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A Diet of Abuse

Cynthia Morton is a very attractive, articulate, confident, forty-something mother of two boys. She is an accomplished radio and TV presenter, public speaker and author. She is also a recovered drug and alcohol addict, with many deep scars from years of sexual and substance abuse. Yet despite this - or perhaps because of it - Cynthia has developed a program that has helped herself and many others become Emotionally Fit, or in Cynthia’s words, “to be unafraid of being yourself - warts and all”. I had a favourite spot in the backyard under a tree. It was my spot. Like the shape a mattress takes on after being slept on for years, this area of lawn in the backyard cradled my body every time I lay there - Mother Earth seemed to be holding me in her bare hands.

I was not yet school age, so I was probably around four years old, when I found this magical place that no one else knew about. It was like an imaginary friend. I would spend time with it and nobody knew what I was really doing. They could not see the magic. Only I understood the secret treasures this area of the earth held.

I always waited until after lunch, that was the perfect time. The sun was just in the right place and would draw me out into the backyard like a huge magnet in the sky. I rarely wore shoes around home and just loved the soft texture of the grassy earth kissing the soles of my feet.

I would check no one was watching and then tiptoe over to my spot. The grass around the area that I lay on had a special pattern. As I lowered my small body back onto the earth and then rested my little head, I felt like I was an astronaut getting ready for take off. I would place my arms, palms down, either side of me as if my hands were connecting with Mother Earth’s cool palms. I held onto her grassy fingers and felt like she was welcoming me home. I would close my eyes and take a deep breath. Sometimes tears rolled down my cheeks – I did not know why, but I liked the gentle tickle of the salty tears as they rolled into my ear. It gave me a feeling of gentle pleasure.

I would become aware of the heaviness in my body – the bruises and the throbbing heat that came from my pubic bone. I didn’t like living inside this shell. I wished I was a sparrow so I could fly away.

The Crash Diet

I could smell the rich chocolate earth and the clean air that the tree above me provided. I became aware of the lingering taste of my peanut butter sandwich that I had just washed down with a glass of milk. I would lie there for quite some time, allowing my senses to converse with Mother Nature. If I listened to her long enough, she would take the throbbing pain away from me. She drained away all the confusion in my head and replaced it with a sense of peace – then I would open my eyes…

Time in the backyard grounded me. I lay on Mother Earth as a child whenever I felt afraid or overwhelmed.

I remember one night – I think it was Christmas or New Year’s Eve – when I had been babysat at the next-door neighbour’s house. He was a very cruel paedophile. He had hurt me badly before he put me to bed. My little body was very sore. I was awoken out of a deep sleep by the over-powering smell of alcohol.

“Come on, time to go, hold onto Dad’, my father slurred. As we walked through the neighbour’s dark house and out the front door, I could hear music in the street – other neighbours were having parties.

“You can walk home from here, can’t you? Dad’s just going to visit Keith and have a drink with him. Tell Mummy I won’t be long. I’ll come and tuck you in later,” he said as he tapped me on the bottom.

My eyes filled with tears as he disappeared inside a door further down the street. I was in a daze and upset. I knew that when he came back to tuck me in, he would be drunker, and it was the worst sort of tuck-in when he was drunk. My little body was already throbbing with pain.

It was a beautiful, balmy summer’s night. I lay myself down on the cool front lawn. My thin cotton pyjamas let the coolness of the night’s earth comfort my skin. I lay there very still and looked up at the night sky. The stars were beautiful. Hot tears filled my eyes. I blinked and they rolled silently down my face. Mother Nature was smiling at me with her starry eyes. She knew everything that was happening; she loved me and calmed me with her presence. I became sleepy and curled up into a ball. She cuddled me with the soft earth. She would get me through the night, I knew it.

The Crash Diet

At a young age, Cynthia began to abuse her body, and would let others abuse it too. She found herself repeating destructive patterns that were sabotaging her adult relationships. After 19 years of substance abuse, she hit rock-bottom. “Even through the fog of drugs and alcohol, I knew I had to get to the bottom of my pain.”

I was wedged between the wardrobe and the wall, holding onto my knees in an attempt to comfort myself. I wanted to feel held, but did not want human touch. Anyone who tried to touch me in a caring way seemed to cause me emotional pain. It was like disinfectant on a wound. It hurt. The pale blue hospital gown that was tied up at the back was pulled over my knees. I had been staring for hours at its linen pattern, that was soaked in my tears and snot, as if it was the only thing that existed in the world.

I was in a psychiatric hospital, again. I had been in a place like this before at age 16, after my first suicide attempt. I remember being so angry then, when I woke up in intensive care, because I was still alive. Now I am 34.

There was a knock at the door. It broke my staring trance. I unwedged myself from the wardrobe’s embrace, wiped my nose and quickly got back into bed. The shrink entered. “Hi, my name is Mal. How are you feeling?”, he asked in a gentle, but professional, way.

Just great,” I replied sarcastically, challenging him as I gave him a bitchy smile. “I’m in the loony bin, I could easily lose custody of my two kids being in here, I’m going insane, but I’m clean and sober and look where it’s got me. Yep, life’s just great!”

“I was abused by my dad and the man next door. We were beaten as kids, and so was my mother. Dad was an alcoholic, Mum has a serious drinking problem, and my sister uses religion like I use drugs and alcohol and is convinced that I’m just possessed by the devil and if I don’t wear earrings and the kids stop watching The Simpsons, I will be just fine. I can’t have sex because I have anxiety fits and flashbacks to all the hideous childhood stuff, and these flashbacks are starting to happen while I’m doing the food shopping. I’m living with a guy who is trying to love me and I feel like I’m wrapped in barbed wire and any time he tries to touch me, it hurts me and him. I am paranoid about my weight and my hair and obsess about not being good enough. My kids don’t know what’s wrong with me and I feel insane, so the question is, can you fix me?” I demanded, without drawing breath, believing he would put me in the too hard basket and assign me to someone else.

“You are not insane; you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of your history. You are no different from a Vietnam vet who has seen too much trauma and who, after returning from war, runs for a bunker any time he hears a news helicopter in the sky. It’s like you have undetonated land mines in your mind. We need to disarm them. It will take time. I don’t think you need medication, but I do think you need to get back to your kids and get back into your life. You don’t need to be in here – it’s doing more harm than good. I will need to see you at least once a week. You need to give this process at least five to seven years, but it can be done,” he said calmly and respectfully.

“Five years – I’ll be an old woman, I’ll be nearly 40.”

“Well, your alternative is to continue living like this. It’s up to you how committed you are,” he answered matter-of-factly.

In Training

I am now almost 41. I have been working with my personal trainer, Mal, for six years. I have not had any PTSD episodes for two years. My emotional history was tripping me up because I did not know how to deal with it. Now I do.

Like any fitness program, you need to determine what your goals are and identify your weaknesses. You develop a specific program with a variety of exercises to reach those goals with your weaknesses in mind. You then try to stick to it as much as possible, although you know some weeks you’ll do better than others. Like physical fitness, emotional fitness takes time to develop and certain exercises will stretch you. Start slow, warm up, and then build the intensity as you are mentally able. Like physical fitness, if you want results, you will need to work at it and practise daily.