It’s right there, on their website under Our Beliefs. “The sinfulness and guilt of all mankind, rendering them subject to God’s wrath and condemnation”.
One thing I will say is that they lived up to their own expectations.
This is one experience I don’t truly understand, even as an adult.
Gone was the bookish girl, living with her head in the Faraway Tree, devouring the words of Enid Blyton and dreaming of being a veterinarian. Replaced with doubt, fear, anger and the realization that there are many who will happily abuse their positions of power.
I started to view those around me with caution. All would not always be as it would seem and I learnt very quickly how to perform, to hide the real me, grow a tougher outer skin and ‘fit in’ as best I could.
In the last few years, I had an opportunity to confront one of those I mention here. Instead of providing the resolution I thought that would bring, it only stirred up more bitterness inside of me. Confrontation doesn’t always provide the outcome you hope for… but I’m still glad I spoke up.
With my family’s blessing I start to write, to talk about what happened during a decade of my life. Not because I think that my story is unique, but because I know it is not. There is much worse out there than the memories I keep. I will not bare it all. I don’t need to. I’ll say what I feel needs to be said.
Silence is what lets those who abuse power continue to do so. There are a million lessons I take from this memory but perhaps the most prevalent is that not all who carry a title such as teacher, policeman, priest, a title with the safety and authority it implies, deserve to do so.
*These memories for me are like an advent calendar. Windows that I can open, press rewind and close again. I simply sit and type what I remember as it was. Heavily edited, these are the moments that I believe may be worth sharing.
*At no time in my life, have I ever suffered from any type of eating disorder. Anorexia and Bulimia are serious life-threatening conditions that should not be taken lightly. I believe in empowering other women – the skinny minni’s, the voluptuous hunnis and every other shape that falls in between. Your ideal weight is what comes when you’re healthy. There is no such thing as a ‘real woman’, if being implied that one size fits all. That saying is not a badge of honour, rather it’s just a flag waved as part of a perceived competition driven by insecurity. A ‘real woman’ is simply someone who is happy, healthy and active. Regardless of the size of her knickers.
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall
This wasn’t the first time I’d sat with a smile plastered on my face, my expression locked into the ‘correct’ mode indicating that I was listening, yet pretending I was in a place far, far away.
“No, I’m sure, 100% she’s fine. She’s just tiny for her age”. God how I hated those words. Anorexia. Bulimia. I knew exactly what they were, everyone knew. But why were they being discussed with me?
If I wasn’t so humiliated and angry, it would have been laughable. Hysterical. But the damage had been done and there was nothing I could do to reverse it.
Here I sat. Again. Words sounding like they were underwater all around me as I tried to drown them out, my attempts to convince myself that I was anywhere but here being mistaken for arrogance. Far from arrogant, I just wanted to be left alone.
My mother kept darting her eyes at me, concern evident on her face. As she and the doctor spoke at length, dissecting every aspect of my body image, I realized I was beginning to get used to people treating me as if I wasn’t there.
I watched her face begin to darken. I knew she was realising the bullshit story she’d been hand fed, the same story everyone else had been, though thankfully, she wasn’t buying it. Yes – Get angry. Fight for me. Don’t let them get away with this!
“That’s it! I’ve had it! This is just not happening anymore…!” She was furious. For a split second, relief began to flood through me. But as I thought about what I had to face back there, dread quickly crept back in.
No-one cared about the truth. I knew that from day one.
Eleven years old. My first trip away from home on a Year 7 trip to Sydney and Canberra, what was meant to be the pinnacle of my primary school years had been anything but.
It began with butter. As stupid as that sounds. It began with a big slab of fat, greasy, vomit inducing butter. I’d never eaten it. I’d never been a huge dairy fan – milk, butter, cream… just the smell of it could make me gag.
The first stop across the Nullarbor, they handed me a sandwich packed into a sweaty plastic wrap, slathered thick with butter.
I didn’t say anything. I just put the sandwich to the side and munched on my apple. Mum had packed me a whole bunch of goodies anyway so if I got hungry, I could just start on those.
She sat next to me. “What’s wrong with your sandwich?”. I blushed. Shit…
“Ahhhh – I can’t really eat that, I’m not really able to eat butter”. I just kept looking at the ground.
“Are you allergic?”
“Then I need you to eat it”.
I started to sweat and just kept looking at the floor. Please just go away. I did try to explain, blushing, sweating, stammering while all eyes were on me. I knew I had no choice.
My throat gagging and stomach clenching, I did as she asked. After this, I’ll just try to lie low. Get them to leave me alone.
“Rebecca, we need to see you”. What had I done now?
