I am going to write what will probably be one of the most personal blog entries I will ever do. In some ways I suppose you could say this is a sequel to the very first blog entry I ever wrote, which was entitled “Libero” (which means “Free”).
For those of you who do not recognize the title “I’m OK”, let me first explain. This title was inspired by a song written and performed by Christina Aguilera. Christina Aguilera grew up in a home with domestic violence; her father was very abusive to both her and her mother until finally her mother found the courage and the strength to leave. Christina often talks about her experience; however, the song “I’m OK” is one that she has only ever performed one time (on VH1 storytellers) and this is because of how deeply it goes into her experiences and how they affected her life. I remember watching a TV special for her album Stripped and saw her record this song for the album; unable to stand, she lay flat on the floor and recorded it, her voice cracking as she sang. Christina stripped herself, she went raw, she went organic, and she opened herself up for the world to see inside for just a moment – she shared her story. And that is what I’m about to do.
Forgive me if there are grammatical errors or if this is not the smoothest or best flowing piece of writing – it is something that I typed out in one sitting and did not feel the need or desire to read through it over and over in an attempt to ‘perfect’ it – I simply wanted to get the words out there so I would never have to go through them again.
When I think about my story I realize that I too experienced a period in my life when I was in an abusive home – the only difference is that in my case, I was the abuser as well as the abused.
I remember how it all began – the first day I chose to deny myself food. I knew what I was getting into, I knew where it would lead, but I didn’t care. As the abused, it was like receiving the first hit and thinking it was just a one-time thing and it won’t happen again; but as the abuser, I was surprised by my own power and I hated myself for it, so I started down the path of self-destruction.
I still remember how it felt, lying in bed at night, crying, aching from the pain, and attempting to numb one pain by creating another. I would focus so hard, with such intensity, such desperation, as I watched my fingernail dig into the soft flesh on my arm and then I’d drag it, producing a sharp sting – the external pain was far easier to manage than the pain I felt on the inside. However, with each cut came more guilt, more shame, and then more reasons to continue ‘numbing’.
That was my nightlife. During the day, every moment was scheduled out and based around avoiding food as much as possible. I remember exercising each morning in our gym at home, pushing myself so hard that I would finally break down into tears of pain and fatigue. My stomach would be burning for nourishment, but I would ignore it – unless I was feeling weak, then I would give in and let it have half an apple or maybe a small salad, feeling guilty the whole time.
I remember the fear every time I would pull out the scale to weigh myself and the tape measure to measure how close I was to the ‘perfect’ size – this happened as many as six times a day, usually weighing myself three times with each session to be sure and get accurate results (really I was just hoping it would go down ¼ of a pound or so).
My life was about restricting food, weighing and measuring, and using sweaters and long-sleeve shirts (though out of season) to hide the marks on my arms. I was a master at keeping secrets; I was a master of disguise.
And there was a guilt that was rooted in so deep, a guilt that originated from a question no one could answer: I was starving myself in a place where people were dying of starvation, so what kind of person does that make me?
How could I live with myself? Well, that’s just it; I couldn’t.
Didn’t anyone notice I was a slave? Didn’t anyone notice I was being abused? I suppose that’s the problem with living a secret: nobody can save you from yourself because nobody knows.
I moved back to Canada and the self-punishment continued. I was eating more but not exercising any less and I would still go through periods where I’d restrict as much as I could.
I remember crying in anger and disgust as I stared at my body in the mirror, hating the way I looked, seeing an image that wasn’t even real. I’d throw things, cry out, and swear I’d try harder to make myself ‘perfect’.
I was just a kid. I was being so hard on myself, enduring so much pain, but I was only a kid…
And I was a victim of hatred every day.
I started living healthier, but deep down I was still not alright. Deep down I was still a slave, I was still living in guilt and I was ashamed of all I had done to myself. I felt alone and trapped inside a cage with my abusive mind and, like in the worst nightmares, no one could hear me screaming for help.
I would go in and out of healthy phases, but never being healthy inside. And then, just when I thought the abuse was over, I discovered a new weapon: Bulimia.
I remember the uncontrollable binges as I would stand in the kitchen, ravenous, grasping for any and everything I could get my hands on, and stuffing it into my tired body. And then, like a ritual, I would stumble to the bathroom, shove my finger down my throat, and then go through the cycle again – sometimes 3 or 4 times in one night; each time swearing it was the last time.
My home became my prison. I would march there at the end of each day, knowing exactly what was about to happen, what I was about to do, and like a captive being forced through consistent torture I would give in to the abuser in my head and wearily accept the pain, almost numb to it.
I still can feel it sometimes when I think back to those days – the raw, scraped throat, the burning in my stomach, the puffy bloodshot eyes – my cuts and bruises. And I would try to hide them because I didn’t want people to know. I was afraid of what my dark-side would do to myself if I let them find out, surely it would only make it worse. So once again I lived in secret, slinking around in the shadows, hoping to go unnoticed.
And then one day, a miracle.
I had had enough of the abuse and I knew I had two options: get out, or die. And so I mustered up the strength and courage and I reached out to people – I exposed my inner abuser and let people in to help me conquer it.
And eventually, I was free.
It was a battle, and each step required strength and courage that very often I couldn’t even find without the help of others. But in the end, I made it through and I came out stronger – far stronger than I ever imagined I could be. And yes, I still think about it sometimes, I still remember it, there are still vivid images engrained in my memory of the cuts, the exposed ribs, and kneeling on the bathroom floor – but that is all that these are: memories; they are no longer my reality.
Will it hurt forever? I don’t know. I don’t think that it will be like Christina where “the pain remains the same” but I will always remember what happened.
And now, as I sit here on the floor, reflecting back on what I went through, I can spread hope by sharing that “Every morning that I wake, I look back at yesterday…and I’m OK.”
? Lauren Bersaglio
Watch Christina Aguilera’s only live performance of I’m OK here: