The History of the Archives of Resistance: Anti-anorexia/ Anti-bulimia
The website has been compiled from the moral imperative to make the ‘archives’ available. An archive “is a place where public records are held” (Concise Oxford Dictionary) and until now, these documents have been stored in files and boxes around my office and Xeroxed copies have been distributed by post on request.
These archives have been both a resource to and exemplary tales of a ‘counter-practice’ (Anti-anorexia/Anti-bulimia) to what I have been referring to as the social practice of anorexia/bulimia. Many have called upon these documents to inspire their own resistance. Often those who loaned such documents later had cause to augment the collection by donating their contributions. This body of insider knowledge needed a name. The most appropriate to describe the means by which it was acquired and the purposes for doing so was ‘archive’. ‘Resistance’ seemed to thematize the wide range of documents.
The uses to which the documents were put was hardly disinterested scholarship but rather the celebration and fostering of Anti-anorexia/Anti-bulimic resistance. From my earliest recollections, the most common response to any particular document was ‘Can I have a copy of that?’ to which I was more than delighted to oblige. Many of the first generation of League members complained that the various available professional literatures either dismayed them or made them actively sick and would soon destroy these texts, most commonly by fire. From the outset, everyone spoke of the hope these archives inspired, and that such inspiration was necessary for them to reclaim the freedoms that anorexia had stripped from them. The autobiographical genre, although providing warnings of ‘whatever you do, do not join me here’, often written from within the very prisons of anorexia, seemed to offer little chance for any escape. More than anything else, it was a literature of despair.
The requests for archival material started to become too onerous and the means of distribution too unwieldy and expensive. For some time, I have been urged to compile the archives into a readily available and accessible source. But by now, there were almost unmanageable for a one-man amateur archivist and were starting to defy my means to hold them. At the same time, so many appreciated them for so many reasons and urged me to make them available by way of a book. As such, they would have required an encyclopedia format and I doubt if any publisher would have considered that a viable proposal. Although a book is under preparation, I hit on the idea of a website. Hypertext space is much more generous and less costly than textual space, I welcomed the prospect of a formal archives, free to all comers.
I envision such an archives of resistance to be both a resource and a platform for anti-anorexic developments that are as yet currently unimaginable. I hope too that it will be the means for a movement that will operate both under-and aboveground to conscientiously object to, resist and repudiate anorexia/bulimia.
I suppose by now 200-300 people have contributed to it, although every document will not be included. It is just not possible. Most made their contribution for the express purpose of fostering disobedience and protest to anorexia. Many of the contributors suffered dearly for having done so through various forms of anorexic torment but they did so nonetheless. It is more than a decade now from its beginnings and I sadly have lost touch with some of its most notable benefactresses. Much of the early documentation was by way of audio-taping but some of that has been turned into transcripted documentation. ‘Letters’ have always documented my work and if anything, they assumed ever greater significance in terms of my practice of ‘Anti-anorexia/Anti-bulimia’. Poetry, stories, drawings, etc., complete the various formats by which this insider knowledge has been collected and held.
It is also possible that some of the early contributors are no longer alive, Although I am only too well aware that so many now live very lively lives and others remain fighting for their lives. However, the dead, the alive and the lively remain wedded together into a community of concern by means of these records. Such records of resistance tell too of the horrors and inhumanity of anorexia/bulimia and lifts those who have suffered and are suffering up so that we can witness their testimonies, keep their legacies alive and most importantly, pay them our respects.
Why? Because I know no ‘problem’ as lethal as anorexia/bulimia, given what I have seen with my own eyes and heard tell that is so misrepresented. And those who suffer equally misrepresented. Once provided with the means to speak against anorexia/bulimia, almost to a person everyone has railed against most of the psychological/psychiatric constructions of them as ‘anorexics’ or ‘bulimics’. The stories ~ from the insiders are incomparable to the stories written about them by outsiders. At times, the differences are so vast as to be incomprehensible and then chilling when you consider the consequences for those tormented and tortured by anorexia. I felt too as if I had stumbled quite innocently in the ‘concentration camp’ of anorexia and have come to know evil in ways I never thought possible.
Why is it, for example, that insiders regularly refer to anorexia as either a grotesque manifestation of evil or the devil when such terms have been consigned by many to the histories of our vocabularies? And these are uttered by 11,12, 13 year old young women? Isn’t it odd to consider that so many young women in cities and small towns wherever McDonalds are sold live their lives against what they take to be the devil or evil? What concerns me is why do we all have so few qualms about it.
The archive holds the documents of those who have both known and defied such evil and reclaimed their innocence. It remains frighteningly small compared to the evil that abounds.