“It’s come to our attention that you suffer from Bulimia”. You’re kidding right? Don’t people who have bulimia throw up? Why would they think that?
“I, no, I, um, I…”
“We need you to go to your room, pack your bag, bring everything in here”. Was I going home?
“These snacks, you can’t have them. We are here to help you. We’ve spoken to your parents and they’re just as worried as we are. You’ll be chaperoned from here. You’re not able to stay in the room with your friends, you’ll sleep on the floor in our room…”
What? Why? Can they do that? This was a joke right? “No..I… but my mum gave me those…”
“REBECCA!!!” My eyes dropped to the floor. Just do as they say. Mum and Dad know. They know about this… I have to speak to them, oh my God, they must be worried sick.
I wake up on the floor the next morning and only one of them is there. I must be late, I feel so confused. Maybe this can all be sorted out today, we’re off to the Blue Mountains to see the snow. Afterwards… it’ll be ok.
Down to breakfast, I go to sit with my friends. “Rebecca, no, over here. You sit here with us”. My friends look at me confused and I long for the safety of being alone with them, to talk it over and figure it out. But they won’t let me out of their sight.
I go back to get my bag and gather my things for the day. “Sorry, Rebecca, you’re not going, you have to stay back here”. I start to feel fury rise up inside – you can’t do this you bitch, my Mum and Dad paid for this trip! “I…” They both look up at me, my eyes drop back down to the floor. I spend an awful lot of time waiting in their room… waiting…
Everyone is getting ready to go. Two of my friends grab me in the hallway – “Do you actually really have a disease? What is it, How did you get it, Are you sick?”
What the actual hell? No!
I’d missed a ‘special meeting’. Everyone had been informed of my condition, if I vomited, they were to inform the teachers straight away.
I begged the ground to swallow me up. Or to wake up, see my mum.. anything!
Diseased. Attention-seeker. Bull-shitter. Messed-up. I had been well and truly labeled and separated from the herd.
I was allowed to call home, but not alone. Never alone. They spoke first. “She’s in good hands and when we got home, we can get her anorexia under control”.
I jumped, looked up – ANOREXIA!
I clearly wasn’t bulimic, no, they can’t get anyone to come forward to say I was vomiting so instead, just replace it with anorexia! A completely different fabricated diagnosis.
My discomfort and shyness started to be replaced with pure hatred for these people. But one word and they’d send me home. And I couldn’t go home.
My parents had spent every dollar they had to get me onto this trip and it had been made clear to us before departure that should we need to return unexpectedly, we’d be flown home at a personal expense. They could never afford it. I couldn’t do it to them. So I just put up and shut up.
I knew what they’d done to my brother. I wasn’t like him. I had tried so hard to be good, to be perfect, yet they’d had it in for me from the start. And my family. Why.. I only had the reasons my immature mind could imagine. This wasn’t from a place of love, it wasn’t from concern. This was just messed up.
Maybe it was the fact that following one ‘incident’, after finding out, my Dad had gone door to door through the school looking for the teacher responsible, found him and chased him through the school grounds to the cheers all the students.
Good thing he ran fast, my Dad would have beaten the crap out of him if he’d gotten him. But nothing could come of it, they protected their own.
They hated us and at every opportunity had made it very clear to me that the apple never fell far from the tree.
“I’m fine mum” They glared at me. “I’ll… um… we’ll get help when I come back home. I love you”. I couldn’t stand the pain I heard in her voice. Fury grew inside of me. But the damage was done. I could hate these people all I wanted to but I could not change what everyone thought of me now.
The next week and a half was a blur. I kept my mouth shut and did exactly as I was told. Every moment, every bite of food, every moment I slept, every trip to the toilet was watched. “No… leave the door open”. All privacy was removed. And every shred of immature dignity along with it.
I hated these people more than anything. I couldn’t understand why this was happening. Humiliated, degraded and frightened, yet shaking with anger inside, I just went through every day doing my best not to make a fuss.
Returning to Perth, the rumours flew. How could I explain what had happened when I didn’t even understand it myself.
One day I had enough. Close to the end of the school year, I turned and walked out. And I never went back.
About a year later, we had a phone call. My parents spoke at length and then let me know that there had been an offer to make a public apology in front of the school and clear the air. You. Are. Kidding.
I was already in a new school, far, far removed from what had taken place the previous year and the rage bubbled up once more.
“They can go and fuck themselves”.
I stared my parents down, defiant, ready to be grounded or even slapped for my uncharacteristic outburst, but instead, they just stood there for a moment, looking at me, then smiled, turned and went back out to make the call.