Thursday 30 August 2012

London in the early 1980s...

Back to my story. I think if I hadn't been "saved" by getting in with the new crowd at school, just before the upper sixth form in 1976, and by the PHAB group, any disordered eating might have got worse. I know I did have to work pretty hard at maintaining my new low weight over the next few years and I know that, especially at uni, I avoided certain social situations where food was involved. I always felt guilty when I ate too much and always hated myself when I put on a bit of weight. There was a problem in the last two years at uni, too.

I had a new boyfriend who I stayed with for two years. He was very controlling and insisted I stay thin, so there was a lot of pressure to do so in order for me to keep him.

I am sure he had a problem with food, too. Well I know he had a problem with food... He came from a family that would only eat meat - and I mean only eat meat. No vegetables, nothing. He himself would only eat a very limited range of foods and always had to eat a special, very plain meal whenever we dined out. I used to have to be very careful whenever I made him a meal. Once I made the mistake of putting onions into spaghetti bolognaise and he threw the contents of the plate at me.

He was controlling in other ways, too, especially sexually. Which is why, despite the fact we got engaged on my 21st birthday, I eventually plucked up the courage to ditch him.

In 1983 I moved to London. It was the last great recession and it was the only way I could get a job. I hated London and with it came the echoes of any old disordered eating as a means of coping with the unhappiness and feelings of isolation.

I can't actually remember ever cooking a proper meal for myself in London, although I'm sure I did. Then I began to go out with this bloke and felt settled enough to eat normally. I put on weight, but then he ditched me. For the next few months I lived on nothing but cup-a-soups. People remarked on how much weight I'd lost, especially this other bloke (who I'll call Steve) who I began a curious relationship with - really just sleeping with him. I slept with quite a few others, too, most of whom had long-standing girlfriends. I didn't feel I was "good enough" to have a proper boyfriend.

Steve was mysterious and exciting. One moment he was there and the next moment he was rushing off on some unspecified mission. He came from a wealthy background and was thin and gaunt-looking which - to me - gave him a kind of romantic 19th century poet type of air. He frequented the weird nightclubs in London - the sort where they wouldn't let you in unless you looked over-the-top. This prompted the start of my "goth" era when I dyed my hair jet black and went off the rails, fashion and makeup-wise. It also prompted me to keep my food intake to the bare minimum.

One day I discovered that Steve was a minor drug dealer. He moved in the kind of circles you can imagine he moved in... Rich kids who vacantly partied their lives away. He warned me not to take anything of value to these parties in case it was stolen to pay for drugs. In a warped kind of way I felt this was kind of glamorous and I was besotted with Steve - until he emigrated and I was left alone again. A few years ago I found the detailed diaries I'd written about our relationship. I shredded them. Every page. I couldn't bear to read them and I certainly never wanted Ben to read them.

London got worse. Then one day when I got off the bus after another bland night out I popped into the fish-n-chip shop and bought a tonne of stuff - enough for at least two people. I ate it all mindlessly on the 20 minute walk home up the dark streets. Once inside the flat, I locked myself in the bathroom and vomited it all up. The relief I felt was huge - all that angst and unhappiness evaporated for a few moments as I flushed the food down the pan.

It was a Eureka moment for me. Stuffing my face with food made me feel better - it was a fantastic way to numb all the unhappiness and angst going on in my mind. And now I'd discovered a way I could do this without putting on any weight. A disgusting way, yes, and - boy - was I disgusted with my new filthy habit. But it meant I could have my cake and eat it, so to speak.

Then, one night, on that 20 minute walk home up those dark streets I was attacked and robbed - punched to the ground by two blokes and left. After that I made up my mind to leave London.

Another night at a club in Camden, a bloke began to chat me up. He wouldn't take no for an answer. I wasn't really interested, I didn't find him at all attractive, but - due to pressure - I agreed to meet him for a date. I should have been more forceful in saying no.

He picked me up from my flat and we drove to a pub near his home in North East London. Silly me, letting a stranger do that, but that's the way I was in those days. I really didn't give a damn what happened to me and I took risks. My state of mind was kind of like - well if I die, so what? I felt worthless. I kick myself for it now.

Instead of driving me back to my flat afterwards he drove me to his, miles away from my own flat in an area I was unfamiliar with. He asked me if I'd like a coffee. I asked him if he'd take me home. In the end, because he wasn't budging, I agreed to go in for a coffee.

He never did take me home. He made it clear he had no intention of taking me home. And he coerced me into having sex with him against my will. Totally against my will. I remember he had a huge scar on his stomach. I remember my disgust and revulsion at that - at everything. He made my skin crawl.

He promised me he'd take me home the next morning. I just lay there in silence and waited for dawn. Crazily the next day he acted as if nothing had happened... as if we were a normal boy and girl who'd just met each other and mutually made love. He made it clear he was mad about me and wanted to see me again.

I never forgot that night. But - also crazily - I never told anyone about it. I felt as if it was my fault. I shouldn't have let him drive me to that pub. I should have fought harder to get him to take me home - or just run away. It was in the days before mobile phones but I could still have used his phone and dialled for the help, surely? But I didn't. I blamed myself completely and knew no-one would take me seriously, especially if they looked at my track record of one-night stands in London.

I began to plan my move back up North. My sister was a massive help and found me a room in one of her friend's houses where I could live until I found something more permanent. Meanwhile that bloke wouldn't leave me alone, calling me morning, noon and night. Curiously I decided to use him as he'd used me - I asked him to drive me and all my belongings back up North on the day I left London. Once back home, I thanked my "removal man" and sent him packing. I never spoke to him again.

So that was London. It was now 1986 and I was back in Leeds.

(And that's all for now...)


  1. Rather fittingly, on my FB feed your blog post appears just above this article that one of my other friends posted -

    You know Batty, I relate far more to your story than I did to Ben's. I was bullied at school, went through periods of bingeing and starving rather than settling into anorexia straight away, was raped in a way which involved coercion rather than force and left me feeling traumatised but also horribly ashamed at my 'naivety' - as if knowledge and insight are any defence against people determined to take being an asshole to a criminal level. I'm so glad you got out of London, away from those men and ended up with your husband and Ben. Just because no professional (or even police officer - they were no use to me either) ever validated the fact that your younger self had an eating disorder, possibly depression, and had been appallingly mistreated by some of the people in your life, doesn't make it any less true.

    Just wanted to let you know that I've been reading and kind of want to invent time travel just so I can go back to the eighties and give you a hug. I was born in 1984 - it's strange to think that people can have such similar experiences separated by decades. Common sense, but still strange.

  2. Katie, thanks, I soooo appreciate your comment... And thanks for the hug. Just think, most of this was happening when you were a tiny baby! It makes me feel so old!

    OMG, Katie, that blog you've sent me a link to... "Penetrating in your sleep..." That is what I meant by sexual control by the bloke I eventually got engaged to. And I caught an STD - the kind you can only catch off your partner - when I was being 100% faithful. But I was too naive to realise that (a) penetration in your sleep, night after night, is both weird and wrong, and (b) he must have caught his STD from somewhere... I believed him when he said it was like Thrush i.e. it "occurs naturally".

    Oh and I forgot to mention (c): the fact that he continued to penetrate me in my sleep, and when awake (against my will), when I was in excruciating pain from what the STD was doing to "that" part of me.

    (PS Thankfully I got rid of the STD)