Posted by: Marie | September 23, 2009

(150) Lasting effects – Part 6 of 9

Post #150
[Book study – June 15-17, 2009]

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
(Third Edition, 1994)
by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

Part One: Taking Stock
Effects: Recognizing the Damage

[Table of Contents]


Green text: Quotes/Summaries from the book
Gray text: My words

This transformative work (the entire series of blog posts relating to this book) constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright law.


Writing Exercise: The Effects

Write about the ways you’re still affected by the abuse. What are you still carrying in terms of your feelings of self-worth, your work, your relationships, your sexuality? How is your life still pained, still limited?

(My answer is continued from the previous post . . . . )

Compulsive behaviors (continued)

In the past, I engaged in excessive shopping for several years. I was a preferred customer of QVC’s. This continued until my cash supply ran low and my credit ran out. Then, I lost my job and I had no income for 20 months. That ended that compulsive behavior.

I have always engaged in self-injurious behaviors . . . when I was in elementary school, I picked at and chewed on my fingernails and fingernail beds until they were constantly bleeding.

I have always pulled on the corners of my pillows with the webbing between my fingers – since I can remember. For most of my life I have had calluses on that part of my hand and the corners of my pillowcases have been shredded.

The Altitude by Martin Chen

The Altitude by Martin Chen

Funny thing – when money was tight this last year, I didn’t have enough money to buy new pillowcases. So when, a few months ago, I finally shredded the last intact corner of the last pillowcase I owned, I couldn’t buy new ones. I had no corners on which to pull. When I finally was able to buy new pillowcases this month, I discovered that the urge to pull on them is gone. I don’t plan on reawakening that urge. So, I have nice pillowcases right now.

When I was 12, I got my first zit. It was on my chin. I remember popping the zit. The white core splattered onto the bathroom mirror and it left a perfect hole in the pore where it had been stuck. I remember that moment very clearly. It was the day I started picking my zits. I still do it – for hours every day. I’m still chasing the thrill of that first zit pop.

I pick at scabs. It can take months and months and months for a sore to heal on my body during times of high anxiety. The sores start out small, but I can cause them to increase in size by picking – in the worse cases, they can become an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and ¼ inch (0.6 cm) deep. Sometimes I’ll get focused on a certain part of my body (like my butt or the back of my arms) and pick and pick and pick at any little bump or imperfection until I have to put 10-20 spot band-aids on at night to keep the blood off my sheets and to give them a small chance of not getting infected.

The more important it is for me to have clear skin on a particular day (like for a family reunion or a public speaking event), the more likely I am to pick in the days prior. Fifteen minutes before I’m supposed to get into my car to leave, I start picking all the scabs off my face – all of my strategically applied make-up gets picked off with the scabs.

Inline Teasers_Page_6

So, two minutes before I’m supposed to leave, I’m in the bathroom trying to get the bleeding stopped, trying to get the angry places where I’ve been squeezing to calm down, and trying to reapply make-up that sticks only to skin and to scabs . . not open sores. It never works and I have to show up in public looking like . . . well, like a crazy woman.

Have you ever tried to have sex without letting your partner see your butt? Have you ever tried using a hand mirror to put concealing make-up on your butt to try to cover up 20 big scabs – then worry that it has all rubbed off during sex – when means backing out of the bed and walking backwards into the bathroom is the only way to avoid grossing out your partner? I have. It’s easier to not have sex.

In my 20’s, I would drink alcohol until I blacked out. I would drive drunk. I would have sex drunk. I would eat food out of the trash drunk. In my 30’s, I became a bit more savvy about the process. I wouldn’t let myself get that out of control. But let there be no question – I still engaged in compulsive, risky behavior relating to alcohol – I just didn’t carry it as far as I did before.

Finally, a few years ago, I got a handle on it. Once in a blue moon I’ll have a beer at a party, but I don’t care to drink more than one or two and I don’t care to drink it outside that type of social situation. I’m not sure what happened, but it is no longer an issue. Well, other than I have discovered that alcohol can trigger a depressive episode . . . but, my point is that I no longer have a compulsion to drink alcohol to get numb.

I have always been attracted to high-risk activities. I’ve raced motorcycles, been a fire fighter, done spelunking, rock climbing, sky diving, bungee jumping . . . I love the adrenaline rush. Now I’m learning that it is a compulsive, self-injurious behavior. Hmmm, who knew? I guess I can see the logic behind that.

As I have gotten older, I am taking far fewer risks. However, I still love to lay my motorcycle low in the corners going up a canyon into the mountains. In the moment, I don’t care about the risk. I can hang with the best of them . . . pretty good for an overweight, middle-aged woman! Hah! Sometimes I wonder why I’m willing to take that risk . . it has to do with the thrill of facing death and winning – or something like that. I’m really not sure why.

