I will forever be grateful for the love and support shown to me after sharing a dark side to my story at the end of last year. The words of encouragement and the anger many expressed touched my heart, but what overwhelmed me the most were the number of women who sent me private messages, e-mails, and texts to share their own stories.
Rape is not something you want to have in common with another person. I was overwhelmed by the number of friends and readers who related to my story in one way or another and it hurt my soul. It hurt to know how many other people have hurt the way I have hurt. Who carry with them the weight of what happened to them. Some figuratively and some literally.
Sharing my story revealed just how many people live in pain and it got me thinking about how I coped with the pain in the months and years that followed my rape and excommunication from the church I grew up in. Food had always been a comfort to me, but after college I learned to find comfort in true friendships, physical wellness, and a fulfilling career. I found myself over the course of my year working at Dartmouth, lost 50+ pounds, and truly stopped turning to food when I was bored, lonely, sad, in pain, depressed, or upset.
After years of joy, and despite the new coping mechanisms I had held onto, after that dreaded night in 2009 I didn’t know what to turn to. I was lost, trapped, and felt alone. Despite losing 50+ pounds years prior and maintaining that weight loss for multiple years, I turned to food for comfort and slowly gained back the weight I had lost. It didn’t happen all at once, but I slowly lost the habits I had created and returned to eating out of emotion and eating far more processed food and carbs than I had in years.
As I dealt with the pain from what had happened to me, I tried to regain control of my eating and to lose the weight I had gained. Not only was I a different person on the inside, but I had become a different person on the outside too. I tried to do exactly what I had done back in 2006 to lose weight when I changed my lifestyle, but everything was different. Weight loss didn’t work. It didn’t work because I was in pain. It didn’t work because I didn’t know how to face what had happened to me. It didn’t work because food continued to be a comfort in my darkest of times. The steps needed to lose my excess weight hadn’t changed, but my environment, support system, motivation, and desire had changed. It was easier to blame the diet than to recognize the pain I was in and the support I needed to move away from that pain.
Losing the weight in those years that followed my rape wasn’t about creating a new and healthier lifestyle, but instead was my attempt to return to where I was before that dreaded April night, without having to face what had really happened to me. My weight gain and my obesity were the result of my pain and my choice to use food as a comfort day after day.
There is often a heavy story behind obesity. A reason why someone has turned to food for comfort. I often find that our society assumes that all obese men and women are obese because they choose to be obese. That obese men and women are obese because they eat junk food, don’t workout, and eat far more food than their body needs because they have no self-control. While every person is different, and I am by no means trying to imply that all who battle weight gain are dealing with a deep dark past, but I can’t help but think about the pain that causes one to eat beyond control. The pain that leads to using food as a comfort. The pain that leads to obesity.
I’ve said for a long time that I feel like the stars have to align in order to change your lifestyle and to lose excess weight, but I think it’s that one has to be ready to face exactly what got them to that point (pain or no pain), to decide that they will no longer use food as their comfort or to eat mindlessly, and that they will work day-by-day to make healthier choices for their holistic wellness. For years, I haven’t been ready. It took me seven and a half years to tell my story and I recognize that it’s taken me longer to let go of the comfort food provides in those moments of pain, stress, anxiety, and fear.
The past few years have opened my eyes to how many people have faced trauma of all kinds in their life and how many people keep that trauma to themselves. Many people are fighting to create a new lifestyle, to move on from their past, and to change. There is often a heavy story behind obesity and I hope all who eat to mask their pain know the support they can find through supportive family and friends, a loving community (church, gym, hobby group, etc.), and/or through mental health support (therapists, doctors, support groups). A diet will not take away your pain, but through healing and creating a new lifestyle, I truly believe all can find peace and reach a place where they are happy, healthy, and comforted.