Ritual Abuse Issues and Eating Disorders

New Book! Jade Miller’s “Attachment and Dissociation: A Survivor’s Analysis” in e-book form. About intergenerational dysfunctional attachment and Jade’s healing process. (Jade is the author of “Dear Little Ones.”)  http://www.amazon.com/Attachment-Dissociation-Survivors-Jade-Miller-ebook/dp/B01DPX76YQ/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460054531&sr=1-3&keywords=jade+miller

The eating disorders series started on 4/10, 2016 (Eating disorders and genetics,) and continued on 4/20, 2-16 (Over-eating.) The issues discussed in this section apply to anorexia and bulimia as well as over-eating.

Hard as these conditions are for people who were not abused as children, they are far harder for those of us who had to live through ritual abuse. Genetic factors and social pressure, of course, apply to all in our society.

Parents can set their kids up for eating disorders in lots of different ways. Many parents equate food with love, and since they love their kids, they over-feed them or give them candy and other goodies to make their children feel appreciated. Some cult parents act this way because they love as well as abuse their kids; others because they were raised this way and they continue the tradition without thinking. In any event, these children often grow up turning to childhood comfort foods whenever they are hurting. Which, if you are a ritual abuse survivor, is pretty much all the time.

Abusers also use food as a punishment or torture. Children can be deprived of food for a long time and then made to eat (even force-fed) rich foods, which will make them very sick. Most Satanic cults drink the blood or eat the bodies of sacrifices and often make children eat things which were never meant to be eaten, like excrement. They can also be starved for days because it is easier to program a child who is food-deprived and sleep-deprived.

Many adult survivors buy large amount of food or hoard food in reaction to having been deprived as children. Others are afraid of many foods, especially those that are unfamiliar or that remind them, consciously or unconsciously, of “bad” foods used in rituals, in training, or as torture.

It makes total sense that ritual abuse survivors often cannot eat meat, for example, and may even have trouble seeing others eat meat. Remember, though, that the opposite can occur, and some survivors will eat raw meat. This is a form of “acting out” – re-enacting a part of the repressed ritual, probably in an effort to trigger the memory and gain more information about the past. It’s not uncommon to swing between the two extremes, acting out and total avoidance. Being drawn to food can be the basis for over-eating and being repelled by food can be the basis for anorexia.

Then there is the issue of alters. Different alters may have very different attitudes, beliefs, and needs around food. If one alter wants to stop eating in an effort to disappear entirely and another alter wants to gain more and more weight in an effort to become sexually unattractive there is going to be chaos inside and out. And if one of those alters is out most of the time, the other will be seething in the background trying to figure out how to sabotage the alter in control.

Some therapists do not know a great deal about dissociation. They may believe that the eating disorder must be under control before dealing with the DID. That means that no communication between alters is established and no agreements are made inside before working on the eating disorder. This can easily lead to a battle for control between the survivor and the therapist and between the survivor’s inside people.

Even if therapists are familiar with working with alters, they may be frightened by the severity of the eating disorder, get flustered, and make mistakes. Or they may be working in a setting where they cannot make all their own decisions or where others higher up do not believe in RA, MC, or DID. There are all sorts of problems that can arise in therapy that have nothing to do with the client but which have great impact.

(There is another issue which I almost forgot because it is my issue. Survivors are often prescribed meds which cause weight gain which is very difficult to take off. I had eighty extra pounds thanks to various antidepressants. (With much effort, I have lost sixty of those pounds – hooray!) I can assure you that the meds did not increase my appetite because of the speed with which I gained weight. They wrecked havoc on my metabolism. This doesn’t belong in this post because it isn’t really an eating disorder but I thought I would mention it anyway.)

Next will be a discussion of anorexia and bulimia and then on ways of dealing with the external –  the actual eating disorder – and the internal – the relationships between alters who experienced the parts of the abuse that led to the eating disorder. As always, I could use all the help I can get, so if you have ideas, please be generous and leave a comment.

Stress, Cortisol, Eating, and Meditation

I’ve heard tons of people say “I eat to comfort myself.” “Eating calms me down.” “I’ve gained all this weight because I have been stressed out.” And then they guilt-trip themselves because eating is under their control, and they wouldn’t weigh so much if they just ate normally.

Why does food comfort people? Because chances are they are eating carbohydrates, rich with fat and sugar or salt. Donuts. Potato chips. Ice cream. Mac and cheese. Probably not a nice salad with broiled chicken.

What is comforting about comfort food is that it elevates serotonin, which is one of the neurotransmitters that makes you feel better. The SSRI antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor)  prevent serotonin from being absorbed by the brain cells, thus increasing the concentration of free serotonin. SSRI’s build up slowly and act over a matter of days or weeks, while comfort food spikes quickly and loses its effect quickly.

By eating, you are trying to handle stress. Stress floods the body with the hormone cortisol, which has an effect on myriad body systems. Among other things, it lowers serotonin, making you feel bad, and raises anxiety, also making you feel bad. Both can be fixed temporarily by eating. Chronically high levels of cortisol can also create more fat cells and convert glucose (blood sugar) directly into fat, rather than using it for energy. And the fat goes usually to the waist line.

