Speaking to living with the intersection of Trauma/Type 2 Diabetes and Disordered Eating: Personal Sharing

 Today I am going to share my story of living with Type 2 Diabetes and some of the challenges and positive changes.  I also will speak to the intersection of trauma and its effects on living with a chronic illness and some of the ways in which I have built a foundation of resiliency.

 What I have sensed within the diabetes Community is that there is little discussion about the interconnection between trauma and diabetes. Research is revealing that trauma survivors have higher than average rates of serious illness including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and violence and it disconnected me from my body. Within the last 15 years I have seen a therapist that works from a body centered process (Sensorimotor psychotherapy and relational therapy) that takes in mindfulness training from a trauma informed therapy approach.  I had no idea that I was living my life disassociated and separate from myself as a way of coping in the aftermath of violence. I didn’t understand that my experiences growing up affected my ability to learn, and in grade 3 I was diagnosed with a learning disability.  As I have chosen to step into a deep healing process, my ability to acquire skills and learn has changed over the years.

 I live with anxiety, depression, and complex PTSD not formally diagnosed and I am in recovery from an eating disorder that has changed over time.

 My relationship with my mother was complex, fraught with a lack of protection and safety. Both parents used food as reward and punishment. Sometimes I was only given one food group as my mother hoped that I would lose weight. Other times there was an abundance of food on the table. My mother used to count the crackers in the box and keep a running calculation of how much was eaten. The fridge was locked.  I learnt to hide food, and I stole money so that I could eat more than an apple for lunch. This all contributed to the back of forth of early dieting at age 8 and I learnt about binging and restriction. Later on in my adult years I came to understand that my mother had an eating disorder as well.  I also came from a family of Wealth, economics was not the issue.  

 Growing up I had no control over any part of my life and when I moved out of my parents’ home, the only thing I could control was my eating. It offered me some protection from what it was that I was unable to feel. The trauma was the central point that I was not aware of until I began my own therapeutic process in 2003.

I would like to share an example of how I began to change my relationship with myself in relation to how I view food.  Through the years my therapist and I have built a healthy attachment based upon trust, mutual respect, boundaries and most importantly, safety.  We used a particular food object.  Each week brought in an orange and we worked with the orange being present in the room. Given that my attachment with my therapist felt safe and secure, I worked on feeling grounded and becoming aware of my own body reactions. At times I had various flashbacks of my history (Body Memories) and we slowed down the process, incremental steps i.e.: Just turning my head, slowly looking towards the orange and then looking away offered a different lens for unpacking what feelings were present. Each week the orange was on the table. I noticed if I was hungry or not when I was looking at the orange, what hunger felt like, if there was a place of fullness or emptiness and what that felt like as well. I learnt how to live with the feeling of emptiness and what came forward when I stayed with the feeling. I saw the colour of the orange and held it in my hand, smelling it. This was a first for me as my relationship with my therapist was safe. It was not burdened with abuse and violence as it was with my mother and father. This process helped to shift my own way of caring for myself in my diabetes management.

Now, as I am in recovery and working on consistency without creating crisis, I focus on noticing and making the changes.  I do over eat at times though not as often, and I understand the triggers of the emotional overwhelm.  I have learnt to pause, and turn towards other tools to help me. Eating meditation needs to be coupled with a trauma informed therapy approach as it is a complex process.

 As I continue to lean into living more in my body and understanding my own feelings, I focus on staying with what is present, with all of its causes and conditions, knowing that feeling is feeling. It is a compassionate practice and process to master leaning into a kinder and gentler way of being.

I persist in taking steps to handle and manage my diabetes making small incremental changes repeatedly to ensure that they became a part of new patterning. I feel proud of my accomplishments; living with diabetes has been a gift to me, it is my teacher. I have become more embodied while taking my blood levels. I have watched my own fear with taking the needle and pricking myself; worried that an old memory would emerge, a flash back, knowing that I am in the here and now and that this action is supporting me to monitor my diabetes, not hinder me.  This too has been a process. Anything new has always seemed challenging. It is a process of unlearning what was deeply embodied, feeling new movements emerge, trusting that my brain is rewiring itself.

