‘I ate bowls of sugar to repel men’
AS A little girl, my grandma was my best friend and I loved going to visit.
But while I was there, something weird would always happen. My grandfather - Dad's dad - would ask me to help him in his wood workshop. Then he'd touch me inappropriately and make me act out the pictures in adult magazines.
"It's because I love you so much," he'd say. "But don't tell anyone else as they wouldn't understand."
Other times, he'd wait until Grandma fell asleep then force me into another bedroom. Just a child, I was so confused. Then, when I was 12, I saw something on TV and realised I was being sexually abused. A week later, Mum and Dad told me my grandfather had cancer. And within a few months he was dead. I'm safe now, I thought.
But around the same time, the boys at school started paying me attention. "Why won't you kiss them?" my friends asked.
"Just because someone's into you, it doesn't mean you have to go with them," I shot back defensively. While all they wanted was a boyfriend, all I wanted was for boys to leave me alone. I bet if I was fat they wouldn't like me, I thought.
So at 13, I decided to start gaining weight. Once my family was in bed, I'd sneak into the pantry. I'm just protecting myself, I reasoned, scoffing biscuits, chips and bread. Piling on 20kg, the boys stopped pursuing me. As I relaxed, the weight dropped back off, but it didn't take much for me to feel scared again.
"You're cute," a guy said one day. What does he want from me? I panicked. Constantly worried, I started to binge again. I even ate bowls of sugar with lemon juice. As I ballooned, I felt like I could breathe again.
For years, my weight went up and down like that. Every time I felt abused, I abused myself. Then, when I was 25, I was at my friend Sharon's house when she introduced me to her brother, Michael. After she'd gone to bed, we sat up all night talking.
"I like you," he said. "Nothing's going to happen," I told him.
"You have to have my heart before you have my body."
I was surprised when Michael said he wanted to get to know everything about me. After a couple of months I opened up to him about what I'd been through.
"You're breaking my heart," he said, starting to cry. Over time, I realised I could trust him. We became a couple and had two sons, Oli and Joshua.
When Joshua was a year old, I'd had enough of being big. Stepping on the scales, I was horrified to see I weighed 110kg. The very next day, I bought an exercise bike and began to use it while watching TV. In six months I lost 50kg.
The only problem was my skin had become really loose. Doughy flesh hung from my thighs and boobs. And I had to tuck my floppy tummy into my underwear.
"What can I do about this?' I begged my doctor. "The only option is surgery," he said.
Doing some research I discovered a tummy tuck alone cost $11,000. There was no way I could spend that on myself, the kids came first. So I'd squish the crepe-like skin into leggings then wear pants over the top to try to hide the lumps. It chafed so badly, my skin became red raw and infected. Pus oozed from boils between my legs and I constantly needed antibiotics. By now I was 58kg, but I looked like I had the body of a 90-year-old. I should put the weight back on, I'd think. I'd be happier fat. But then I'd scold myself. At least I was healthy.
"I don't know how you can love me when I'm this hideous," I'd say to Michael. "I don't care how much it costs," he said one day. "Let's take out a loan. You need this operation to move forward."
So I went to a surgeon who suggested a reverse tummy tuck and breast implants. It wasn't for vanity, it was to improve our life as a family. So in March last year, I went under the knife. Then this January, I had my thighs done too.
At my last check-up, I burst into happy tears. Nothing rubbed and I was completely free of pain. A few weeks ago we went to the beach and as I played in the sand with the boys confidently, Michael was gazing at me.
"What?" I asked. "You're beautiful," he smiled. I want other survivors of abuse to know there's hope. My past made me who I am. I can say for the first time that I like who I am today.