It’s not just a matter of having no “will power.” There are chemical reasons for eating junk food.

I cannot imagine a child subjected to ritual abuse who did not have sky high cortisol levels every day. Keeping the knowledge of what happened to us away from our conscious selves has got to be anxiety-producing and if anybody thinks that flashbacks are stress-free, they are delusional. Basically, we live our whole lives bathed in cortisol.

It isn’t our fault that this happened. But the result of being horrendously abused is ours to deal with. And we have to deal with it day by day; there is no doing something once and everything is hunky dory.

There are things that can be done within a therapeutic framework, like EMDR and EFT. There are also effective things to bring down stress levels that you can do by yourself. Meditation soothes the whole person, and there are practices which, essentially, are meditation in motion. I’m thinking of yoga and Tai Chi. Because you are concentrating on making smooth movements, you do not try to empty your mind, and flashbacks are less likely to occur.

What is really nice about meditation in all its forms is that it doesn’t need special equipment or clothing. It’s totally portable; you can do it wherever you are. It can be a solitary practice, or, if you prefer, it can be done in groups. And it is under your control; nobody is ordering you to do it.

If you decide to try a version of meditation, give it some time. You won’t see a change the next day, and you may not recognize the changes after a week or a month. But at some point you will realize that you are sleeping better, you feel less antsy, and things that sent you through the roof no longer bother you. That’s what it feels like to have lower cortisol levels. Later on, you may even feel peaceful most of the time. That’s what it feels like to have normal cortisol levels!

Some Thoughts on Food

A few years ago, my doctor told me that my blood sugars were inching up and recommended I eat lower on the glycemic index. This means eating foods that release their nutrients slowly, rather than flooding the body and causing a quick rise in blood sugar.

Choosing appropriate foods is not rocket science. Lots of fresh things: veggies, fruit, beans, whole grains, meat, and fish. Cook only with olive oil. Use reduced-fat dairy products and mayonnaise. Avoid potatoes, white rice, white flour, and white sugar. Avoid fried foods and stuff made by huge conglomerates that care about their profits but not their customers’ health.

Intellectually, it’s real easy and I know exactly what to do. On an emotional level, though, it’s a different story. I just don’t understand eating. I don’t get that what I do this minute will have consequences in an hour or a day or a week. Perhaps that’s because my sense of time is so distorted that things don’t seem connected. If I plant a package of morning glory seeds, it doesn’t feel like I will have twenty cute little plants in a few weeks and magnificent morning glory vines in a few months. It feels like I’ve just wasted $2.19 by burying those little brown thingies.

My favorites comfort foods are all bad for me. Pasta, white bread still warm from the oven, donuts, potato chips, Coke. Sometimes I want all of those at the same meal, and lots of them.

If I get anxious, I tend to eat quickly and thoughtlessly; therefore I over-eat. If I get really upset, I stop eating entirely. It isn’t a decision:; I have no appetite and just can’t wrap my mind around the idea of putting stuff in my mouth and swallowing it. I get all freaked out by the idea that I am hollow inside. (Wonder where that came from?)

I know that many people without abuse histories have some of these same attitudes. I also know that many, many abuse survivors have far more severe eating problems than I do, often to the point of being life-threatening. But these things still bug me on a daily basis. My attitudes, beliefs and behaviors around food all feel choppy and fragmented, rather than integrated into a smoothly working system.

I’m also reminded on a daily (minutely?) basis of another result of my abuse: a life-long depression. Back in the days of tricyclics I put on eighty pounds that have stayed with me for years. I try to think of my extra weight as a battle scar and to remind myself I won the battle against suicide many times, for I am still here. Of course I would rather not have battle scars – I would settle for a nice medal that I could wear on special occasions.

I’m proud of myself, though, because I don’t throw up my hands and say, “It’s useless. I’ll never change.” I keep on trying, meal after meal, supermarket run after supermarket run. I’m not a fanatic about eating healthily, for life without chocolate is not a happy thought, but I keep moving in that direction.

It is paying off, too, because my blood sugars are normal. I’m very pleased, for I sure wouldn’t deal well with diabetes. And I have slowly lost forty-five of those eighty pounds. How? By eating smaller amounts of wonderful Italian breads and pastas, and eating them rarely. Coke has been replaced by tea. I eat fruit with a tablespoon or so of ice cream (yum) and make sandwiches with high fiber flax seed bread. Lots of vegetables, lots of chicken and fish. I don’t feel deprived, and when I do, I eat a small amount of whatever I desire. Because I made changes slowly, I don’t get cravings.

It may be this way with most parts of healing. You just have to put one foot in front of the other, baby step by baby step. You don’t have to understand completely, you don’t have to completely believe in what you are doing. You just have to decide it’s worth a try and then keep plugging away at it. It’s not dramatic – but it’s doable.