Anorexia and Sexual Abuse: An Interview
HELEN  AND DAVID EPSTON
DATE: 28TH MAY, 1991
David: I am talking to Heather and it is the 28th day of the fifth month, 1991 and we were just talking briefly about Lee ringing you. The fact that I sent you fast-post Lee’s letters and that I sent a letter of my own which I’ve just read you and your comment was that “all this has been mind-blowing”. Can you tell how it’s blown your mind? How has that happened? Is your mind in bits?
Helen: Yah. . . I don’t know where I am you know.
David: Are you with Anti-Anorexia? Or are you with Anorexia?
David: Great! How do you think you turned against Anorexia because when I last met you, you were very much in the grip of Anorexia? Would that be fair?
Helen: I still am. . .
David: Are you moving away from IT?
Helen: I hope so.
David: Tell me where you have got to with your Anti-Anorexia? And what makes you think you are starting to separate from Anorexia because I can see you have your mind here? You’ve got your mind now? And I wasn’t so sure last time that you had your mind? I’m not saying that in a critical way. Tell me what Lee’s letter, my letter, and your phone contact with Lee . . . where has it blown you . . . I know it’s blown you somewhere?
Helen: I just feel I might be beginning.
David: Great! Wow, is that exciting? I don’t want to get too excited but boy, at least you’ve got a beginning.
Helen: Yah. . .
David: Did you think you were coming close to your end?
David: Can you talk a little bit about that?
Helen: I still feel it’s a new beginning. It’s just there but . . . at the moment, I feel I’m still at the end. . . do you know what I mean?
David: Do you think you’ve crossed the river over to the other side? What side are you on?
Helen: I’m trying to cross it but the water’s cold (laughter)
David: Are you struggling towards the Anti-Anorexia side?
Helen: Yah. . . it’s so hard. . .
David: Do we need to call out to you to encourage you to come to our side?
Helen: Yah because Anorexia will call me. And if no one is calling from the other side, it is easier to go the way you can hear someone calling you.
David: Do we need to be louder than Anorexia? What is Anorexia calling out to you at the moment, Heather? What is it saying to you as you struggle towards the Anti-Anorexic side? What is it calling out to you?
Helen:Punish yourself. .. . starve yourself. . .
David: What else. . . the usual stuff?
Helen: Don’t listen to them!
David: The Anti-Anorexic side?
Helen: Yah. . . making excuses all the time.
David: Like what excuses does it try on you?
Helen: It tries to put things into my mind that will destroy me.
David: What sort of thoughts is it intruding into your mind that are murderous?
Helen: Mainly food-orientated. . . and trying to have the least and trying to wangle out of eating as much as you can. And also kind of cheating yourself.
David: Why do you think Anorexia uses fatal ideas that have a lethal attraction?
Helen:I don’t know. . .
David: Why is it using these deadly ideas on you?
Helen:TO KILL ME!
David: To kill you Is this a new thought of yours to know that you are now facing up to your murderer?
Helen:Yah. . .
David: Before did it try to embrace you in some loving way and tell you it was your friend?
Helen: Yes. . . it’s just become part of me, you know.
David: Do you have any sense now that you are getting rid of it a bit and seeing yourself take up a bit more space for you in your life?
Helen: I’m hoping too.. . .
David: Well, right now as we are talking, what per cent do you think you are in your mind and what per cent do you think Anorexia is in your mind?
Helen: I don’t know. . .
David: Just take a guess!
Helen: (a long and thoughtful gap)
David: Well, what do you think Anorexia would be thinking of the conversation we are having now?
Helen: Not very happy!
David: What do you think about displeasing Anorexia?
Helen: Well I’ve got to do it as much as I can.
David: Can you imagine what the fact that you can think Anti-Anorexic thoughts tells me?
Helen: Well, I’ve never been able to find a way of dealing with it. Like all the time before I just talked about what was happening.
David: Before you just talked through Anorexia in a sense?
Helen: Yah. . .ABOUT HER AND NOT AGAINST HER.
David: That’s well put.
Helen: No one has ever taught me that you have to be against Her. Before, all I was told was that you just have to get over it. IT’S MORE THAN THAT.
