The (Anorexic) Bluffer’s Guide to Self-Analysis (Part 2: this message will self-destruct in 30 seconds)

My introduction to sexuality was slightly unorthodox, though, god knows, it’s common enough. Kids experiment. It’s all new and unfamiliar and you don’t get it quite right. It did me no harm but it may have left me with a misguided sense of what was appropriate. I wasn’t properly trained. I couldn’t easily identify the borderlands of the unacceptable.

It seemed to me that sexual urges were largely independent of wider social expectations and obligations. That had been my experience. Sexual activity could be a gesture of affection and tenderness, a token of regard, and might, perhaps, hopefully, be the beginning of a meaningful, monogamous romantic relationship. Or it might not, and that was ok. It had its own rewards.

I became properly sexually active at university. The British, especially the English, seemed thrillingly at ease with full-blown, actual sex, rather than the clumsy, late-night after-party frottage-between-friends that I grew up with, and I misjudged things. It seemed impolite and ungrateful not to have sex with someone if we got on, and they wanted to. I needed demonstrations of tenderness, and sex meant you were close to each other and important to each other, at least for that while. And who knew, maybe it would blossom into a passionate love? I used to check whether people wanted to go to bed with me. If not, that was fine. No harm done. But I might check again, on another occasion, to see if they felt differently today. I thought desire might not be admitted to, might need to be coaxed out. I didn’t think my presence had enough weight for my suggestions to be an imposition.

But sexuality, in any society, is fiercely policed, presumably because it is so wayward and urgent a drive. It can be so easily taken advantage of, so easily forced on people. Unwanted attentions are an invasion. Dating was still quite patriarchal and unwanted male advances were perhaps more troubling than I realised.

Whatever the reason, by the time I’d worked out my error, and changed my behaviour, I’d been kind of pushy, a bit of a pest…It was an ignominious reputation to have…

I added this to other causes of shame. Some urges and memories I’d brought with me from home and some I’d newly acquired. We were an emotional and intemperate bunch of undergraduates, liberated by booze and weed, and there was anger and vindictiveness and selfish cruelty and callous neglect and thoughtlessness and cowardice and lack of self-control and lots and lots of attention-seeking to be hidden or suppressed. They felt like betrayals of self. I was disappointed. I’d hoped to be a much better person.

Anorexia makes you literally and figuratively thin-skinned. Not only do you eat your own sub-cutaneous fat, you become hypersensitive, emotionally. You find yourself shaken by paroxysms of cringe. Everything matters too much. You have no resilience, are completely unforgiving. These thoughts undermine my sense of my own integrity, because they disrupt the coherent, controlled and knowable moral character I am trying to construct in the conscious stratum close to the surface of my memory. They challenge that character’s probity. They fragment me.

I avoid confronting them, but they ambush me, still, in unguarded moments, my worst transgressions transformed into intrusive thoughts. I find myself whimpering aloud, “no, no, not me…I didn’t mean…I’m sorry…” That mad guy you saw shambling down the street gesticulating and muttering to himself? That was probably me.

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