Life, Death, and Pizza

Poem by Nayyirah Waheed


Tonight I ate pizza for dinner.

It isn’t often, but whenever I do, I remember this girl that I was in eating disorder treatment with. She was there for anorexia and bulimia, and she discharged halfway through my stay. She seemed to be in a really good place.

I found out later through mutual friends that two weeks after she discharged, she attempted suicide.

She slit her wrists after eating three pieces of pizza.

Notice I didn’t say “because” she ate the pizza. She didn’t try to kill herself over that. If you’ll forgive the metaphor, the pizza was just the trigger on an already loaded gun- a girl with a deadly psychiatric disease in a crisis state.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. At 20%,  that means 1 in 5 of us die. Many of those deaths are suicides. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, and eating disorders “not otherwise specified” (aka OSFED) are all deadly, cunning, terrifyingly insidious diseases that need comprehensive treatment to combat. A custom combination of physical medicine, psychiatric medicine, nutritional care, psychological counseling, life skills, and spiritual care (among other treatment options) is essential for helping people get into solid, lasting recovery. With proper treatment, that mortality rate drops to 4%.

As I ate pizza for dinner tonight, I reflected on a time when dying because I ate too much of the “wrong” food seemed reasonable. I remembered a time when that girl’s decision made some sense to me.

And I thanked God for the fact that it no longer does. 

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 

Matthew 6:25

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Revictimization: What It Is and Why It Happens

Content Warning: Sexual Violence

 

First, let’s define “revictimization”: the idea that people who have experienced sexual violence once, particularly in childhood, may be at increased risk of experiencing sexual violence again in the future.

Now, let’s look at some stats. (“CSA” here means “child sexual abuse.”):

  • Women who experienced CSA were twice as
    likely to report adult sexual victimization as
    women who did not experience CSA.
  •  Women who experienced both CSA and
    childhood physical victimization were three
    times more likely to report physical or sexual
    victimization in adulthood.
  • Women who experienced CSA were twice as
    likely to experience intimate partner physical
    victimization. However, women who experienced
    CSA were not more likely to have experienced
    sexual violence by an intimate partner in adulthood than women who had not
    experienced CSA.
  • Men who experienced CSA were almost six
    times more likely to experience adult sexual
    victimization than men who did not
    experience CSA.
  • Men who experienced both physical and sexual
    victimization in childhood were six times more
    likely to experience sexual victimization.
  • Men who experienced CSA were thirteen times
    more likely to experience adult intimate partner
    sexual victimization. Men who reported both
    CSA and physical victimization during childhood
    were 10 times more likely to report adult intimate
    partner sexual victimization

So we can see that the rates of revictimization for people who experience sexual abuse in childhood are extremely high, and crazy high for men.

I am one of those people that was victimized over and over again. First, the physical abuse, the neglect, and the psychological and sexual torture from my father was really at it’s worst from ages 3-9. From ages 8-12 I had a gymnastics coach who was your generic perv, flashing the girls, making lewd comments, borderline inappropriate touching, etc. There were rumors that he molested some girls, and a few years later he was arrested, I had to speak to a detective, a DA, it was a a mess. When I was 16, I was raped at Abilene General Hospital when a Shades of Hope counselor dropped me off there and left me alone. He was a radiology tech, and when he took me upstairs for a chest x-ray, he locked the door, got on top of me, and said, “I won’t hurt you as long as you shut up and don’t move.” I had been given a drug down in the ER, and I couldn’t move, so he raped me, and I never said a word about it until three years later. When I was 19, I was on a date, and the guy attacked me in his car. I managed to escape before he actually raped me. When I was 20, my college professor called me into his office, smashed his mouth against mine, and shoved his hands up my shirt. I didn’t even consider this sexual assault until my therapist said so ten years later. When I was 29, another professor sexually harassed me so badly that I had to report it to the dean. (The only time I’ve ever reported anything.)

I used to believe that life was an endless cycle of trauma. That, like a girl in a therapy group I was in once said, “What, do I have the words ‘FUCK ME’ stamped on my forehead?” It really feels like that. Like there is something inherently wrong with you that attracts this violence, and you believe what you’ve been told: you are a slut, a whore, worthless, just a fuckable object for men to use and abuse.

There are many theories as to why revictimization occurs, but mine is actually that the above line of thinking has a lot to do with it. When you think of yourself this way- I’m worthless, I’m nothing, etc.- that is a victim mentality. You are thinking of yourself as a victim, and you expect to be abused. You walk around with the expectation that any man could be your next rapist. Which means that you act like prey.

And guess what? Predators pick up on that.

Now, let me be clear: I am not blaming victims. What I’m describing is completely unconscious behavior, that is a conditioned response to sexual abuse/violence. You act like a victim because you’ve been a victim. You act like prey because you’ve been preyed upon. The problem is that people who want to hurt others, people who commit sexual violence, are predators. And like any predator in the wild, they hunt by scanning for and attacking weakness. They recognize people who are hypervigilant, dissociated, depressed, anxious, people who lack self-worth, carry shame, or excessive guilt. Even if the predator’s general intelligence is low, they are highly skilled in seeing through to this victim mentality and hooking into it.

Why was I raped at 16? Because that guy was a predator, and he saw easy prey. Why did my date, my professors attack me? Because they could see the ability to get to me.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

There are many other factors I could describe, involving neurobiology, family templates, and a bunch of other things. But for me, this is the one that sticks out. And what I noticed was that when I really found my self-worth, when began to heal in earnest, and when I stopped carrying myself like a victim; well, I haven’t been sexually attacked or harassed since.

This is about a fundamentally changing a belief system that gets embedded when you’re abused as a child. The system that tells you that you’re worthless, you’re nothing, you’re responsible for the sexual abuse, you deserve harm to come to you, and all that bullshit. When you heal, you change that belief system to reflect reality: that you are worthy of life and love, that you were innocent, you were not responsible for any of the things that were done to you, and that you deserve every good thing just like anyone else. When you really come to reality, predators don’t have a chance, because you are strong in yourself, and they don’t attack the strong.

Because of the chronic nature of the violence I encountered, I still deal with Complex PTSD today. However, I don’t worry about getting attacked anymore, outside of normal caution. Because now I believe that while I was victimized, I am not fundamentally a victim, and I do not have to live my life as one. I hope people who have suffered similar things come to understand that changing that belief system is something that’s completely withing your control. You have the power to do this. With the right support, victimhood can become a thing of the past for you. And how amazing does that sound?

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

 

 

The Third Step Prayer

Content Warning: Anorexia, Specific Weight

 

When I was sixteen, I was at the very lowest point of my anorexia, literally and figuratively. My weight was hovering in the upper 60’s, and I was nearly in liver failure. I had a heart arrhythmia, I was vomiting blood, and I was terribly anemic. I looked like those little gray aliens, all spindly limbs and big head with black holes for eyes. I looked like the walking dead.

My mom had tried outpatient treatment, and it obviously was not working. She needed to do something drastic, which meant sending me to residential treatment. The place that was chosen was called Shades of Hope. You may have heard of this place, as Oprah did a short-lived TV show about it. It’s basically a few cabins in a horrid town outside of Abilene, Texas called Buffalo Gap. I hated this place the minute I arrived. It was based entirely on the Twelve Steps, was incredibly controlling and manipulative, and had some pretty crazy rules about food for a place that was supposedly treating eating disorders.

(Additionally, this is the place that let me get raped by a guy at a hospital in Abilene, but that’s a separate story.)

Don’t get me wrong; I believe the Twelve Steps work. I have seen and continue to see them work miracles in people’s lives. I think they are limited, however, and are better suited for drug and alcohol addiction than they are to eating disorders, which are inherently more complex in nature because one cannot completely remove food from their lives the way one can remove alcohol or drugs.

I remember that before every miserable meal at this place, lovingly referred to by residents as “Shades of Hell,” we recited the Third Step Prayer. I did it so many times in my few short weeks there that it sticks in my brain even today:

God, I offer myself to Thee
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help.

Of Thy Power, Thy love and Thy way of life,
may I do Thy will always.

As I was praying last night, or trying to pray, I found myself stuck. When this happens, I stop trying to talk to God and instead just sit silently with Him for a minute. As I did, this prayer popped into my head. I realized that it was exactly what I wanted to say right now.

As I begin this summer- going to school, working in a new business, working hard in therapy and spiritual direction, continuing to take on more responsibilities at my church- I realized that I need to focus on one thing: praying for discernment so I may try to align my actions with God’s will for me. Because there are my ideas about what I think I want. But when I really dig deep, all that I really want is to please God. So I will go where He wants me to go, whether or not that lines up with my current goals or plans.

So I will be grateful, even for my time at “Shades of Hell,” and I will continue to pray:

God, I offer myself to Thee
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help.

Of Thy Power, Thy love and Thy way of life,
may I do Thy will always.

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3: 5-6

 

Poems for PTSD Awareness Month

June is PTSD Awareness Month, so all throughout June I will be posting poetry I’ve written related to that topic, several in a post. I hope you find them eye-opening, informative, inspiring, and hopeful. Thank you for reading.