David: Can I just go back to what you said before – people who worked with you just talked with Anorexia but now you are talking AGAINST Anorexia?
David: What’s different about the fact that you are talking AGAINST Anorexia than just with her? What does that mean for you?
Helen: There’s more of a chance of getting free because I can start hating her and when I do, I can let her go. I still find it so hard to connect the eating with the Problem.
David: Would you find it hard to connect the murderer with their knife?
David: Is this starvation murder?
David: That’s another way to murder a person. Can you understand that or I am putting ideas into your head. . . .does that make sense?
David: (reading a document from the archives of the Anti-anorexia League provided by Donna) What did you think of what Donna had to say there that through the fact of opposing Anorexia she became filled with anger at the “cruelest murderer” that she could think of – “self-starvation”? What does that fill you with?
Helen: I am scared of her anger. I am really scared of anger.
David: If you are scared of anger, how are you going to fight? I am not saying you should have anger, but what do you want to fight with? There are other ways to fight. What about a cool sense of injustice? Do you want to fight with that?
Helen: Am I strong enough?
David: Look at Nelson Madela – he was imprisoned for 30 years. Look at Gandhi, he was never known to have raised his voice. He brought Imperial Britain to its knees merely by his humanity. There are other ways and maybe they are more suitable to you.
David: Do you think a cool sense of injustice is more suitable to you?
David: And if you did develop a cool sense of injustice. . . a passionate sense of injustice. . . a strong sense of injustice. . . and outrage, what would that be based on? Where would you get that from? What’s unjust about your life?
Helen: Because of my abuse.
David: Are you starting to think about that in a slightly different way?
Helen: I didn’t even know I was abused. I just thought it was my fault. And that’s what happens. And now I’m being punished for it. And this is what I deserve because I’ve been bad. Its my fault.
David: What made you change your mind on that one?
Helen: I haven’t!
David: Do you think that will be the source of your injustice?
Helen: I didn’t even know I had been abused until I went to the psychiatric hospital.
David: How did they help you figure that out?
Helen: I talked with them in my therapy and that and my doctor just said – ‘You’ve been abused!’
David: Was that a big shock?
Helen: Yah because I had never thought of it as abuse. I had known of other people who had been abused and I felt really bad that people had done that to them but for me, it was kind of different.
David: How is that you can sense that injustice was perpetrated on them and injustice wasn’t perpetrated on you? Why can you have sympathy for them but not for yourself?
Helen: They said I was a martyr.
David: What do you think about that?
Helen: I don’t know.
David: Well if you could be a martyr for Anorexia, do you think you could be a martyr for Anti-Anorexia? Do you know how you become a martyr for Anti-Anorexia?
David: YOU LIVE. Anti-anorexic martyrs live on purpose. An Anorexic martyr dies on purpose. Living could be your cause. By the way, do you think you are becoming more devoted to your own cause?
David: What signs are you getting?
Helen: I want freedom more.
David: I sense that. Did you think in my letter I wanted freedom for you more than you wanted it for yourself?
David: Was that upsetting for you? Should I drop back a bit?
Helen:No. . . that encourages me to put thoughts into my own mind that might help me want freedom. Do you know what I mean? When people don’t tell you things, you don’t know.
David: Do you think Anorexia has kept you in the dark?
David: Has it cut off other people’s thoughts and love for you?
Helen: She’s made everything seem numb. NOTHING MATTERS. SHE HAS MADE ME FORGET EVERYTHING. She’s put me in a regime . . . a concentration camp. I can’t feel anything. There are no feelings there. And I AM YEARNING FOR IT.
David: Hey, when did you start yearning for it?
Helen:Remember when you wrote that letter, it made me want to cry. And my Dad says: ‘Can’t you remember how much I love you?’ (starts weeping inconsolably).
David: Had Anorexia made you forget that? How much did he love you?
Helen: Heaps! She’s taken that away (weeping).
David: Yah, I think that’s awful! Do you think it could be helpful to you and your Anti-Anorexia to remember your father’s love? Can we talk about that because I sensed a sadness in your Dad when I met him that Anorexia had come between you. Can I ask you something – they are going to be some hard questions so can you bear with them? If you get too tired of all the thinking you just tell me. . . and I will ask you some easy questions. . . the questions will made your mind go back in time a bit . . . is that okay? When you were a little girl and you were the apple of your father’s eye, because I know you were, what do you think he saw in you that Anorexia has blinded you to so you can no longer see?