Finally, there is the binge eating . . . or maybe, more accurately, the compulsive overeating. For example, I started this current binge on April 17th. It is now two months later and I’m still on the same binge. I average about 1500-2000 calories a day of ice cream, Coke, chocolate and/or cookies. I am forcing myself to eat at least two Healthy Choice microwavable bowls of food each day (about 350 calories per bowl) so I at least get a little bit of lean meat and veggies into my body – that is the only way I have kept my body from shutting down from malnutrition.

I am very aware of the fact that I am destroying my health. I just don’t care. I want to be numb enough during the day to be able to focus. I want to be numb enough to fall asleep at night. Otherwise I think I’d go off the deep end.

I started binge eating when I was eleven years old. I had a little job that paid a little money . . . and I spent that money on candy – chocolate – lots of chocolate. I was dealing with hypoglycemia at the time (still deal with it some now, but much more so then) so it was the way in which I could privately revolt against the strict diet I was forced to follow in the “real world”. In my own private world, at night, in the dark, under my covers, I could eat chocolate until I could eat no more – it was glorious! I floated off to sleep every night with my gut stuffed with chocolate.

I guess not much has changed in thirty years . . . in that respect. Only now, at 5’3″ tall (160 cm), I weigh about 200 pounds (91 kg) — higher or lower, depending upon if I’m dieting or binging. That many years of using chocolate, ice cream and sugar to numb out is catching up with me!

[Continued in the next post . . . ]

Quotes 062


  1. Has therapy not helped with any of it?

    I wish I could have had some kind of intervention when I was very small. I chewed my fingernails, too, terribly until I was about 20 years old. Now, I pick the skin off of my lips. They are dry and can crack easily, I’m not sure why I do it, but there is satisfaction in it as if I’m pealing away the bad me.

    We are a compulsive lot!

    • Hey, Ivory –

      Well, therapy has not helped with the compulsive behaviors. It helped in the short term through CBT; but, as soon as I lost my death grip on self-control, it would all come back with a vengeance. That is why I’m not a big fan of CBT when there is an unresolved history of trauma.

      To give you a sneak peek at what is coming down the road in my journal . . . this exercise of purging all my secrets made a huge difference for me. It’s like I was able to move all my dark secrets from my gut to my journal . . . I felt relatively free of my secrets for the first time in my life.

      In the time since completing this exercise, I have had a much easier time managing my compulsive behaviors . . . the anxiety that drives the behaviors has decreased tremendously.

      So . . . to answer your question, formal therapy did not help, but this self-directed therapy has.

      And, yes, I agree — we are definitely a compulsive bunch, LOL!!

      – Marie

  2. This must be a very common thing for trauma survivors to do … this compulsion to destroy the body. I absentmindedly self-injure all the time, in small ways that I hardly notice … usually starting with scratching at a piece of dry skin, and next thing I know, I have a big raw bleeding patch; and like you, I can’t let it heal. My hands usually look like I do battle with feral cats; but nope, it’s just me.

    • Hi, David –

      I, too, have often wondered why we are driven to destroy our own bodies. I have tried to relieve the anxiety by popping bubble-wrap . . . but, it just didn’t have the same soothing/numbing effect. It didn’t work for me.

      When I try to stop myself, it feels like someone else is in control of my movement and behavior . . . like I’m standing outside of myself and watching my body on autopilot . . . doing these insane acts of destruction.

      I don’t understand it.

      – Marie

  3. Hi Marie, I think I’m one of those born to be mild rather than wild. I was a timid kid and am a timid adult I think. I really don’t like being scared. In this way we are very different.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what happens about those feelings of being controlled by others and whether this relates to the compulsive behaviours.

    I don’t have major trauma in my background so don’t have the need to blank it out.

    Thanks again for being so honest about your experience.

    • Hey, Evan –

      Well, someone has to be the yin to the yang of the wild children of the world! You can be my yin anyday, LOL!

      Thanks for being such a great support for me in this journey!

      – Marie

  4. I have had self-injurious behaviors as far as I can remember but actually didn’t know that it was considered bad coping skills until I started my theraputic journey. I am trying to replace them with healthier alternatives but it hard to find something that gives me the same satisfying effect as you have mentioned. Thank you for your honesty. I keep being amazed that I am not alone.

    • Hi, lostinamaze –

      I think self-injury in all its forms is very, very common. The frustrating (shameful?) part of it is that I can see that it doesn’t make the situation any better — I’m an intelligent person — I feel like I should be able to “just stop”. But, it doesn’t work that way.

      I’m starting to understand why — because the need for relief from the stress and pain is greater than the desire to “be normal”.

      Thanks for adding your “me, too” voice to the choir!

      – Marie

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