Content Warning: Sexual Assault/Rape, Violent Language

3/10/14

 

Try to Remember

 

She asks me to remember

And I try, reluctantly

She asks questions for which I have no answers

No answers

Not even God has satisfied the curiosity here

 

Think back

 

When the young were meant to be innocent

And the cared-for not meant to be doing the caring

What did you daydream about?

Were you allowed to dream at all?

 

When you danced and twirled like the girl in your music box

When you lived two lives side by side

How did you manage your plentiful secrets?

How did you weave your lies?

 

When you lost your body so you could lose yourself

When you turned the pain inside out

What did you grab at the end of your rope?

Who introduced the concept of hope?

 

Think back for me, she said

These things

Are still important

 

© 2014 Sarah Ann Henderson

 

2/16/14

 

And Then

 

And then

 

I am hurtled slo-mo down the rabbit hole

My brain decides down is up, safe is dangerous

I am snowblind to comfort

 

Trauma is a form of time travel

An emotional Tardis

Triggers spin me back without warning

 

And then

 

I awake to find that I’m drowning

Disappointed in my brain for falling into this trap again

Though I understand the cause

 

It takes weeks to sort out

To stem the tide of trauma

To see the signs and symptoms

To get myself in line

 

And then

 

I may have a space of “normal”

Where no triggers happen to lurk

I get used to feeling ok

 

And then

 

© 2014 Sarah Ann Henderson

 

9/1/16

 

Beyond This

 

With your hand over my face

You told me to keep my whore mouth shut

 

With a gun to my head

You told me no one would listen

 

With a knife to my throat

You reminded me that it wouldn’t matter if I talked

 

Because I was nothing

Because I was no one

And my words were worthless

 

You didn’t need weapons to terrify me into deathly silence

Just the look in your eyes was enough to do that

A black beyond black

 

Yet they gleamed when I cried

When I bled

When I begged

 

Evil enjoys cruelty for cruelty’s sake

 

Pretty soon I went quiet

Not wanting to give you the satisfaction

At that you became more violent

And I, more silent

 

Until you were essentially raping a corpse

My soul having long fled the scene

 

By the time you had sunk to torture,

I was existing in a tomb of silence

 

I kept your secret so well and so long

That I eventually kept it from myself

 

Wrapped in so many layers of terror and shame

Of guilt and disgust

Degradation and pain

This secret stayed secret

 

It took unlearning every word you ever said to me

Every lie your evil tongue spat

To unwrap those layers and speak the truth:

I never deserved any of that

 

I was an innocent child

Completely blameless

Every bit of that shame belongs to you

 

I won’t carry that now

I won’t die or stay silent

Your secret is no longer my burden

 

You called me slut, whore, worthless, unloveable

But all that is meaningless now

Because God calls me His:

Daughter, beloved

What you should have called me but chose not to

 

I’m beyond that now

Whatever evil facilitated your sadism belongs to you alone

I will not hate myself for being your child

 

And I will forgive you

Not because you deserve it

But because I do

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2016

 

 

 

For Mental Health Awareness Month

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This photo was taken when I was 20 years old. I look pale, sick, and miserable because I was. At this point I was diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, dissociative disorder not otherwise specified, and complex posttraumatic stress disorder. I was being treated as an outpatient, the last time I was in inpatient treatment being a monumental failure. I was severely underweight at this time, severely malnourished, sleep-deprived. I had flashbacks, nightmares, and sometimes hallucinations. I starved myself during the day and often binged and purged at night. I cut myself with razor blades. My medications did not work well because my brain was so starved, and I was resisting the idea of inpatient treatment again.

This is what mental illness looked like for me at one of the worst points.

I was extremely fortunate though. I was one of the lucky ones who had the resources to go to inpatient treatment another two times. But really, I healed and recovered afterward, with a great therapist, clergy, family, and friends. With God’s grace, I am stable today.

To help someone with mental health issues or to learn more, please visit these websites:
National Mental Health Alliance
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Trauma Institute at JRI

For Sexual Assault Awareness and Child Abuse Prevention Month

 

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This is a photo of me, age four. Because April is both Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, I want to take a minute and have you put yourself into this precious little girl’s story. At four years old she was being molested and sometimes raped by her father on a nearly nightly basis. She was being hit, choked, shoved. She was being threatened and abused with guns and knives. She was being called names like, “whore,” “slut,” and, “bitch” even though she didn’t know what those words meant. She was told that if she tried to tell someone what was happening, no one would believe her. That her father, her abuser, would kill her mother and her sister and her cats. He had weapons, after all. She believed him.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what went on in that house, of what happened to that child. And you’d never have known it, because every day, though she vomited each morning before school, she pasted a smiled on her face and made sure that the only word that came out of her mouth when anyone asked her how things were was, “fine.”