Helen:(Wistfully) He just loved me.
David: He loved you. . .what was lovable about the you that he loved?
Helen: I guess because we had a bond. And they always said I was a happy child. I was contented and placid. And I was good.
David: If you saw yourself through your father’s loving eyes what might you see in you when you get to the other side – Anti-Anorexia?
Helen: He just wants me to have my life back. He wants me to be Heather again.
David: Who was Heather?
Helen: I don’t know who Heather is. I don’t know.
David: Would you be willing to dig up the old Heather? Is that okay? Maybe we are going to have to get your Dad to come so he can tell us who you were?
Helen: Because I don’t know.
David: Have you lost sight of Heather?
Helen: I don’t even know who I’m meant to become let alone know who she was.
David: Do you think the first anti-Anorexic project might be bringing the old Heather back to life.
Helen:That would be okay because everyone has said how nice she was. I thought I was the same but now I see I’m not.
David: Do you think you are seeing yourself through your Torturer’s eyes?
David: I guess for IT to torture you, it must have to see you as a person who deserves torture; otherwise it wouldn’t be able to do their job very well? How are you going on tiredness?
Helen: I don’t want to go into hospital because now I have an option. Before there was only HER OR NOTHING. I’ve got a choice now. I’ve just got to make that decision. Lee said that she had made that decision.
David: Do you think you could have made that decision without the option being in front of you?
Helen: No. How can you choose if you have only one thing to choose from! And you go for that, don’t you?
David: Before you thought it was a choice between Anorexia and Nothingness, in a sense?
Helen: Yes. . . between Anorexia and Anorexia (laughing)
David: That helps me understand.
Helen: I feel now if I keep on reading and people keep on affirming this and I can start thinking more about who I was. She has made me forget all my memories. Even if I try to remember the green grass but that doesn’t mean anything. I can’t feel anything towards that. I think before I was so joyous and happy and loved life. All that I know at the moment is CONCENTRATION CAMP in capital letters. There is just torture, torture, torture. . . 24 hours a day.
David: I am glad that you are not being tortured here. I am glad this is a reprieve for you. Do you think reading the letters gives you a little space of freedom?
Helen:Yah it does.
David: Good. . . good. Do you think listening to this tape might add some more time that you are free?
David: Whatever you think is important in terms of helping me understand how you came to this because if I could understand this better, I could be more helpful in the future. But just suit yourself . . . suit yourself. . . . Can I ask . . . now that you feel on your way in a manner of speaking, what’s life like now that you are breaking away? How do you experience life now? Can you take any pleasures in the world outside? Can you smell flowers? Can you feel feelings? Can you taste a good taste?
Helen:I guess it is just thinking more than anything. And questioning. And challenging.
David: It’s been quite an inspiration talking to you today. Do you feel that you are inspiring yourself a touch?
Helen: Sometimes when I’ve done something anti-anorexic, that’s good, I have some kind of appreciation but she doesn’t let me feel that.
David: Of course not.
Helen: She doesn’t let me acknowledge it. I feel it.
David: What are you feeling? When you acknowledge yourself, what does it feel like?
Helen: When I do do something, oh great. . . oh great. Totally amazing.
David: Does your heart swell?
Helen: It’s hard to explain the feeling. . . its like total amazement.Maybe it’s like someone just been given their baby. Totally awesome. It’s some sort of appreciation.
David: I’d like to learn more about the ‘awesome feeling’ so I could tell people that that might be awaiting them up ahead.
Helen:It’s kind of like you want to run away and tell everyone but then again no one appreciates you anyways. I feel really misunderstood because I guess being anti-Anorexic is not very well known. It’s too misunderstood. And when I tell someone I did something anti-anorexic, they think – ‘What’s your problem?’
David: I know we have to stop now, even though I really regret that. Do you think some day the League will make it its business to see to it that there is a greater understanding of anti-anorexia?
Helen: Yes, that’s important.
David: Do you suspect as I do that if someone were to read this, it might help them a bit in terms of their understanding?
Helen: I hope so.
David: I do too.