I am still learning the lay of the land.  I found that I am not broken, and I often catch myself in my own well-practiced patterns. I have been cultivating a different lens of Curiosity, and support myself through using art as a medium and creating dialogue. I continue to let go of the Shame, when “I know better,” allowing more feelings to emerge.  

 Dr Jenny Horsman quoted in her work in progress manuscript of her book Bad, Wrong, Stupid, Don’t belong: Shifting Perspectives on Learning:

“The metaphor of mosaic and the visceral experience of breaking the china apart, adding more pieces, creating new pattern and shape, seeing how colours change in different combinations, gluing them, levering them up when we don’t like them, finally creating a new picture melded together with grout. Now we can see the pieces afresh, see our capacity to create change, to renew. If we let our experiences break us open, as we broke the plate apart, if we can dare to trust that we can rework our lives, making space for new additions that might create beautiful new patterns, then we may discover new beauty in our selves too.”

My Hope is that in sharing a small part of my story, this will reach out to people in our larger communities and I would like to begin a conversation together in some format.  I would appreciate some feedback from the larger community.  shericohen@rogers.com. I would be happy to begin a blogging process to begin this very important conversation(s) together. I am in the process of writing more about recovering and intersection of trauma and how it affect our ability to learn in the aftermath of violence.


Original Post

Dear Monica

Thank you for emailing me back, in many ways it is a taboo subject within the diabetes community here in Toronto, they see it as separate. It is all interconnected. If your sister would like to speak to me I would be happy for a conversation to share more deeply into what is not being spoken about. I am in the process of writing more of my own deeper reflections of what is present. my telephone number is 416-456-9422. I am not sure how people connect via phone or how aces really work... take care




I will definitely pass on your information to her. Has writing your own reflections been helpful. I have ACE's myself. I have been impacted in ways such as narcolepsy and breast cancer survivor. I don't talk a lot about it, but I know there is a link. I acknowldege it. And now that I have a 3 year old, it appears to be a trigger. 

HI Sheri - thank you so much for sharing your healing story! Such important work that you have done and so wonderful that you are able to share it with us.  As many know, Dr Felitti, the originator of the ACE survey started his journey in an obesity program.  If you are interested you can read about his work on ACEs Too High.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and other ACEs, i too have a complex relationship with food... for me it was comfort (we always had tons of it around) and when i wasn't finding safety or boundaries in my household, i found solace and escape in food (sweets in particular).  I love what you say here and am too trying to do this -  "lean into living more in my body and understanding my own feelings, I focus on staying with what is present, with all of its causes and conditions, knowing that feeling is feeling. It is a compassionate practice and process to master leaning into a kinder and gentler way of being." 

I wanted to be sure you both know about the Practicing Resilience for Self Care and Healing community. And Monica, I want to be sure you know of the Parenting with ACEs community here at ACEs Connection.

You might like a walking meditation, which is also a good way to reestablish the feeling of being inside the body.    

It is so logical that being divorced from one's body would make it very hard to regulate/sense healthful eating, portions, etc.  But it is also true that a human will take their dopamine where they can get it, and in the short run, sugar is a fast route.  So in a way the double whammy of abuse is to make an abused person both less aware of themselves, and more in need of relief.

thanks @Gail Kennedy, I am a member of parenting with aces, but have not been keeping up with it. I will check out the other group you suggested. 

@Laura Haynes Collector, these things are unfortunate. I recently was attempting a lifestyle change of cutting out sugar, I've been taking different supplements and doing something called nutritional response testing. I went down on my antidepressant which wouldn't be so bad if I could stay away from the sugar, because the connection between sugar and depression is so obvious. I'd do good for a few days, but go back to it. I've decided along with my Dr. to go back up on anti-depressant. 


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Esther Gilbert