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‘I’ve Attacked My Body With Drink, Drugs, Even Knives. Then One Day Everything Changed’

Grazia logo Grazia 4 days ago Grazia Contributor
a close up of a person wearing a costume: Terri White © Credits: EKUA KING Terri White

This article discusses topics including self-harm

For 30 years, I’d waged war on my body.
It wasn’t a war borne from hatred. I didn’t hate my body or how it looked. But after experiencing physical and sexual violence in my childhood, I felt it had betrayed me, many times over. I wanted to scar my body in memory of it. I wanted to punish it for what it had endured; for what – in the depths of my shame – I thought it had provoked.

I’d read that your body’s cells renew themselves every decade, but I couldn’t wait that long for a new body, a fresh start. There was an urgency – it was, after all, the physical manifestation of me and the memories and feelings I couldn’t bear. The fears and shame made flesh and bone and fat and blood. I couldn’t get to my emotions, touch them, but the next best thing was my body. The tangible bits that I could actually reach.

a girl posing for a photo © EKUA KING

So I went to war. When I was seven, I took biros, snapped their plastic casings and dragged the jagged edges down my arms. When I was 21, razors took their place. When I was 32, chef ’s knives, and when I was 34, alcohol and prescription pills.

I allowed the troops to storm, weapons drawn, across my face, my throat, the lines of my arms, the curves of my thighs, the wide expanse of my stomach. And while jobs, relationships and cities changed, there was constancy in my body as it bled and shook and swelled.

I starved myself in the battle to push and pull my ribs to the surface. I fed and purged. I cut deep, with concentration and determination. Poured alcohol inside me, until there was nothing but black. Popped pills that sedated me.

The war, though, was never over. Because it never was enough, not now, not ever. It would only end, I thought, when my body was destroyed. Until then, the siege continued into night and day and night again.

I worked on hurting myself with the most fervour when I was living in New York and secretly hiding my spiralling mental health problems. And when I returned home to London, in the small number of years before the day that everything changed, the strangling grip on my body began to loosen.

I felt a new need trickle through me. The need to protect.

I started to drink less and my regular blackouts disappeared. I left the pills in their bottles. The knives stayed in their drawers; the razors safe in their plastic casings. Food nourished, not punished. I felt a shift inside me – we were edging towards a truce. I realised, slowly, that I didn’t want to destroy myself any more. I felt the beginnings of happiness, the stirrings of some peace.

And then, on a Monday, two weeks after my 40th birthday, everything changed. My body had found its own solution, worked out its own permanent peace plan. And I was the last to find out about it.

‘When was your last period?’ my boyfriend asked. I had no clue. A few weeks ago? ‘It wasn’t,’ he said. I paused at the implication. My hands moved to my breasts, which sat heavy and full. The soreness running through them, through me. I’d vomited once.

My body was trying to speak to me, after years of our conversation being one-sided. Something’s different, it said. You’re different. By the time I began to listen, I knew what the next sentence would be.

You’re pregnant.

Somehow, through a womb heavily scarred with endometriosis, through the fists and cuts and poison, it had persevered. And now I felt a new need trickle through me. The need to protect. Not just the speck growing into a human inside me, but the need to protect the body that I’d enacted violence on for so long. To defend it from those who’d seek to do it harm, including me. And not because it wasn’t about me any more, but because it was all about me, and the second heartbeat that was now, irrevocably, part of me.

I treated my body with love, care and something approaching tenderness. I stroked it, soothed it, soaped it with warm water, rather than the scalding showers I’d always taken. I drank water for the first time in my life. I fed my body what it needed to keep performing miracles on my behalf. I paid penance for so many years of neglect and harm. I said: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Sometimes, especially in those early nervous months, I worried that my body would take its revenge and make me pay. Reveal the hidden consequences of all that ill-treatment. Yet, as the weeks passed, and the speck grew bigger, I knew that it had forgiven me. I know that it forgives me still.

It had always just wanted me to come home to the safety and care of myself. And now I’d finally found my way back. The ceasefire had been declared. The war was finally over.


Coming Undone: A Memoir by Terri White, is out on 2 July (£14.99, Canongate)

For mental health support and advice visit wheresyourheadat.org

READ MORE: 'My Biggest Fear Is What Pregnancy Will Do To My Mental Health'

READ MORE: Why We Need To Start Being Honest About Antenatal Depression


Video: 'He was miserable and so sad' (Sky News)

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