shame, and Kolbey is blindsided by this. If that is the case, this happened to me throughout my life until going through therapy. The way to calm it down in the short-term is to ground yourself – lots of deep breathing and positive thoughts – “I am OK. I love myself. I am safe…” — That kind of thing.

I think it might be helpful for Kolbey to read through the Incest Survivor’s Aftereffects Checklist. If reading through the checklist feels like looking in a mirror, that is a huge red flag for a history of child abuse. I recommend talking with a trusted adult (perhaps the school counselor) about getting some therapy. In the meantime, the books The Courage to Heal and the Survivor to Thriver Manual are wonderful resources to help you with healing from child abuse.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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As I shared in this blog entry, I “fell off the wagon” with my eating disorder on April 22 after becoming very triggered by two unwanted contacts from my mother/abuser in two days. Rather than beat myself up for a failure, I am choosing to celebrate the fact that I made it 47 days without binge eating, which means that I go even longer next time!

I have a big star on my calendar on March 7, which was the day I chose to focus on freeing myself from this not-so-good “old friend” that has been a part of my life since I was 12 years old. I have another big star on April 23 to mark the start of my second round of fighting the eating disorder.

I really do have a lot to celebrate. First of all, I succeeded in not binge eating through the stress of starting a new job, feeling overwhelmed and powerless when the expectations kept seeming to shift, and through several triggers. I succeeded in losing ~ 10 lbs during this time as well. My clothes are fitting me loosely, and that feels really good!

Even when I “fell off the wagon,” it wasn’t with the intensity of prior compulsions to overeat. While we had plenty of ice cream and chips in the house, I chose to have a small portion of a leftover burrito and some peanut butter – that’s it. I am classifying this as a “binge” because I was truly not hungry and only eating to meet an emotional need. It was also a compulsion that I must eat rather than a choice to eat. However, what I put into my body was high in protein, and it wasn’t anywhere near the intensity of the binges that I have battled throughout my life.

I chose not to “beat myself up” but, instead, be compassionate toward myself. I recognize the level of triggering that brought back the old pattern of behavior. I was blindsided twice in two days. Clearly I am still extremely vulnerable to any sort of contact from my mother, so I need to follow my friend’s advice to dispose of any letters rather than read them. I need to take my power back and stop letting my mother/abuser have this kind of power over me.

Over the past two days (the two days since the binge), I have been able to go right back to where I was before. By choosing not to heap guilt and shame onto myself for the binge, the bad feelings did not take on a life of their own. I am still feeling very triggered, but I am not using food to self-medicate. I am very proud of myself for this, and I am feeling very hopeful about my next round exceeding 47 days.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have written before about reading Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God. Her book does an excellent job of taking something very complicated (binge eating disorder) and making is simple. As I say repeatedly on this blog, “simple” is not the same thing as “easy.” I had a little success with her methods but then got slammed with being sick for several weeks, and it all fell by the wayside.

I was under stress at the beginning of March (what else is new) as I started training for a new job. I kept finding myself compulsively overeating but not getting emotional relief from it. Instead of feeling better, I still felt lousy emotionally and felt sick to my stomach. So, March 7 was the day that I said, “Enough!” and decided to give Geneen Roth’s methods another shot. I have been doing great ever since!

To recap Geneen’s methods, eat when you are hungry, and stop eating when you are no longer hungry. When you are hungry, eat whatever your body wants, and enjoy every mouthful to the fullest. No food is “taboo.” To help you know when you are hungry and not hungry, practice mindfulness – deep breathing to bring yourself back into the present. She has other tips, but these are the ones that really work for me.

Since March 7, I have lost 9 pounds effortlessly. I have done this even though I have eaten ice cream several times, Mexican food, chips, etc. – all foods that I typical avoid when I diet. I find that I actually enjoy the food more and get to eat more frequently. I am eating much smaller portions than I used to by stopping when I am no longer hungry. Then, I get hungry again in 2 or 3 hours and have a snack without any guilt. So, I get to eat more frequently, eat anything I want, and still lose weight. How fabulous is that?

What’s more is that, this time, it’s not about the weight loss (although I am thrilled to see my pants getting looser and looser!). It’s more about balance and no longer being enslaved to binge eating to manage my emotions.

This past month has been a very stressful one for me, and I have had a heck of a time keeping my blog covered. I did not get a “heads up” that training would require 15-20+ hours of work a week. My kid has been sick for some of this time, and his school has been out a lot for Teacher Workdays and such. It has not been good timing for me to have to find an extra 15 hours in my week. This is the kind of thing that has historically resulted in my gaining lots of weight, but I have, instead, been sticking with the program, and it is working!

