In my dreams you were holding me — your sweet child. You were loving from the outside looking in. You were protective.

I loved you unconditionally. Only as a child can. You were my hero and my idol and I wanted you to be proud of me.

In my dreams I would tell you my fears and my secrets and my thoughts and feelings and you would just love me and reassure me you would always be there, loving me back, unconditionally.

In my nightmares you were holding me and it hurt. It hurt physically: too hard, too much, too far, inappropriate. Touching my stomach and yours and saying I’d better watch out for fat. Your hand touching my preteen stomach — my fat — and I remember wanting to die but instead resolving to never eat.

My nightmares are real. They are exactly what happened. It isn’t merely a dream, it’s a valid memory.

But my eating disorder loves to tell me otherwise. That it was necessary behavior to save me from becoming grotesquely overweight. That no one would love or even like me—in fact, they already didn’t—with the way I looked and ate. It told me I had to hear hard truths and feel the (eating disorder distorted) reality of the stomach fat beneath my skin that was ruining my life. It told me my father’s behavior was love, and to keep seeking it.

I shudder when someone touches my stomach. My entire body goes into panic. I haven’t let my husband, whom I’ve been with for 13 years, intentionally touch my stomach ever, save for when I was very pregnant which felt like a different body altogether. Even at 103 pounds, I wouldn’t let him. Even when my logical eyes told me I was too thin, and my ribs were visible and my hip bones were pronounced, my stomach felt like a war zone. I feel unprotected there, it holds vacancy and terror. The terror of a child fearing abandonment if her stomach grew. To the point that I couldn’t wait to be an adult so I could get plastic surgery and have the fat removed from my abdomen. There wasn’t ever any extra fat there to begin with. I have purposely gone back to look at preteen pictures to verify. My eating disorder is an outrageous liar.

I have this fear today. Even thinking about someone touching my stomach brings pretty heavy anxiety pulsing through my veins. It is the only body part that elicits this intense response.

I have this response every single time I eat. Food entering my stomach makes me feel like I’m being touched there. And I often feel like it’s visible to everyone else—that the (irrational) growth of my stomach after every meal is witnessed by anyone near me and they will be able to see how awful I am. Sometimes the idea of eating sends me to this spot and more often, now, I have an actual trauma response to feeling full. It’s happened so many times and I’ve never been able to fully connect the dots until today.

I feel relieved to find another piece to the puzzle.

I also feel inspired and motivated to help this puzzle piece find peace. Against the raging eating disorder voice trying to shutdown my revelation in therapy today, I asked for what I think I need: safe (specific) touch. I don’t really know what that looks like and that makes it even more scary—but everything I’ve done in therapy that was terrifying turned out to be extremely healing.

So I chose terrifying today. Because I want wellness and peace and life and I believe my body needs to relearn safety in more ways, so I can live fully in all ways.

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