I wish to include here the very first addition to the archive made around 1990 by Terri, then aged 22. I have read and reread it aloud many times over the years and sought the listeners’ resonation to it. I had previously (circa 1988) determined to bracket professional know ledges, pertaining to anorexia/bulimia and approach this work from an anthropological point of view. This provided me with what I took to be two obvious advantages – firstly, the role of the ‘other’ rather than ‘otherizing’ the so-called ‘patient’. Secondly, such point of view advised me to get as close as I might to the experience of those I had joined. This led me to acknowledge both to myself and to others that I was uninformed but possessed of an enthusiasm to be otherwise. Who were to become League members became the ‘community of concern’ I had joined and their concerns became my concerns. I was allowed ‘inside’ but always remained an ‘outsider’.
As I gradually was entrusted with insider knowledge, which I refused to translate into a professional discourse, I began to feel very keenly the fear and loathing in which such young women (and their families) were held. I found myself less and less baffled by the apparent mystery of a person starving in the midst of plenty. In fact, anorexia has been called ‘voluntary self-starvation’. I couldn’t find many professional theories of helping that didn’t finally resort to “breaking their will and force feeding them”.
‘Anorexics’ thwarted the most benevolent intentions of their helpers and so often had them finally turn against them in frustration, anger and finally contempt. Perhaps because these young women had been conscripted into contemptible views of themselves, professional contempt only confirmed what anorexia had already diagnosed them to be. However, what they are left with too is their sense of our very f “ear of anorexia. But once again you have to be very trusted by these women for them to tell you about that.
What lines of enquiry did I take up from Terri’s escape? After all, this was the first escape I had both participated in and witnessed.
- Did anti-anorexia have to be considered to be a gradual process rather than some form of ‘cure’?
- Would Terry’s comments – “overpowering anorexia came in waves …. in waves” be worthwhile considering carefully? (This would lead the League to think up ‘comebacks’ and a gracious welcome backs on the part of her anti-anorexic allies).
- How might young women forge themselves discovering “what I needed and wanted rather than what other people wanted and needed?” (Might discovering her ‘voice’ have to be considered as emerging out of the contest to refuse being spoken through or for anorexia). (Note how Terri refers to “assault”, “combat” and “struggle” over and over again.)
- How to could an anti-anorexic practice assist in the “legitimizing of my experiences?” (For me, this was germinating seed for the extensive writing down of things and extensive documentation that has always been strongly associated with anti-anorexic practice. The ‘self-in-text’ is anti-anorexia’s substitution for the mirror and the weight scale – to read oneself in language as subject rather than read oneself as numbers or objects).
Terri – The First Story
I realise now that from the age of seventeen, I had been living an anorexic life style. I was excessively concerned about my body weight, believing, in particular, that my chin and arms were fat. I dieted excessively to the point that I was unable to assess my own hunger. Despite enjoying the sensation of an empty stomach, I often found dieting difficult, that is, until I realised there was a way ‘to have my cake and eat it too”. I could eat as well as lose weight. I trained myself to be sick at will, simply by tensing my stomach muscles. After discovering the ‘art of vomiting’, my attempt s to lose weight were easier to conceal. I was secretly proud of my newfound ability to be sick. However when I started to lose control of it, I became scared. I started to automatically vomit after eating as if it was a reflex.
I first tried to stop when I was seventeen and I was successful for awhile. However this was followed by phases of regaining and losing control and later in my anorexic-bulimic life, periods of normal eating developed into periods of bingeing, which were very expensive. Because I never lost huge amounts of weight, I didn’t believe I had a problem. Even so, I became obsessed reading about anorexia nervosa and bulimia, comparing myself against the diagnostic ” criteria. Despite never being able to reach a firm diagnosis, I knew something was wrong.
At the age of twenty-two, I felt particularly miserable and my older sister advised me to consult David. But I put this off. When things didn’t improve, I met with David but felt unjustified in taking his time. Following this, I started injuring myself and could no longer deny I had a legitimate problem. For many years, I have been in the habit of ‘cutting off’ whenever I had to confront any distress. It was a habit I couldn’t seem to control. Within seconds of facing any distress, reality of the event seemed to vanish. I came to realise that I had lost touch with large parts of myself. Often I felt nothing or that a sense that many of my feelings were imitations . I began cutting myself in an attempt to feel something intensely and undeniably.
For a long time, I thought my eating problems were unrelated to anything other than eating. I was astonished when I realised t that as everything else generally improved, so too did my eating. Even so, I think it was important for me to become aware that on confronting these difficulties, there remained the ‘habit’ of anorexia. I found myself facing a dilemma which required a conscious decision and effort in order to escape from it.
I had attempted to do so on numerous occasions previously but success was always limited and short-lived. Perhaps the reason for this was that while I had been making the right decision, I was without the personal power to permanently successful. And my periodic attempts to give up anorexia became incorporated into and supportive of the ‘anorexic ritual’.
I had to confront matters that caused me confusion and misery as well as feelings of uselessness and aloneness,etc. before I could mount a direct and successful assault on anorexia-bulimia. Up until then, anorexia would continually reappear in my life. Despite trying to believe I had control over anorexia-bulimia, I came to realise this simple fact – I didn’t. Sometimes I didn’t how how to eat or what to feel. In some respects, confronting matters that caused me confusion meant that I had to confront myself, not what Anorexia had me believe about myself, but as I actually was in the real world.