I know that recovering from an eating disorder is a lifelong process, so I do consider myself “cured” – just “on the wagon” so to speak – a wagon I don’t want to get off of.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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On my blog entry entitled Black Swan: Movie about Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse , readers started a discussion about “sexual grinding,” otherwise known as frottage. Here are some of the comments:

Nina’s masturbation involves grinding against the bed and bed covers; many survivors of sexual abuse engage in furniture grinding as a compulsive sexual behaviour. ~ Tara

I did not know about the compulsive sexual grinding against furniture, but I suspected later on in life that it was a sign.. I was doing it at 8 years old against the furniture compulsively and asked my mom over and over what was wrong with me, but she never said. My therapist thought perhaps my mom had buried her own abuse by her father, who later abused me. Do you know where more information on the compulsive behaviors for victims of sexual abuse might be found? ~ Deb

Hi, I only know that in the weeks and months following my friend’s suicide, as myself and her other friends tried to crawl our way through the horror of what had happened and figure out what J’s last hours had been and what had driven her to her desperate act, J’s partner told me that she used to grind herself against the furniture in a sexual and at times almost violent manner and that a therapist had told her that this was indeed symptomatic of childhood sex abuse survivors. Maybe someone else on here knows more? ~ Tara

I had not heard of this particular aftereffect of sexual abuse before. I had never heard of masturbation as a form of self-injury either until a fellow child abuse survivor shared her story. In both situations, I can see how the aftereffect ties into the history of sexual abuse. I tried to find resources online but came up empty, so I guess this blog entry will become the go-to place for people who struggle with compulsive sexual grinding or frottage just like it has served this purpose for those who struggle with masturbation as a form of self-injury.

Here is what I did find … The term for compulsive sexual grinding is frottage, which the dictionary defines as “the act of obtaining sexual stimulation by rubbing against a person or object.” Any child who is engaging in this behavior should be screened for possible sexual abuse because deriving pleasure from sexual stimulation in this manner is not normal behavior.

Any behavior that you might have engaged in as a child in reaction to the sexual abuse can carry over into adulthood, so it is understandable that a child who suffered from sexual abuse and was never provided therapy would grow into an adult who continues to be drawn to engaging in frottage with furniture, objects, or other people.

I admit that I have limited knowledge about this aftereffect of sexual abuse, so I am hoping that some of my readers will post comments on the subject. Are there any resources out there for people who struggle with frottage or compulsive sexual grinding? The only resources I could find seemed to be “kink” sites that brought people together who enjoy the activity, not healing resources.

The one thing I can tell you with certainty is that you are not alone. You are not a “freak” for engaging in this behavior. Compulsive sexual grinding or frottage is a normal aftereffect of sexual abuse, and you can heal from it.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Good Article on Overcoming Food Addiction, a reader posted the following comment:

and its just came to my mind the way that one reader wrote a letter to her body, during my therapy I was required to write a letter to my eating disorder treating it as a friend. It went like: Dear ….(whatever eating-disorder it is),

I would like to thank you for….
ie. always being there for me, for always protecting me…etc

It totally helped me change my perspective cos then I was able to see how much I got out off that “relationship” with my eating disorder and why it had been such a faithful companion to me. And step by step I was able to see my needs behind it and learned to fulfill those needs in a more constructive way ~ Queen of Acknowledgement

I have been thinking about this comment all week and trying to decide how I feel about viewing my eating disorder as my “friend.” I also talked with an off-line friend about this theory. She rejected the notion of viewing an eating disorder as a friend outright, but I am much more open to the idea, although I confess that I have never once considered doing so.

On the one hand, I have one offline friend who told me that it is important to distance yourself from what ails you. She says that I should not call compulsive overeating “my” eating disorder because I don’t need to claim an attachment to it. Her advice is contrary to what Queen of Acknowledgement is saying.

I have been thinking about the advice I give repeatedly – that the key to healing from child abuse is to love and accept every part of yourself, expressing your feelings and emotions as you experience them. Isn’t what Queen of Acknowledgement advises doing just that? Rather than reject the part of myself that found comfort in food when my life had little comfort, perhaps I need to honor and accept the creativity I found in surviving the unsurvivable. Perhaps Queen of Acknowledgement is onto something really profound. What do you think?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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