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Survivor's Corner - Living with PTSD - Healing and Change are Always Possible

by Cassendre Xavier

For some reason, even though I've been in therapy since my early 20s, I only recently discovered, in my late 40s, that I don't have to live with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) forever.

Although I knew that veterans could be relieved of their symptoms, I considered theirs to be occasionally temporary, whereas my incest survivor-related trauma for some reason I thought was forever. I was used to calling myself an incest survivor with bipolar, PTSD, and an eating disorder, and I thought all of those would affect and negatively impact my life, for the rest of my life.

That was until my new therapist, who specializes in the areas of sexuality and trauma, said, "You know, PTSD isn't something that you need to have forever."

I answered, "Really?" I was so surprised. We have been working on that, and recently I also received an official psychiatric diagnosis of binge eating disorder. While I had always had the symptoms, I called it compulsive eating or compulsive overeating, and I had tried to address it with 12 Step support group meetings, raw foods, fasting, angel spirituality, mindfulness, exercise, and even Kundalini yoga. But I had never tried psychotherapy until a friend of mine suggested it. We were sitting in his dining area, about to eat some take out Chinese food, when I began to share, with some shame and annoyance, and also trust and friendship, why I was partaking in thrice the amount of food as he was. Very sweetly he asked, "Have you tried counseling for that?" I told him no, and that I would consider it. We were very open about our experiences in therapy and his suggestion seemed a smooth and natural progression of our conversation.

So, when I began working with my new therapist, I added my eating disorder to the main issues we would work on. So for the first time in my life, I am receiving professional help and financial support (by way of health insurance) to address this issue.
My binge eating disorder is related to all of my major issues. This includes the facts that women survivors of incest/sexual abuse often develop eating disorders, and women with bipolar disorder often develop eating disorders.

It would seem overwhelming to deal with all of these conditions and their daily, debilitating symptoms. But I learned something very hopeful: With the right helpers, tools, and resources, we can heal from almost any unhealthy patterns of behavior.
Recently my therapist told me the very same thing about my eating disorder that she said about my PTSD: that it isn't something I have to live with forever. Again, this was shocking to me!

I was always a compulsive overeater, I never ate normally, even when I was 100% raw vegan (for a whole 61 consecutive days!). I still ate too much, only instead of four bowls of pasta I ate four large mangoes or a big bowl of grapes, and the only difference was I didn't gain weight. I was still a disordered eater, still stretching out my stomach to the point of pain. And I still had many of the emotional/psychological features of living with an eating disorder, such as feelings of shame, eroded self-esteem, fractured or non-existent intimate relationships or close friendships.

But I don't have to be that way forever.

My therapist says that the way I eat is, "not about the food."

I don't even know what it will look like to be a person without an eating disorder. I don't recall ever knowing myself as one, and I didn't until recently even think that was even possible for me. But now that I have been making progress in my trauma work, and losing some hypervigilant behaviors I have had my whole life, I feel hopeful and expectant that I can and I will lose some similar unwanted behaviors around my food habits as well.

If you are struggling with an addiction or compulsive behavior that is negatively impacting your life, here are some things to consider:

1) Any behavior can be changed. Your behavior can change.
2) Anyone can change. You can change.
3) Anyone can be healed. You can be healed.
4) Find the right helpers. Consider all the options, and try every angle that appeals or resonates with you, from diet and fitness to alternative and holistic, spirituality, psychiatry and pharmaceuticals.

May you succeed in having all the support you need to learn new ways to be in your world, and begin behaving in new and positive ways, one little baby step (or quantum leap) at a time!

Cassendre Xavier is the founder of Sisters Healing Together: A Peer Support Group for Women Survivors of Incest with a Special Focus on Compulsive Overeating (William Way LGBT Community Center, Philadelphia 1996-1999). She is the author of A Survivor Speaks: On Bipolar Disorder, PTSD & Recovery (ARtivist Publications, 2017), contributing Author of Dykes with Baggage: The Lighter Side of Lesbians in Therapy, ed.
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