My success at combating anorexia cannot be attributed entirely to any particular factor but rather to the cumulative effect of many, each factor supporting and sometimes initiating another. At the time, I wanted everything to occur quickly but the process of overcoming anorexia is slow – it had to be.
Leaving home was one of the things that helped me in my struggle against anorexia. I absolutely hated leaving and was extremely miserable but I needed to have distance. Such distance served to alter my perspective, making it clear and a little more definite. As this happened, I became more effect in my own life. I was better able to know and cope with reality. Physical distance made the level of emotional involvement I sought to have with my family difficult to achieve. I began to develop psychological distance subsequent to the family intimacies becoming less accessible. My desire to be overly involved diminished. I was a little better able to accept other people without trying to change or help them. I stopped believing I could work out my brother’s life for him. I stopped giving advice to my mother and she stopped asking for it. While this distance initially intensified my feelings of aloneness (which I both hated and enjoyed), in the long term, it helped me gain some sense of myself or what I refer to as objectivity.
Closely linked with my increased clarity of thought and objectivity was coming to terms with guilt. This meant discovering realistic limits for myself – where I ended and other people started. Together, this added to my increasing self-acceptance. For example, on a number of occasions, I used to feel over come with guilt and unhappiness for my mother. I thought I could never be good enough for her because she so often put herself aside for others, including me. I saw her as a really good person, who deserved so much in life but received so little. She didn’t enjoy her work and seemed discontented with her life. I didn’t think I had a right to be happier than she was; I didn’t deserve it. As I became more powerful in my own life, I began to realise that although my mother is a good person, I am good enough, too. I had to learn what ‘enough’ meant here. I had always understood this in my head but not in my heart.
On one level, coming to terms with guilt was very difficult to achieve because I continually denied that I had a ‘guilt problem’. This was despite the fact that I felt so guilty about so many things. For example, saying anything, even slightly negative, about my family to anyone would inevitably lead me to feel that I had betrayed them. Now I can see that This was particularly unfortunate because so much of my family’s life was my life. I had become a good secret keeper and was proud of it. I could be trusted. I could even keep secrets from myself. However, as I started to see other people as good enough, my own opinions and ideas became stronger.
While I was confused about many things, foremost was my hatred of change. This had been going on for some time. I suppose change increased my feelings of insignificance and nothingness as well as bringing with it distressing situations. I hated photographs, not only because I believed I looked fat and ugly in them but also because they highlighted change. I’d look at the photos carefully and see things in people that I hadn’t been aware of previously. I’d feel awful and sometimes cry for not having appreciated these people at the time for all they had been and had to face in their lives. Change really was terrible.
I had to fight with the idea that I was trying to be Perfect before I was able to actively do small things for myself. It was a difficult struggle. While the concept was understandable, the idea seemed quiet ridiculous. I realized too I was selfless, even though for so long that seemed alien to my self-perception of being selfish.
I struggled with these ideas and as I became a little more confident, I started to do things for myself, began to define my own boundaries, started recognising my own worth, etc. These boundaries were strengthened each time I ‘broke a secret’ and told someone about my experiences. Placing my experiences outside myself made the concrete and real. Once they existed, it was more difficult to doubt them. Anorexia thrives on confusion and secrets. Often in telling people about my experiences, I felt overexposed and retreated in desperation.
In some respects, writing things down, reading them, breaking secrets,etc., were all ways of legitimising my own experiences. This, in effect, played a major role towards my self-empowerment. That is, anorexia often use ¯d to contradict me, discounting my experiences as either unimportant or unreal. Sometimes, as a result of this, I felt as if I was made from a whole lot of separate parts, each contradicting the other. When so many contradictory and parallel positions all seemed justifiable and sensible, I was unable to make up my own mind or do things for myself. Conversations would go on and on in my head, endlessly arguing each point of view. It was as if all the logic and reasonableness turned into a tangled mess. It was then I realized that I lost touch with how I felt and what I wanted. The more I tried to untangle the mess, the worse it became. Perhaps I was too busy trying to be reasonable. Legitimising my own experience helped put the parts together, giving my my being substance and with substance, I had personal power.
Overpowering anorexia came in waves. Low periods, when I felt miserable and sometimes felt nothing without knowing, why, were followed by equally intense high periods. I started to like myself and felt increasingly confident – which was a good feeling – but in waves. I think perhaps this may have been related to a continual struggle between what anorexia had in mind for me and my efforts to discover what I wanted and needed rather than what other people wanted and needed. Overpower anorexia was difficult but in the long term, it has been an enjoyable process of discovering myself. It has been the foundations for learning so much more than some people will ever learn. The foundations are strong and at present this process seems self-perpetuating. Once I was a person with weak and shallow boundaries but now I am a woman of ever increasing substance.