I am lucky to have survived that life. I am blessed to be healing and recovering. Not every abused child is so fortunate, and there are children experiencing what I did and more every. Single. Day. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, even those of a “good” family. Please help me to stop the suffering of child sexual abuse by visiting the following websites. Thank you.

Darkness to Light

Erin’s Law

National Sexual Violence Resource Center: Child Sexual Assault Prevention

Introduction

This blog is simply a place for me to expound on topics that are too long for Facebook posts, and maybe for some of my poetry. I am a woman on a journey of faith, healing, discovery, and recovery. Currently I am in school, seeking my Associate’s of Science. I plan to use that as a bridge to finish my Bachelor’s of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center (if I’m lucky enough to get in!) Ultimately, though, I feel called to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. What that looks like yet, I don’t know. My feeling is the priesthood, but it could be something else. Once my Bachelor’s is complete, I will apply to seminary.  Right now, I’m simply in prayer and discernment, taking things one step at a time. I have plenty of time and wonderful clerical guidance in my life to discern God’s plan for my place in the church, if indeed that is where He wants me.

I currently serve on several ministries at my home church, St. Mary’s, including Eucharistic minister, worship leader, and arranging altar flowers. I recently completed my postulancy to become a member of the order of the Daughters of the King. When I say this is my home church, I mean that in the truest sense of the word. There is nowhere in the world that I feel more comfortable or safe than the nave at St. Mary’s. The people there are my family. I feel loved, cherished, needed, and wanted there. Through the pastoral counseling I received there I’ve found so much healing, hope, compassion, and peace.

Despite all of the healing I’ve done, I still struggle with many things. Most of my issues now are with grief. I grew up in violence and chaos. I was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused, and sexually tortured. I am a child of domestic violence, a victim of rape and incest. Most of these things were committed by my father. I was also raped again as a teenager by a stranger, sexually harassed by my gymnastics coach and a college professor, nearly date-raped by a guy, and sexually assaulted by another college professor. Classic re-victimization; it happens. I had a major surgical trauma at 23, when I developed a rare pneumonia and was forced to have my chest cracked open to have part of my lung removed. I briefly coded on the table during surgery (read: died for minute) and was in a coma for several days. It took me nearly a year to fully heal from that surgery. I have some trauma from several car wrecks, as well as the sudden death of my young cousin, Tyler. Basically, I’m a walking case of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Along with those things, I have struggled and nearly died a few times from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, bipolar disorder, and self-harm (cutting myself mostly, hitting myself with blunt objects, at times until I broke bones, and rarely burning myself). I’ve had some issues with prescription pills at times.

You would, too.

I’m thirty three now, and I’ve been in therapy since I was fifteen. Basically, I’ve spent the second two thirds of my life trying to recover from the first. At the present I am also dealing with chronic illness: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Celiac disease, inflammatory arthritis, fibromyalgia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and a number of gastrointestinal issues that need not be detailed. (To be noted: there has been resent research into the link between childhood trauma and the development of autoimmune disease later in life “Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness”). Last year, I found out that I am infertile, and unable to have my own biological children. (That has been brutal.) I take about twenty pills each day, which keep me stable, but have a number of really not-fun side effects.

So what’s the upshot of all of this? It sounds like a lot, right? It is. The only way I can claim any sanity in it all is God. I give all credit to Him. I am not just saved by Jesus through the waters of Baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Cross. Jesus saves me every day, in little ways, when I don’t have the strength to cope, to get out of bed, to tolerate the pain, the fatigue, the grief, the stress.  Jesus saves me. He gives me a peace that passes understanding. He sends me rescuers in the form of family, friends, my beautiful little Godson, trashy novels, Netflix binges, my cat Sophie, white chocolate mochas, thunderstorms or perfect sunny days, poetry and prayer, my church, my clergy, and scripture. He resurrects me from the ashes and reminds me that I am more than what was done to me, more than my failing health, more than the scars that cover my body.

Jesus had scars, too. And they were reminders, not just of the wounds inflicted, but of victory over the pain and death. I like to see my scars that way, too.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. At times it may be difficult, but I hope you see what I see: the beauty from the ashes.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me

because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations…
 Instead of your shame

    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them…

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation.

Isaiah 61